Rolling Stone magazine has a thing for Christian Lopez. In “22 Best Things We Saw At American Music Fest,” they cited Lopez as Best Newcomer, alongside observations regarding Patty Griffin, John Moreland and Rhiannon Giddens. That’s when he was all of 19. In “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know” he was listed For Fans Of John Denver, James Taylor and Jackson Browne. Why not just throw the Beatles in there for good measure and really make his quest for stardom more daunting. He was 21.
He’s handsomer than Justin Timberlake, sweeter sounding than a bird (not a Byrd, a bird), and has a better spit curl than Elvis ever did. At least, that’s according to his grandmother and Rolling Stone.
Enough. Can’t we just let him sing and play and prove himself. Sometimes Great Expectations get in the way. (Aren’t you glad they made you read that novel in 10th grade, so you understand the reference. Otherwise, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.)
Truth be told, Chris Lopez is a better than fair-to-middling guitar player, singer/songwriter and performer, with charisma to spare. He’s a dynamic and passionate performer. He comes up with some pretty, pretty, pretty good hooks. He works hard at his profession. He’s somebody that you’d better see before Rolling Stone (and Grandma) drive up the cost of tickets to see him in to the Stratosphere, almost to the equivalent of a vintage Stratocaster. Then you’ll know the price of hype.
Pre-show music by Angela Autumn
The last time Chuck Prophet played SummerSounds was the first time I heard him play a note or sing a line. Back then, I was a groundling like you, drawn down Maple Avenue by an otherwise boring Friday evening to listen to whatever discovery Gene James found for Greensburg. What I got for that slight exertion was my introduction to the sound of one of the great unsung heroes of rock n’ roll.
I admit to a certain laziness to my rock writing, the laziness of comparing those I write about to their forebears. But isn’t that one of the things that rock n’ roll is all about? It’s an evolutionary system, where, if you didn’t have Chuck Berry you wouldn’t have The Beach Boys, and if you didn’t have Jimmy Reed you wouldn’t have The Stones. Those references are often necessary mileposts to explaining the genre.
I won’t make such references to Chuck Prophet. He’s his own, original model. On his recent Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins album he makes his own reference in the title, but I don’t see the basis for that, anymore than I see the basis for his comparing himself to my favorite redhead actress in “If I Were Connie Britton,” from that same album.
That’s because he’s the essence of incomparable. He’s a greatly under-appreciated original, with a unique blend of his own style of guitar, and an observational lyricism that makes you, momentarily, wish you were Connie Britton too.
When bluegrassers Chatham County Line appeared here a few years back, they were delighted to observe Prophet’s name on the back of a volunteer’s T-shirt, exclaiming about his masterpiece, Temple Beautiful, his ode to his hometown of San Francisco. In that album, he evokes an instant feeling of recognition in that city by the Bay … even for me, who has never been there.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a rock show you are going to love, but it’s also your opportunity to enjoy an original, the Prophet of Rock n’ Roll.
Pre-show music by Sean Howard Duo
A long time ago, in this galaxy and on this planet, although who can be really sure, we began a quest to sign Dawn of the Buffalo to play at SummerSounds. That was our first mistake. No such band exists.*
Our second mistake was booking a band called The Last Bison. After all, a bison is not a buffalo. According to website Lunchbreath, bison are native to North America and Europe, and buffalo are native to South Asia and Africa. As Lunchbreath puts it, bison play baseball and buffalo play futbol. By the way, having The Last Bison here turned out to be quite a success. What a great band! I wonder where we put their number?
Our third mistake was trying to book a band that is such a fast-moving target. Although you wouldn’t think so to look at them, buffalo (and bison) can really move it on out of here, there and everywhere, and so can Donna The Buffalo. They’ve got a big, old, psychedelic tour bus, and they use it — a lot. Their suitcases and amp cases are literally all stickered over with those of nearly every festival ever, and they also host a few of their own: Finger Lakes Grass Roots, Shakori Hills and The Great Blue Heron Festivals.
