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Remembering Donald Hall, first thoughts

(Given the Tanglewood aspect of this, I’m re-posting it from my personal blog daveread.me)

June 26, 2018 – When the email announcing Donald Hall’s death arrived Sunday morning, I was drafting a letter to him, which would include a blank bookplate for him to sign, for my pre-ordered copy of A Carnival of Losses; Notes Nearing Ninety, which the publisher may be rushing to bookstores now.

In a letter dated 1 November 2016, he wrote, in response to my comment about an essay from the book published on the New Yorker’s website:

“Yup, Double Solitude is in the new book. Last week I sent it to my agent and my editor. I haven’t heard yet. I like the title: “I-89,” with the subtitle Flashparagraphs Speeding Toward Ninety.”

At the time, I suppressed the notion that publication may be dragged out in order to capitalize on his death, which this Giant of Poetry had been working against at least since first being diagnosed with cancer in 1989.

My acquaintance with him began in 2012, thanks to the power of another essay published in the New Yorker, Out the Window, from his book Essays After Eighty. I recommended it to a friend, who read it then told me she had taken one of his classes at U. of Michigan in the 1960s. I suggested she send him a note, which she did; he responded right away saying “You probably want to take me to dinner.”

She told him that I was part of the bargain, arrangements were made, and in June 2012 I enjoyed the first of three visits with Donald Hall at Eagle Pond Farm, followed by dinner at restaurants in the vicinity of Wilmot, NH.

Donald Hall at UNH, Nov. 9, 2017; photo courtesy David J. Murray
Donald Hall at UNH, Nov. 9, 2017; photo courtesy David J. Murray, ClearEyePhoto.com

We met last in November, at the University of New Hampshire, which held a celebration thanking him for the donation of his papers – comprising 600 cubic feet. He read from his work and also delivered something of a valedictory lecture, advising us of where the best poetry in English may be found.

That event triggered a couple more items that I would be enclosing in the never-to-be-finished note. Donald Hall said something along the lines of that the best poems ever written in English date from the 17th and 18th centuries. I wanted to ask him to list a dozen or so, thinking that I may study them – and maybe even have a go at “translating” them.

When I looked for a transcript of his remarks on the UNH website, I found instead mention that access to his papers would be by his permission, I thought I’d better hurry and get that note in the mail.

Don was a guest on the June 2008 broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, with Garrison Keillor, at Tanglewood, which I reviewed for BerkshireLinks. That gave me an opening four years later when we met. Telling Don that I had been to that show, I referred to the host as simply “Garrison.” Whereupon Don stopped me in my tracks – “Garrison? He’s always been Mr. Keillor to me.”

A year or so later, after I had read Essays After Eighty, I sent him a note inviting him to visit the Berkshires, perhaps during Tanglewood season. Here’s an excerpt from his reply:

“I wish I could come down your way. [My friend] went down not long ago to look over the old Wharton place. I can’t drive any more, I can hardly walk, and needless to say I can’t fuck. I feel fine as you will discover reading the essays – but I cannot come to Tanglewood with the bachelor Norwegian farmer. He wrote me a dear and hilarious response to my Essays. Thank you and love, Don”

Why, you’re welcome Don, may you rest in peace.

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Northeast Fiddlers’ Convention at Hancock Shaker Village

The 1st Annual Northeast Fiddlers Convention convened on June 9, 2018 at Hancock Shaker Village, a co-production with Oldtone, amounting to the most apt pairing of venue and event, especially given the critical role played by music and movement in Shaker life. Dates for the 2nd annual have just been announced – Saturday & Sunday, June 8 & 9, 2019. (Details to follow)

Next year, we’ll assign the 2nd annual convention to someone who can distinguish the sound of a steel guitar and a dobro from fifty paces, and post some discussion about the music played during the event. Meantime, we’re delighted to announce the winners and to show you some pictures from this year’s event.

Prize winners from the Northeast Fiddlers’ Convention at Hancock Shaker Village

Fiddle
1) Ambrose Verdibella
2) Sarah Michel, Southhampton, MA
3) Patrick Peters, New Lebanon, NY

Guitar
1) G. Rockwell, Bridgeport, CT
2) Norman Plankey, Oxford, CT
3) Mat Cherkus, Collinsville, CT

Mandolin
1) John Benjamin, Brattleboro, VT
2) Ambrose Verdibello
3) Norman Plankey, Oxford, CT

Banjo
1) Maggie Shar, Easthampton, MA
2) G Rockwell, Bridgeport, CT
3) Andy Lundeen, Cornwall Bridge, CT

Old-time music in the Berkshires?

