|The 4th annual Boston Summer Arts Weekend is in progress, and Day One was pretty great, starting on a cool summer afternoon.
The free concerts take place in Copley Square , a scenic venue even without the concerts. (For non-Bostonians, it's also where the Boston Marathon finishes.)
We arrived in time for Federator No. 1, a great-sounding, 13-member, afrobeat group from the Boston area.
Lots of brass, heavy percussion, lots of fun.
They were followed by the oddly-named Dirty Dozen Brass Band, out of New Orleans.
I say "oddly named" because there are only seven band members. Maybe they're counting their roadies. Or maybe the "Soiled Seven" didn't sound as good as "Dirty Dozen."
No matter, they sounded great, mostly avoiding the clinches of New Orleans jazz and instead doing fresh, lively numbers that got the crowd going.
Part of the reason for their rich sound was the presence of a ginormous baritone sax (played excellently), a sousaphone, and an outstanding drummer. Lots of bass, lots of bottom.
They were followed by a Blue Man Group drum-off; the six finalists from the various Blue Man Group venue cities (Las Vegas, New York, Boston...) each performed an original 90-second drum solo.
It was interesting to see what each did. The one we liked best had a very clever composition in which he performed an entirely acoustic fade in (starting with soft finger taps) and building to a variety of beats, and then fading out --- again, entirely acoustically; not via a volume control --- in an ending that was the exact mirror image of the opening.
Alas, he didn't win: the prize went to a guy who just whaled the crap out the drums for 90 seconds.
Next up was an odd all-female chorale group --- the Merrimack Valley Chorus --- that did barbershop-quartet type songs, but with a much larger group.
As the sun set, the next act turned out to be the best: Bettye Lavette.
She's been twice nominated for Grammys, and was an honoree at the Kennedy Center. She's been singing for 50-some years, and was awesome.
She was full of life, and engaging between songs; she packs a ton of personality into her slender frame.
She was also backed by a extremely accomplished band. Hers was a truly great act. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The nominal headliners were up last, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.
Sad to say, the set wasn't that good. Harris' voice was weak and has lost much of its range; a problem marred by a crappy sound setup. (In contrast, Bettye LaVette brought her own sound techs, who tuned things to perfection before her act.)
Harris' act worked best when she gave the lead to Crowell, who has a strong voice; Harris did fine singing background vocals and doing harmony, but was (sadly) weak as a frontperson.
The whole set was pretty sleepy and uninspired; they were mostly just going through the motions.
We stayed until the end, but the crowd thinned out during her set.
But in all it was a great day of music in a fabulous setting.
I'm now adding a Bettye Lavette station to my Pandora listings. :)
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