2007 Articles

by Tim Van Schmidt

Randy Newman, January 8, 2007, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins.

There was a pivotal moment in Randy Newman’s show last night at the Lincoln Center (the first of five scheduled performances) which illustrates why he maintains a reputation as one of America’s great songwriters. About half way into Newman’s second set of the night, he played a favorite from the film “Toy Story,” “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” The song is gently uplifting, upbeat and melodic.

But then Newman followed up the “Toy Story” song with one of his darkest compositions, “In Germany Before the War.” It’s a song about a murderer and Newman’s vocals were chilling, as were the dissonant piano chords that accompanied the story.

From the surface, a lot of Newman’s music sounds the same- there’s a kind of ragtime, New Orleans feel to the piano parts, and the artist sings with a fragile kind of drawl. The songs are often short and to the point- a couple of verses, a couple of choruses and maybe a bridge- and the melodies remain within a fairly close range of notes.

What keeps changing, however, is the INTENT of the songs. Newman writes tender, SINCERE love songs. He also writes songs full of humor, wry observations of human nature and biting sarcasm when it comes to political and historical commentary. “In Germany Before the War” is dramatically serious. “Louisiana” is wistful for a place and a time. “Sail Away” has a little bit of everything.

What connects it all is emotion and that becomes the key to understanding Newman’s music. From offering hope to a friend to picking on the LA lifestyle, he seems to be working with manipulating the mood of the moment as much as the sound. Each song summons up distinctive characters, situations and points of view- it’s no wonder this guy works well in the movies, as each song is like a different little film all its own. As a result, Newman’s two hour show at the Lincoln Center was satisfying indeed.

Staring the evening with a rollicking version of “It’s Money That I Love,” Newman’s concert material featured what could be called hit material- like “Mama Told Me Not to Come” and “Short People”- but much more. “Love Story” banally surveys the full cycle of marriage. “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” was slow and purposeful and “Lonely at the Top” was audacious. “You Can Leave Your Hat On” simmered.

What got the biggest crowd reaction at the Lincoln Center, however, were the songs, like outrageous Newman standard “Political Science,” that took on political tones. From discussing history with Karl Marx in one song to warning of the coming onslaught of the “great nations of Europe,” Newman exposes hard ironies with biting wit. “A Few Words in Defense of My Country” compares the leadership of today’s America with other shameful times in European history- including Rome’s Caesars, the Spanish Inquisition, Hitler and Stalin (“who need no introduction.”) It’s not a run-down on the Bush administration, but then again that’s pretty nasty company to keep.

Newman even got the crowd into the act at one point during the show. For his tune lampooning aging musicians, he assigned the audience a vocal response to the chorus of “I’m Dead, But I Don’t Know It.”  Now that is really something, getting an audience at the Lincoln Center to chant “You’re dead, you’re dead…”

Most powerful of the evening, however- besides that twist from “Toy Story” to “In Germany”- was the song “Baltimore,” achieving both an instrumental and vocal crescendo that stood out from the rest of the evening.

It should be said that just as Newman changes up the lyrical aspect of the music, he also tinkers with the basic piano groove he is attracted to. In some cases, he inserts some unexpected rhythms. In others, he sweetens the chord changes with some unusual tonal augmentations.

Above and beyond the songs themselves, Newman is an engaging personality on stage in between tunes as well. He took the time to tell humorous stories and perspectives about the songs, taking a friendly, conversational tone. In all, Newman proves to be a personable performer with a large songbook of versatile material at his fingertips. But it’s the emotional value of the songs that ends up giving the most and Newman supplies plenty.

Pacifica Quartet, Griffin Concert Hall, Fort Collins, January 16, 2007.

What a difference a hundred years makes in classical compositions. Last night at the Edna Rizley-Griffin Concert Hall, the extra fine music venue hidden away in the CSU University Center for the Arts, the Pacifica Quartet ably demonstrated the difference only a relatively few years can make on the classical vision of music.

The quartet, featuring Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson on violin, Masumi Per Rostad on viola and Brandon Vamos on cello, began the evening (a part of the Lincoln Center’s Classical Music Series) with Felix Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 12- written in 1829. In the course of the four movements, Mendelssohn’s music covers a wide range of moods- gentle and fluid, playful and bouncy, swelling and sweeping and quick and fiery. What makes it all hang together is Mendelssohn’s cool control of melody and tempo, which seemed to suit Pacifica’s talents indeed.