From the organizers:Oldtone and Hancock Shaker Village aspire to create a beacon in the Berkshires for Old-time enthusiasts. The first-ever Northeast Fiddlers’ Convention is inspired by the great Southern Old-time music conventions. Participants are invited to jam, learn, compete, eat, dance and celebrate together in an atmosphere of participation. We envision a new annual tradition in the preservation of the rich Old-Time music culture in the Northeast.

This year’s convention features instrument and historical workshops by Bill & the Belles, Nils Fredland, and Tara Linhardt. We are offering picking & singing in the historic round stone barn, instrument contests, jamming, and a square dance with live music from Bill and the Belles, one of the most popular roots bands on the scene today. The Square Dance will be called by renown caller and the Artistic Director of Revels North; Nils Fredland. Historic demonstrations available all day from Hancock Shaker Village.

Hotels in the Berkshires

Berkshires hotelsFind hotels near Tanglewood with user reviews, check amenities, nearby attractions, availability and then book your room reservations at these lodging establishments through our partner, International Hotel Solutions (IHS), the leading provider of secure online hotel reservations.

2018 Tanglewood schedule

The 2018 Tanglewood schedulefeatures a season-long celebration of the centennial of Leonard’s Bernstein’s birth, culminating in the Aug. 25 Bernstein Centennial Celebration hosted by Audra McDonald, with Maestro Andris Nelsons, four guest conductors and soloists Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, and others.

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Bob Dylan at Tanglewood July 2, 2016

July 2, 2016 Tanglewood concert review by

It was a night of biblical proportions at Tanglewood, a concert by Bob Dylan that was a revelation, following a set by Mavis Staples that was a revival. The revelation is that some 55 years into his career, by remaining true and not wavering from his original vision, Bob Dylan was able to belt out a genre-skimming array of 20 songs, imbuing each one of them with just the right degree of scorn or glee, humor or haughtiness, bile, blasphemy, or belligerence.

Dylan’s constancy was demonstrated by She Belongs To Me, the second song tonight, which he also performed the first time I saw him, on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Tonight’s set started with Things Have Changed, his trophy-winning song from 2000, which was performed with more ardor and vehemence than an opening number usually gets, as if he’d been singing along backstage to old girlfriend Maris Staples!

Bob Dylan sings the Great American Songbook

Tonight’s setlist also demonstrated that Mr. Dylan’s perusal of the Great American Songbook is no passing fancy; besides doing five songs from the 2 new “Sinatra” albums, Fallen Angels and Shadows in the Night, he also sang How Deep is the Ocean and I Could Have Told You, brand new entries on Bob Dylan’s setlist. While it’s hard to imagine that his own lyrics have overlooked any nuance of emotion or condition of life, nontheless he seems all fired up to be singing this material, making a fresh wind blow through Tin Pan Alley.

Those seven songs were distributed evenly among his own, five of which hail from Tempest, which took the world by storm upon release in 2012, when Dylan-wags reminded us that The Tempest is the name of Shakespeare’s last play. Turns out not to mark the end of the line for the bard of Hibbing, at all! Tempest is a great album, and tonight Bob Dylan delivered five songs from it with a high degree of fidelity to the recorded versions: Pay in Blood, Duquesne Whistle, Early Roman Kings, Scarlet Town, Long and Wasted Years.

Duquesne Whistle gets your attention

Duquesne Whistle, in the 7tyh spot tonight but 1st on the album, reminds me of Like A Rolling Stone, the opening number on Highway 61 Revisted. Whereas the latter shocks the listener with the loud crack of a snare drum right up front, Duquesne Whistle lollygags for more than half a minute before slapping you awake. Bob Dylan is an artist who doesn’t put much effort into promotion, but every now and then he takes the measure of our attention.

And tonight, he even addressed the audience, after the first 9 songs, telling us the band would be leaving the stage but would return in a few minutes. For years, he spoke only to introduce the band and maybe say thank you at the end of the set and before the encore, but hadn’t even been doing that much talking lately. This encore alone was worth the price of admission: Blowin’ in the Wind, with Dylan’s vocals and piano assiduously accented by violin, and a rollicking reading given to Love Sick, off the immense 1997 album Time Out of Mind.