Finally, we put 2+2+2 together (pesos, not dollars) and Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins and company will be here, in all their neo-hippie glory, bringing The Herd along, the hoopers and trancers and dancers and all that make a jam band jam. With DTB, it’s all about rhythm powered spirit music, a little rock, a little cajun and zydeco, a little reggae beat, sometimes fiddle, sometimes accordion, sometimes Hammond B-3, meant to get a crowd up and about and going with the flow, for all night long. And then you’ll hear for yourselves why a Buffalo is not a Bison.
Pre-show music by Henry Bachorski
British Rock Invasion Tribute
On December 26, 1963 “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was released in the United States to very little advance fanfare. It was the shot heard around the music world, the beginning of an all-out assault on the country of origin of Rock n’ Roll. For whatever reason, 4 shaggy haired Liverpudlians captured the eardrums of Young America, soon to be followed by legions more of their kind. This sneak attack changed popular music from “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window” to “Paint It Black” in a veritable merseybeat.
Fifty-five years later The Beatles are still Number 1, their hairstyles are still de rigeur, and The English Channel is, once again, making its pilgrimage to SummerSounds. If you’re reading this guys, I’d love to hear “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying,” Gene wants some Renaissance and Debbie wants a T-shirt for her next quilt. Because, as far as I’m concerned, when they come to Greensburg, it’s Boxing Day !
Ancestry.com estimates that the vast majority of Americans have some British DNA. That could explain our affinity for this music; after all, folk and bluegrass are directly derived from Celtic forms. That and the fact that if The Queen awards MBEs and Knighthoods to it’s practitioners we should sit up and take notice.
So dig out your Union Jack bell bottoms and mini skirts and give tribute to the rejoinder to our Revolution. As The Sex Pistols proclaimed, “God Save The Queen!"
Pre-show music by Flying Blind
Blues / Rock / Soul
On our way to Macchu Picchu several years ago, we visited a site outside of Cusco, Peru, called Saksaywaman (pronounced by our guide as Sexy Woman, I kid you not) which met with a great deal of junior high tittering from the tour group. Fast forward to February, 2018, and a telephone conversation with a booking agent for Vanessa Collier, who described her as a saxy woman (once again, I kid you not,) perfect for our concert series. No, I did not get high altitude sickness, but I did throw caution to the wind and booked her.
I’m not being saxist when I tell you that you’ll be delighted by Vanessa Collier. Another one of those musical talents that the Berklee College of Music seems to produce endlessly, she has moved from the horn section touring with Joe Louis Walker, to touring with the Ruf Records Blues Review, to fronting her own blues/soul/jazz band with a voice that continues to strengthen and mature, with her ubiquitous sax and with a National steel guitar. While still doing blues classics like Chris Smither’s “Love Me Like A Man” and “I Can’t Stand The Rain”, she’s also written most of the songs on her last two albums. While her touring schedule grows and grows, she still finds time to give saxophone lessons. She’s a performer of endless energy, as well as endless grace and an endless smile.
Pre-show music by Stevie B. Duo
ABBA Tribute Rock
My wife and daughter took me to a movie, in 2008, where only one other man was there, and he was the projectionist. It was Mamma Mia, starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth; it grossed over $600 million and proved that both 007 and Mr. Darcy can’t carry a tune.
IT’S BACK! Or rather, it has a sequel, Mamma Mia 2— Here I Go Again!, which premieres in July, 2018, and just because and just in time, the best ABBA tribute band ever, Dancing Dream, is back as well, returning to SummerSounds in August, to keep this Swedish juggernaut going.
The 5,000 of you who were here last time will probably be back as well, along with a few friends, family and neighbors, to dance and sway and join in, to “Waterloo,” “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”, and “Fernando” (SPOILER ALERT! Cher comes out of retirement to sing that in the new movie - ( How many times will Cher come out of retirement anyway?) Talk about the magic of music, be it over-the-top romantic and Sugar Pops in a great big bowl, Dancing Dream will bring it to you and show you a dance step or two in the process.
So here’s your big summer plan girls (and guys)— 1) Binge the original Mamma Mia; 2) Take those old records, or cassettes or CDs off the shelf and sharpen your dance steps; 3) See Mamma Mia 2, as many times as you can, with lots of popcorn, 4) Come to SummerSounds in in August, for the Grand Finale, Dancing Dream!