Mavis Staples rouses the audience

Mavis Staples had the audience in the palm of her hand by the time her opening set wound up, and on their feet, singing along and testifying! She doesn’t share Dylan’s reticence, rather is as chatty as your sister, eager to tell you what’s been happening. We couldn’t sit still during her set, which left us revived with the fervor of the Sixties. Her band is awesome and they mix up an intoxicating blend of gospel, soul, funk, blues, and rock ‘ roll.

Hotels near Tanglewood

Berkshires hotelsFind hotels near Tanglewood with user reviews, check amenities, nearby attractions, availability and then book your room reservations at these lodging establishments through our partner, International Hotel Solutions (IHS), the leading provider of secure online hotel reservations.

Berkshies transportation

For how to get to the Berkshires and public transportation within Berkshire county, see this page: Amtrak and Peter Pan bus schedules.

Tanglewood tickets and box office information

Tickets for Tanglewood concerts are available through Tanglewood’s website, www.tanglewood.org, SymphonyCharge at 888-266-1200, and at the Symphony Hall Box Office at 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston MA. Download the 2018 Tanglewood season brochure.

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Bob Dylan plays the Berkshires

Article updated Dec. 22, 2018; written by

Bob Dylan’s Tanglewood show, July 2, 2016, will be the seventh time he has performed in the Berkshires, but only the fifth time he has headlined a concert here. His surprise appearance as guest of Joan Baez at her Aug. 17, 1963 concert in Pittsfield, when he sang Only a Pawn in Their Game, Blowin in the Wind, and A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall, came in the midst of an epic summer – following July appearances at a pivotal Civil Rights Rally in Greenwood, MS and the Newport Folk Festival and just before the March on Washington. Local reporter Milton R. Bass wrote: “His voice is not a pretty one, his guitar playing is just plain old banging away, but there is an intensity about him, a dedication, that forces one’s attention where it belongs.”

Rolling Thunder Revue Berkshires respite

Rolling Thunder Revue posterDylan’s second Berkshires’ visit was November 7, 1975, during the first wave of the Rolling Thunder Revue. After playing two shows the day before in Springfield, he brought the troupe to Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge for an all-day party and sing-along in Becket. Catching back-to-back episodes of the Rolling Thunder Revue is about as lucky as any Dylan fan can get, and listening to Vol. 5: Live 1975 of the Bootleg Series practically brings it all back home again!

Dylan at Tanglewood

When Dylan headlined his first concert in the Berkshires, at Tanglewood, July 4, 1991, the most familiar image of him was from the Grammys a few months earlier when he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award, without a word of thanks to anyone, but with characteristically cryptic remarks about defilement and redemption, after performing an accelerated version of Masters of War, at a time when the country was drunk on the patriotic glory of the Gulf War. According to the Tanglewood electrician working the show that night, Dylan was quite belligerent, threatening to blow the show off if his demands for a total backstage blackout weren’t met. My friend told me that it nearly came to fisticuffs!

The second Tanglewood show Aug. 4, 1997, came on the heels of Dylan’s bout with histoplasmosis, a respiratory infection that nearly took him out. Opening the show was BR5-49, whose multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron, who has been a member of Dylan’s band since 2005, when Larry Campbell departed. He performed an abbreviated set of 13 songs, including an excellent reading of Tangled Up in Blue, plus the rarely-performed This Wheel’s On Fire, co-written with Rick Danko, but without All Along the Watchtower, which had been on nearly every setlist since 1992.

Dylan’s ball park shows in Pittsfield

Then came the two ballpark/variety shows: June 23, 2005 and Aug. 26, 2006 at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield. With the estimable Willie Nelson on the undercard in 2005, Dylan went deep into his own songbook to perform a set that included 9 songs from 1967 and earlier. Mr. Dylan is expected to go deep into the songbook again at Tanglewood, but not his own, rather the Great American Songbook, including numbers Frank Sinatra may have done at Tanglewood in 1994.

Desolation Row is first among perhaps a score of favorite Dylan songs, from Highway 61 Revisited, which was released when I was sixteen. It was the highlight of the 2006 show, as I wrote at the time: “The arrangement of Desolation Row was simply spectacular – it was a sound ballet. There was luscious acoustic work between Garnier and Freeman, laying down swinging, jazzy lines and then doubling them. Geroge Recile was all over his drum kit, making thunder and great brassy noise. And Herron pinned down every phrase of Dylan’s with hot rivets of electric mandolin; a wicked cool effect.”

Opening this Tanglewood show will be Mavis Staples, whose own history with Dylan is a long and romantic one.

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Bob Dylan in the Berkshires

Article by

Update: Bob Dylan at Tanglewood July 2, 2016.

Bob Dylan has an association with the Berkshires that spans the five decades of his career and includes a couple of events at the apogee of all Dylan fan’s “wish-I’d-been-there” list, even though there have been only four Bob Dylan concerts in Berkshire county. For concerts, there were two Bob Dylan shows at Tanglewood, July 4, 1991 and August 4, 1997 then two of his minor league ballpark shows at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, June 23, 2005 and August 26, 2006.

The other two Bob Dylan appearances in the Berkshires were August 14, 1963 when he was Joan Baez’s unannounced guest at her concert at the Boy’s Club in Pittsfield and November 7, 1975 when Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue spent the day at Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge in Becket.

Bob Dylan at Tanglewood – 1991 & 1997

The Tanglewood concerts of 1991 and 1997 were light years apart in Dylan’s performance and demeanor. Although he was uncharacteristically chatty during the first one, which set a Tanglewood attendance record of 20,516, he raced through an 18 song set in a manner that got the gig listed on Dylan Pool (defunct website) in response to the request, “What was your worst Bob Dylan concert?”

The 1997 concert was just his second after recovering from a near-fatal heart infection. He was his usual laconic self, nattily-clad in a shiny blue western suit, and did an abbreviated set of 13 songs, notable for an especially fine rendition of “Tangled Up in Blue,” and for the omission of “All Along the Watchtower,” which Dylan had sung at every concert since 1992. The opening act that night was BR5-49, whose multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron is now a member of Dylan’s band.

Bob Dylan concert reviews and articles by Dave Read

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Cowboy Junkies concert March 8, 2014 Mahaiwe in Gt. Barrington, MA

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Cowboy Junkies concert scheduled MArch 8, 2014 Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Gt. Barrington, MACowboy Junkies, the Canadian alternative country/blues/folk rock band, have a concert scheduled for 8 mp on Saturday March 8, 2014 at the beautifully restored Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, MA. For more than 20 years, the Cowboy Junkies have remained true to their unique artistic vision and to the introspective, quiet intensity that is their musical signature, creating a critically acclaimed body of original work that has endeared them to an audience unwavering in its loyalty.They have released 16 studio albums, several live albums, and a number of singles and built up a dedicated following in the alternative rock community. (Mahaiwe 2014 schedule)

Since the release of The Trinity Session (1987), the Cowboy Junkies have been popular and busy beyond the usual boundaries of rock stars and their music has been featured in dozens of television programs and feature films. Their The Nomad Series, made up of four albums, Renmin Park, Demons, Sing in My Meadow, The Wilderness was released over an 18-month period. The latest, The Wilderness, was released in February of 2012 and demonstrates that the Cowboy Junkies are still into that hypnotic melodious brooding thing.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center tickets and directions

Tickets are $30 to $50. The Mahaiwe is located at 14 Castle Street in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Box office hours are Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 6:00pm and three hours before show times.

  • 14 Castle Street
  • Great Barrington, MA 01230
  • Box Office: 413-528-0100
  • Mahaiwe.org

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About the Mahaiwe

Located in downtown Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center is the year-round presenter of world-class music, dance, theater, classic films, “Live in HD” broadcasts, and arts education programs for the southern Berkshires and neighboring regions. The intimate jewel box of a theater opened in 1905 and has been in continuous operation for over 100 years. In 2005, the theater experienced a renaissance as a beautifully restored 681-seat venue to offer a broad range of cultural and community events. Today’s “Mahaiwe Mix” of diverse, high quality programming strives to provide meaningful, memorable entertainment for all ages and interests.

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Remembering Dave Van Ronk

Inside Llewyn Davis, the 2013 Coen Brothers movie based on Dave Van Ronk’s memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street, inspired me to tell the story of a few encounters with Van Ronk over the course of almost 25 years. We met at the Rusty Nail Saloon, Sunderland, MA twice in the mid and late 1970s and then did an interview before a concert at the Eighth Step Coffeehouse in Albany, NY in 1999.

I had been turned on to Van Ronk my first week at college in 1967, when an upperclassman told me that I looked like him. I hadn’t heard of Van Ronk, so I borrowed his copy of Gambler’s Blues, and loved it right off the bat. Before long I added Gambler’s Blues and Dave Van Ronk Sing the Blues to my record collection, which already held 5 or 6 Bob Dylan LPs.