Pre-show music by Aubrey Burchell
Born in West London, Nana Kwame Biney Asiedu Agyemfra was sent to Ghana at a young age to be cared for by his grandparents there. He absorbed African culture, including traditional music forms and Ghanian rock, taking it back to London and then to the US. While he’s had a broad exposure to R&B and funk and reggae, he’s most true to rock n’ roll, be it British, American, or West African.
After finishing college in a music major at William Paterson University, Binea moved to Harlem, to experience American Black culture before it’s been gentrified away. Obviously the soul of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding have influenced him, as well as funk artist Sly Stone and bluesmen Buddy Guy and Robert Johnson, but outside of Hendrix and Berry, his rock influences are white Britishers Mick Jagger and Robert Plant and African rocker Fela Kuti. The roots of rock are well covered, organic and down to earth in this group, with college classmate and guitarist Justin Wilcox as his songwriting partner. No less a renowned genre jumper than Vernon Reid of Living Color produced and guests on their album Roots Rock N Universal Love.
All toted up, expect an evening full of high energy, danceable and positive rock from a frontman and band that have travelled a long way to here.
Pre-show music by Nathan Zoob
Let’s have a Party!!!
But first, a little mansplaining…
With a name like Swift Technique staring me in the face we couldn’t just let it go— How did they come up with that name? So we Googled it, and lo and behold, there’s something called the Structured What If Technique, SWIFT, in Risk Management, where a bunch sit around and discuss possible disasters occurring and positing responses to the disasters— Sounds like fun, right?
No, I’ll tell you what sounds like fun: Swift Technique, Philly’s Fiery Funk Extravaganza, sounds like, and is, FUN! Funk, soul, rock, hip hop, jazz fusion and house are thrown together and what emerges is a relentless onslaught of upbeat dance music that can even make Pirates and Steelers and Penguins groove, all over Eagles and Phillies and Flyers. You can either wait while the rhythm section sets the scene or you can take the horn section right away and right in the face. The bottom is so strong that the bass has five strings and the drum kit almost swallows the drummer whole. Keyboards and guitar compete to be heard, over a horn section so energetic and insistent that you’ll rise, without resistance, and find the beat in your own self.
Anchoring it all is two barrels worth of vocalist, Chelsea LaCava, whose voice can climb high enough to do justice to Michael Jackson and is so strong as to blow those horns away, should the spirit so move her. Ten years on, they are a fixture in the City of Brotherly Love That Boos Everything. But they don’t boo Swift Technique, and they’ve made a name throughout the US, touring with Questlove, Disco Biscuits, Snarky Puppy and Parliament Funkadelic—
Remember, it's always good to Get Down On It!
Pre-show music by C. J. Oswald
Did you know that 8 US presidents and 20 US Supreme Court Justices went to Harvard? Did you know that Jocelyn and Chris Arndt graduated from there too? Chris just this spring? Did you know that a Harvard type of future is just “Plan B” for them?
When Jocelyn was in 4th grade she started piano lessons to go with her birthday present keyboards. Not long afterward, younger brother Chris took up the guitar. Since then they’ve been in band after band together, written a myriad of songs together, and performed and recorded together. Oh, and attended and graduated from Harvard, almost together. If we didn’t know better we’d think they were twins..
It helped that their parents have a huge album collection that provided a broad and eclectic soundtrack to their lives. Rock has always been their mainstay, a strong, big-voiced, guitar-centric rock, Aretha AND Led Zeppelin, Janis AND AC/DC. Sister Jocelyn’s voice is one of those natural wonders, with a scale and a range that can seduce, and implore, and implode, all in 12 bars. Brother Chris’ notes and chords are the perfect complement, working over and under that voice to perfection. Jocelyn has it, a voice that will join Nicole Atkins, Maryanne Redmond and Kam Franklin of The Suffers in our SummerSounds Voices Hall Of Fame, Female Division.