Dave ReadI wasn’t aware of the relationship between Dylan and Van Ronk until I read Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography, by Anthony Scaduto several years later. In it, Scaduto reports that Dylan recorded Van Ronk’s version of House of the Risin’ Sun without asking permission. Even to a Dylan freak, that seemed pretty rude. In the fall of 1975, both of them made appearances in my neck of the woods – Van Ronk played a mid-week show at the Rusty Nail Saloon in Suderland, MA and Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue played back-to-back shows in Springfield.

Beside Dave Van Ronk at the Rusty Nail Saloon

The latter was announced about one week in advance and the rumors were that Dylan’s musical cronies were showing up and playing. Van Ronk’s concert was a couple days before and so when I arrived and saw him sitting alone at the bar, I was excited to say hello and ask if he’d be appearing with Dylan later that week.

He had a glass of whiskey in front of him and was holding his guitar in his lap, slowly moving his palm along it, as if he were warming it up. I said hello, told him I was a big fan, and asked about the Dylan shows. His reply, made in a polite and not unfriendly manner, was that he didn’t want to talk about Dylan. Oops, I thought, and left Van Ronk alone with his pre-concert routine.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, surprised that he was so entertaining, with a dimension of personality that I hadn’t noticed listening to the records. But I couldn’t help myself later, seeing him getting ready to leave the club; after saying great show, nice to meet you, I asked him to verify Scaduto’s House of the Risin’ Sun report. Dave stopped in his tracks, stared into the vacuum of my eyes, and said, “I told you I do not want to discuss that man.”

Besides feeling like an idiot, and not a litle rude myself, that was all the verification I needed. I attended both Rolling Thunder Revue shows in Springfirld, but didn’t get a chance to run the story by Dylan. (Story about the Rolling Thunder Revue.)

Meeting Dave Van Ronk again

The second meeting occurred 3 or 4 years later, by which time I had made the acquaintance of young woman who became an ardent fan, even though she bore no resemblance to Dave Van Ronk, none whatsoever. Since she also was a guitar player, her esteem may have been more genuine than mine, a mere doppelganger. We got to the club early and saw Van Ronk by himself at the far end of the bar, just the same as before. Instead of approaching with a head full of ideas, this time I was content to introduce my friend to Dave, and tell him that she was a guitar player too. He seemed genuinely charmed and within a few minutes, the three of us were sharing a booth close to the stage.

My recollection of the ensuing three hours is a little fuzzy, except that it was about as much fun as you could have, newfound friends, talking and laughing over round after round of whiskey. He did 3 or 4 sets and eventually the show had the feel of a conversataion between him and her. He ended with a charming dedication to her, but I cannot recall if it was Teddy Bear’s Picnic or Chicken is Nice?

During the 1980s, I saw him again at various clubs in the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires. Those shows were before full houses and neither the opportunity nor the inclination to approach Van Ronk presented itself again. He did seem to be aging poorly, though.

Dave Van Ronk concert and interview

By the late 1990s, I’m writing a music column in a local newspaper and running a website, which credentials were enough to get me into a concert that he would be giving at the Eighth Step Coffeehouse in Albany, NY. We did a telephone interview from his Greenwich Village apartment the day before. (Interview with Dave Van Ronk.)

Dave Van Ronk listening to Garth Hudson in Albany, NYI brought a tape recorder and a camera to the concert, but didn’t get much use out of either. The camera jammed up so I only got a couple eerie double exposures, and I left the tape recorder alone because I didn’t want to be intrusive. Instead, I scribbled notes furiously in the dim light as Dave gave a brilliant 2+ hour concert, which could’ve doubled as a lecture on the history of music in America. And Garth Hudson was in the house, to do a few songs by himself and to accompany Dave on accordian on a few others.

Dave was hale and hearty, appearing way better than he had in the 80s. It’s none of my business, but maybe he’d quit drinking? That was the last time I saw Dave Van Ronk. The sadness of his untimely death in 2002, however, is assuaged by several factors:

  1. He was at the top of his game late in life;
  2. He’d received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP);
  3. He got props from Dylan in Chronicles, Vol. 1;

Also of consolation is the fact that his posthumous CD, “Dave Van Ronk…and the tin pan bended and the story ended,” seems like a replica of the concert he gave at the Eighth Step Coffeehouse. Here’s hoping that Inside LLewyn Davis turns out to be deserving of it’s association with the story of Dave Van Ronk, whose influence extends far beyond the tenure and jurisdiction of the Mayor of MacDougal Street.

Dave Van Ronk @ Amazon.com

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Joan Baez at Tanglewood

June 23, 2013 concert review by

Joan Baez performed at Tanglewood on Sunday afternoon, 6.23.13
Joan Baez at Tanglewood; Hilary Scott photo.
Joan Baez delighted an audience of perhaps 5,000 at Tanglewood on June 23, 2013 fifty years after playing to a sold-out audience at the Boy’s Club in Pittsfield on August 14, 1963. At Tanglewood, she sang Bob Dylan’s plaintive It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, his vituperative Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, and her own beautiful Diamonds and Rust, which describes her relationship with him. At the Boy’s Club show, she sang two Bob Dylan songs and then brought him onstage where he sang three of his own!

Joan Baez cover of Time magazineJoan Baez appears as beautiful today in person as she did in 1962 when a Russell C. Hoban painting of her appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Anytime the 60s is mentioned, the image of Joan Baez is evoked, so long as the 60s still reference a time when world peace and human rights were what it’s all about. It always and everywhere is for her, from Mississippi in the 60s, to Czechoslovakia in the 80s, and Bosnia in the 90s. She got Amnesty International’s top award in 2011; top honors from the USA await.

Today, she told us about the Woodstock museum at Bethel Woods where she performed the day before, pointing out that it is about way more than merely the August 1969 festival, which she headlined while pregnant with son Gabe, now collecting a check as her drummer. Father David Harris had been busted by the Feds a month earlier and wound up spending 15 months in prison for draft evasion.

Joan Baez at the White House

In 2010, Joan Baez performed at the White House Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement.

The Indigo Girls opened the concert with a rocking set that had the audience up and dancing on the lawn.

Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls at Tanglewood
Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls at Tanglewood; Hilary Scott photo.

Songs performed by Joan Baez at Tanglewood, June 23, 2013:

Lily of the West (Traditional cover)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob Dylan cover)
Joe Hill
Long Black Veil (Lefty Frizzell cover)
Deportee
Hard Time Come No More
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (Traditional cover)
Country Blues (Give Me Cornbread When I’m Hungry) (Dock Boggs cover)
The House of the Rising Sun (The Animals cover)
Imagine (John Lennon cover)
The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
Diamonds and Rust

Encore:
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (Bob Dylan cover) (with Indigo Girls)
Welcome Me (with Indigo Girls)
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band cover) (with Indigo Girls)
The Water Is Wide (Traditional cover) (with Indigo Girls)

2nd encore – with the audience: Blowin’ In The Wind (Bob Dylan cover)

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Arlo Guthrie and family concert review Colonial Theatre Pittsfield, MA

Nov. 19, 2011 concert reviewed by

Arlo Guthrie and family played Pittsfield's Colonial THeatre, Nov. 19, 2011.
Arlo Guthrie and family played Pittsfield's Colonial THeatre, Nov. 19, 2011.
Arlo Guthrie and Family entertained a near-capacity audience at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield on the Saturday before Thanksgiving; he’ll play his annual Thanksgiving concert at Carnegie Hall next Saturday. The show was an ad hoc reprisal of the 2009 Guthrie Family Rides Again tour, which had everybody’s favorite folksinger accompanied by son Abe and his kids, daughters Cathy, Annie, and Sarah Lee Guthrie and husband Johnny Irion and various of their kids.

On the eve of his centennary, Woody Guthrie’s musical legacy seems to be expanding at a rate even greater than the growth of his progeny, thanks to the family archive work of Arlo’s sister Norah Guthrie, who has enlisted a variety of musicians to create musical settings for heretofore unknown poems and songs found in Woody Guthrie’s notebooks. The best known examples would be the Mermaid Avenue albums by Billy Bragg and Wilco.

Explaining his father’s methodology, Arlo called him a “song-stealer,” which may be another way of describing the “folk method,” where known material is there to be modified and repurposed. By way of illustration, Arlo told a story of how Woody came up with a new song in answer to a complaint from a woman that a union anthem failed to pay adequate tribute to the contributions of the ladies auxiliary.

Coming into Los Angeles – redux

The concert’s comedy high point arrived just ahead of Arlo’s Woddstock era hit Coming into Los Angeles; in a fresh introduction, which had to deal with, among other things (as all Arlo stories do) a new shortcut from the Guthrie home in Washington to Bradley airport where wife Jackie was arrested when a little container of “a certain horticultural substance” was discovered in luggage labeled Arlo Guthrie, which was searched because the luggage checkers knew Arlo wasn’t in the boarding line, he had only dropped Jackie off and was driving back home when she phoned and then the Connecticut state police phoned with the particulars of where to retrieve his wife, who couldn’t be un-arrested but would be released. We were left to surmise that Ms. Guthrie’s legal woes ended there and then; no clue as to what became of the reefer!