Amazingly, they’ve found the time in their Ivy League schedule to produce 3 albums and 2 EPs, tour heavily in support and show up on Billboard and Relix charts. “Plan A” is working just fine.
Pre-show music by Hayley Daily and Joshua Carns
Rock and Soul
It used to be, that an encore was an accolade earned by a stellar performance, where an audience would call an artist out for a bow, to thank them for a great show. Some artists responded in kind, taking up their instruments and thanking the audience.
Somehow, the encore changed, becoming the crowd’s call for more show because they wanted more.
Then there’s the SummerSounds encore. We’ve been graced by a lot of great shows by a lot of great artists over the years, and sometimes we’re logistically able to return the favor, by having them back in the year following their first appearance. Chris Smither, The Glenn Miller Orchestra and A Silent Film come immediately to mind.
Last summer we had a very late cancellation. We scrambled, really scrambled, to fill that date. We came up with The Commonheart, a Pittsburgh band on the verge of their first extended national tour. Anyone who attended last summer will tell you that they were absolutely terrific! So terrific that they’ve earned their ‘Encore.’
Obviously, they’ve got an excellent front man, the incomparable Clinton Clegg, who belongs right up there with Nathaniel Rateliff and John Moreland, those who have taken up the mantle of James Brown, and Joe Cocker, and any other vocalist who literally gives us a piece of their heart and their throat when they sing for us. Heck, Clinton even took out a piece of our concrete stage with our heavy mike stand, he got so emotionally involved.
The best part, though, was that The Commonheart is the complete deal -- a band that can more than keep up with their leader. Every single component part, from an Aretha rock steady rhythm section, to the backup singers, to a horn section with tasty arrangements, sweet solos and talent to spare. Oh, and did I forget to mention the tasty lead guitar and soul-deep keyboards? Collectively, they set the tone and the beat and the note for Clegg’s extraordinary vocals, all wrapped up in a sweat-busting, richly deserved encore.
This is what this concert series is all about, the discovery, by you and me, of a constellation of major talent that we can only hope will be recognized by the larger world.
Pre-show music byJasonGamble
Yeah, she’s John Hiatt’s daughter, but so what? All you’ve got to do is give her a listen, and all comparisons to Sean Lennon, Harper Simon and Chazz Bono go out the window. Oh, and comparisons to John Hiatt, too.
Without dwelling on it (well, yeah, so?) she’s her own girl, from her own psyche and experiences and demons. She started out in a college band, with influences of Dinosaur Jr., The Breeders and Pearl Jam, and bounced around for awhil e, from Denver to Nashville to Austin and back, to East Nashville, the most fertile Delta of today’s music scene, where she took up residence on Trinity Lane, not coincidentally the title of her latest album, a watershed of her life, and her sound.
The songs on Trinity Lane reflect, as she says “putting my faith in something I can’t see,” namely music. Relationships, substance abuse, long-simmering emotional issues are all addressed, as if the album is her catharsis. She’s still working on it.
Expect lyrics of great thoughtfulness, singing of great tone, and rock music drawn from her own influences. Ultimately, her songs are about the ever-healing power of music, of songs that explore the self.
Pre-show music by Meredith Holliday
When we first heard Butcher Brown they were truly rock-jazz fusion in sound and set-up: drum kit, bass, lead guitar, keys, centered on guitar and organ, a strong, straight-forward band. Then along came Marcus Tenney. Then came JAZZ!
Don’t get me wrong. What they were playing before was jazz, but Marcus and his horns, sax, trumpet, whatever, transformed it all into caps: JAZZ!
There’s a live performance on YouTube where the Butchers invite Tenney onstage to join in. Right there you see the transformation.
They all come out of the Virginia Commonwealth University jazz program; Tenney a bit older than DJ Harrison, keys and producer; Corey Fonville, drums; Andrew Randazzo, bass; and Morgan Burrs, guitar, where they’ve created a healthy, growing jazz scene in Richmond and Charlottesville. All around us the culturati declare the impending death of jazz, but VCU, and North Texas State and Duquesne just keep proving them wrong. Do what we did, wrap your head around it slowly and recognize the genius of jazz.
Christened somewhere as hip-hop Mahavishnu, Butcher Brown’s muscular, funky, rock-centered and jazz-flavored sound is bottomed on echoes of Weather Report and Return To Forever, but goes so much further, in each progressive, inventive, adventurous performance. Come and hear for yourself the genius that is jazz.
Pre-show music by Angry John Stangry
In acknowledgement of the rather sizeable contribution that she makes (singing lead vocals, writing the songs, co-producing albums and midnight snacks) to The Honeycutters, Amanda Anne Platt is up front in every way on their fifth album, including her name .
This is what New Country should sound like. Grounded in traditional country ways, with all the torch and twang, as k.d lang called it, with a greater introspection and turn of phrase, a la Sturgill Simpson. There’s Nashville, and then there’s East Nashville, not just a different spot on the compass, and there’s everywhere else, like Asheboro, NC, where Amanda A is from. She’s got a big, heartache of a voice when necessary, and the lilt of humor when it occurs. She deals in the ordinariness of life, and death and birthdays, with a wisdom and wit well beyond her 30 years.
She’s got a terrific band behind her, a real country band: tasty pedal steel and all, sometimes upright, sometimes Fender, bass, and a real nice, minimal drum pocket, just enough for a country beat. Country music fans, not hat-band country, but real country, will appreciate the attention to rhythm this band has, how it’s right there throughout, a perfect platform for Platt’s words and voice.
Pre-show music by Willow Hill
Somewhere east of Pea Ridge, on Highway 60 just outside of Huntingdon, WVA, sits Ona, WVA, an unincorporated spot where Ona, the band, got it’s name and it’s inspiration. Just remember, if you get to Hurricane or Nitro, you’ve gone too far.
While hailing from Huntingdon, the guys in Ona derive their essence from Ona, a tiny, nearly non-existent hollow nearly in the middle of nowhere— sort of like Brigadoon, with moonshine whiskey substituting for Scotch.
Brad, Bradley, Zach, Zack and Max (last names Goodall, Jenkins, Johnston,Owens and Nolte) have been friends for longer than they’ve been band, but not by much.
Their motto is What Would Neil Young Do? The answer is, be moody, along with dreamy and guitar-y, but with traces of Dawes and Duane Eddy, Great Lake Swimmers and Sufjan Stevens. They’re not at all derivative, but rather proto-evolutionary, trying to bring rock to a place like Ona.
They’re at work on an album, said to be a worthy successor to American Fiction, both of which will be sitting on a table at the gate to the park, to be added to your collection of Albums-I-Got-At-SummerSounds-And-Can’t-Stop-Listening- To. After all, what could be better than reminiscing about live outdoor music? Maybe a beverage?
Pre-show music by Zak Blose
When last we were graced with the presence of Dr. Birchwood he was 6’3” without the height of his Afro or his shoes, and he had just brought another audience to his allegiance. This is a guy who can work a space, with a swooping strut and an easeful way with a guitar, hooking and landing them with a soulful way with words and the growling, roughened voice of a bluesman.
He’s from Orlando, Home of the Mouse, where he was lucky enough to have Sonny Rhodes, Texas bluesman, as a neighbor. Still a teenager, he was allowed to sit in at some practices and Rhodes was so impressed he put him in his band, taught him advanced blues and lap steel guitar techniques, and the ways of running a band on the road. Rhodes also insisted that the blues would not prevent Selwyn from getting an extensive education, college and an MBA, while still touring on a limited basis with the legendary bluesman. Last year the opportunity presented itself for Birchwood to bring Sonny Rhodes on with his band, a reversal that pleased the young bluesman to no end. That’s just the kind of art form the blues are, a generation unto generation passing of the axe, so to speak, where echoes of the roots never cease to reverberate.
We at SummerSounds just happen to have a bunch of blues afficianadoes in our audience, who don’t sit silently without blues on the menu. As soon as Selwyn Birchwood plays his last note this summer I’ll hear the refrain. “When are you going to have some more blues?” To which I’ll reply, “You’re giving me the blues, or heartburn or whatever. Patience.”
Pre-show music by East Coast Turnaround