The Guthrie Family Rides Again, Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
The Guthrie Family Rides Again, Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA

It was on … Los Angeles that Abe took a lead on keyboards that stunned the old man, and which would’ve felt at home in Muscle Shoals; his son Krishna’s blues chops highlighted a couple later songs. Perhaps the most affecting segment of the show was when the sisters came together to form a vocal trio for a few songs including Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie and Alabama Bound, favorites of their grandfather’s friend Lead Belly.

On a more humorous note were a couple “inappropriate” songs by Cathy, who tours and records with Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy as Folk Uke. In addition to being hilarious, she sings beautifully, reminding me of Iris Dement.

Official honorary Guthrie family member Terry A La Berry (nee Hall) kept the generations on time with his artful drumming. In the audience were his mother, playwright and teacher Frances Benn Hall, who has been reviewing plays here for eleven years.

More about Arlo Guthrie – concert reviews, photos and an interview.

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Billy Collins poem The Names commemorates 9-11

By Dave Read.

The boon and bane of my modern life is the search engine, combined with the fact that writing is a thing done with a keyboard wired to a device that can access the Internet. It is the boon and bane age because it is good and bad – a ready mixture of the salubrious and the deleterious. Instead of taxing your memory – of having a good think, or of putting some effort into research (if not reflection), nowadays when your train of thought pauses at a ? mark, you hie to Google and before you know it you know more than you know what to do with on practically any subject.

So it was this morning when I was beginning to work out an idea for a poem that had occurred to me while listening to a radio program driving home after visiting friends last night. It was “The Hudson River Sampler,” and a string of songs called to mind a couple favorite musicians I’d first heard in the 60s. My idea was to celebrate them, by way of memorializing them in a poem, the way I’d imagined the Poet Laueate would. So, in order to clarify my understanding of what a poet laureate’s duties were when they included the composing of poems for certain occassions, I Googled something like “poet laureate memorial poem duties.”

Near the top of the results was a link to a poem that Billy Collins wrote while he was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. It is called The Names, and I cannot imagine a more beautiful public commemorization of 9-11.

That is the boon – one stunning poem, (and more about Billy Collins) plus all I need to know about “poet laureate.” The bane is that my poem about Dave Van Ronk and Mississippi John Hurt yet awaits its first line.

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Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Colonial Theatre

August 25, 2011 performance reviewed by Philip McTigue

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes are legends in the rock and roll scene. For over thirty years they have been delighting audiences and recording music in their rhythm and blues horn driven style. These musical giants of the Jersey Shore influenced musicians from Bruce Springsteen to Bon Jovi and are still going strong today.


They have created over thirty albums, several EP’s, and a box set. They have performed thousands of concerts all over the globe. They possess a dedicated fan base and the band’s newest release, “Pills and Ammo,” is full of new material that is already getting rave reviews from fans.
 
The band opened with an older tune called “I Give You My Heart,” and right out of the box you knew you were in for a good night. Southside’s version of the golden oldie “Walk Away Rene” was outstanding with six of his musicians contributing background vocals. He led a rollicking version of Keith Richard’s “Happy,” shaking castanets like a man who was having a ton of fun.
 
Southside Johnny Lyon is 60; age clearly is not slowing him down. He is a whirlwind of rock ‘n roll, rhythm ‘n blues and soul inspiration, singing as if a man possessed with the spirit of Motown meets Jersey. His band consists of Jeff Kazee, keys; John Conte, bass; Tom Seguso, drums; Glenn Alexander, guitars; Billy Walton, guitars; Eddie Manion, part of Conan O’Brien’s house band and killer sax sideman; Chris Anderson, trumpet; Mark Pender, trumpet; and Neal Pawley, trombone. This high-energy eight piece band was tight and you got the feeling they could handle anything Southside threw at them.
 
He vamped a version of “Money That’s all I Want” and also did an impromptu version of “Lean on Me.” The band didn’t skip a beat. A classic version of the Springsteen song “Fever” closed out the regular set. The band was feeding off the energy of Southside who was feeding off the energy of the audience. It was the perfect storm for a rock ‘n roll show.
 
After two hours and two encores that had the crowd very satisfied, Southside and company said farewell, the house lights came up and you could tell the band left it all on stage, which left fans beaming ear to ear as they exited.

We patronized a nearby restaurant before the show; it was packed and had a good pre-concert vibe to it. It was nice to see Pittsfield so alive and vibrant. Coming from South County, we were looking forward to seeing the renovated Colonial Theatre. It did not disappoint. It’s a beautiful venue.

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Bob Dylan show Mullins Center Nov. 19, 2010

Nov. 19, 2010 concert review by

Attending an episode of the Bob Dylan Show is like pulling your car over to the curb in the midst of an ordinary errand late in the afternoon of a drab day because you noticed something on the horizon and thought, Wow! that needs a closer look.

Because life is an accumulation of errands, and even when we’re on foot, or in flight, we spend our days inside cars that are the suit of clothes we wear, the style of slang we speak, the slate of politicians we let seduce us.

The Bob Dylan Show on the Friday before Thanksgiving, that maddening American holiday, at UMASS, Amherst, that architectural wasteland, was a most worthwhile detour. Bob Dylan at Amazon.com

The Scream, by Edvard MunchThe only comment we have for the management is: please make an effort to book the show into auditoria in every case instead of gymnasia, because it is all about the music, after all, and a big cement gym sucks as a venue for music, an observation the tunes themselves ratify by living an extra second up in the dusty distant rafters where they sound like an Edvard Munch painting looks.

All the more reason to be grateful for the gene that allows one to cultivate the appreciation of so ethereal a shape-shifting headliner as Bob Dylan, who pulls over to the side of the road way more often than you or I do.

This show demonstrated that the best of his songs can be boiled down to reveal a mere handful of notes – song cores that are both augur and auger; they have a dynamism that drills deeper to reveal more handwriting on the wall of your soul.

For all I know, being bereft of all musical ability, except for desktop drumming, this is no secret. Regardless, tonight I got the feeling that it might’ve been on the agenda, that Mr. Dylan and his crackerjack outfit set out to demonstrate just how simple, and joyful, his songs can be. Maybe they went out of their way tonight to reveal the simple dancing skeletons bedecked in a wondrous wardrobe of Mardi Gras costumes?

The sixteen performed tonight were a companionable mix with a range of ages that would be present at a typical Thanksgiving dinner: there were grandparents, adults, college kids, little kids, and babies.

And how ’bout them babies! Some born full-blown, like toddler Jolene, b. 2009 and already anchoring the #1 encore slot. It will be fun to watch her grow, to doff gowns and don guises, to cast her dancing spell my way.

Speaking of which, so too was Bob Dylan, born so much older than any of us. Witness the Witmark Demos, just released as volume 9 in the Bootleg series, 47 songs he recorded before turning 24, including one from tonight’s setlist.

If Dylan had got struck dumb in Tin Pan Alley way back then, today we’d still be marvelling at tunes like A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. Thank God he didn’t, because tonight we got a sparkling rendition of it. Whereas he’s always been varying the vocal styling, now he’s added a whole suite of gestures, as if he’s been studying the young Al Martino.

The show started slow, chugging away from the station with an especially raspy singing of Gonna Change My Way of Thinking, a prosaic bit of testimony. He emerged from the between song blackout center stage but slightly askance to perform Shooting Star, another prayerful piece that he punctuated with a piercing harmonica coda.

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, a lyrical masterpiece, was next, introduced by Dylan on guitar. Would love to have heard it again an hour later, because the band hadn’t started coloring outside the lines yet. Spirit on the Water, which at its best reminds you of roller rinks and polka dancing, was also too restrained, unlike the next one, Rollin’ And Tumblin,‘ from which point the show soared.

It featured Charlie Sexton’s stinging slide guitar, which seemed to limber his colleagues, and George Recile’s drumming, a force of nature that he can tame to modulated mayhem. The show was on. It will be remembered as the one where Mr. Dylan revealed a new facet of the song-and-dance man, appearing like the vocal soloist of your community orchestra, who has been coached to emote.

Besides near archival-quality renditions of Tangled Up In Blue, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, Hard Rain, and Ballad of a Thin Man, the takeaway from this show was that the man who for decades has been lambasted for virtually ignoring the audience, now veritably pantomimes his songs!

It is not likely that he’s ever again going to be shooting the breeze with the audience, as we saw during the Rolling Thunder Revue down the road at Springfield, but it was fun to see this new wrinkle, another glint from a passing star.

It is too early to write his epitaph, but a good idea nonetheless to urge all the youngsters to catch the Bob Dylan Show while there’s still time for a glimpse of his ever-emerging refulgence.