But then Pacifica followed the Mendelssohn piece with Leos Janacek’s Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters,” a work produced in 1928. This piece, especially placed right next to the well-groomed artifice of Mendelssohn, revealed that the hundred years that passed since the Mendelssohn quartet was written had transformed the definition of music. No longer was melody or tempo contained by the rules Mendelssohn composed by. Janacek’s music experiments with the tonal possibilities of the instruments as well as the intensity of quickly changing musical passages. Like a modern world quickly being transformed by the industrial revolution, Janacek’s musical moods also shifted quickly. Even in the relatively calmer third movement, Janacek always throws a fly in the ointment somehow by layering in dissonance or sudden bursts of melodic statements.

Somewhere in between was the final piece of the evening’s regular program- Bedrich Smetana’s Quartet No. 1 in E minor, “From My Life.” Written in 1876, Smetana’s music previews some of the raw passion that would boil out of Janacek’s compositions, but also played by many of the same rules Mendelssohn did.

What I liked about Pacifica was their mastery of the material, the four instruments melding together not just in harmony, but also in intent, each paying attention to the dynamics of the music as if they were all one musician. The first movement of the Mendelssohn quartet in particular showed Pacifica’s light group touch, the instruments so finely woven together that they could hardly be distinguished from each other. But more, when each instrument was featured at various times throughout the program, the others supported without overshadowing, revealing the group’s tight-knit understanding of each other and the music.

But then add in the considerable body language that the members of Pacifica apply to their performance. From my fourth row seat, I could not only see the musicians communicating at times with each other by flickering glances, but also the nearly involuntary physical reactions each member of Pacifica seemed to have to the progress of the music. I don’t care if it’s rock and roll or classical music, I’m probably not going to be “taken away” by the music if the musicians themselves aren’t “taken away” themselves, but happily that’s not a problem for the Pacifica Quartet. They are an exciting group to watch.

When the four musicians came back on stage for a tiny slice of Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4, they dug into the featured pizzicato section with apparent relish. Plucking away with abandon, the musicians created a brief flurry of rhythm and melody that went beyond just the composition. It was a passionate and bold climax to the evening.

This was my first visit to the Griffin Concert Hall. The hall itself is large and open, the staging area wide. The audience area features firm seats and all in all the warm colors and pleasing design make Griffin a superior place to listen to music- away from the hub bub of the rest of the world. The sound was very natural and clear. For the first half of the concert, I watched from a fourth row seat. For the second half, I listened from the top of the hall in the very last row and the sound was just as good. All of this made an evening with the Pacifica Quartet a pleasant experience indeed.

Prince, Super Bowl broadcast, February 4, 2007.

Purple rain indeed. While the Colts and the Bears fought each other and the weather for the soggiest Super Bowl ever, one player on the field in Miami was able to ignite a true surge of excitement- and it wasn’t a football player. Prince, that wiry, dynamic performing machine from Minneapolis, was able to ramp up the electricity- even in the incessant Florida rain- to give this “biggest entertainment event of the year” a much needed boost. Without Prince, this big event was just simply all wet.

While generally the Super Bowl halftime show is fairly short and the previous entertainers- Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones- only had time for a handful of tunes, Prince, an onstage master of medley, was able to jam together seven songs, starting with a football mainstay- the heavy, stadium-friendly rhythm of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”- and finishing with the uplifting sing-along “Purple Rain.” For the entirety of the performance, Prince gyrated, vocalized, ripped into rough-edged guitar solos and confidently dominated an impressive lit stage in the shape of the symbol that represents his name. His backing band was synched into the fast-paced grooves, he was flanked by a matching pair of undulating dancers, but it was Prince himself who achieved the intense focus it must take to not only entertain a stadium full of sports fans, but also a huge television audience.

Now, compared to McCartney or the Rolling Stones, Prince’s material is not as universally known. (Maybe that’s why Prince included snippets of some more familiar material- such as a chunk of “Proud Mary” as well as a little slice of “All Along the Watchtower.”) But that didn’t matter as much as the energy of the performance that had the rain-soaked fans surrounding the stage in a party frenzy. Still, Prince’s biggest mainstream hits- the music from the film “Purple Rain”- was heavily represented by three songs- the quick-start to the Super Bowl set, “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Baby I’m a Star” and, of course, the rousing sing along set-closing anthem, “Purple Rain.” Even through the television you could hear the ambient sound of the crowd shouting along with Prince for the finale, waving their arms while the entire stadium lit up with fireworks. This was the most thrilling moment in an otherwise grimy, dampened Super Bowl broadcast.

While the pre-game show featured a colorful collaboration between top musicians, designers and the Cirque du Soleil troupe, the spectacle of Prince’s performance was unmatchable. That is the power of rock and roll. You can jam the field with as many dancers, acrobats and musicians as you like, but when it comes right down to it a screaming electric guitar and voices raised up together in the night continues to deliver plenty. Sure, Prince, the stage, the band and the dancers were augmented by marching band musicians that filled in the rest of the field, striped in fluorescent tape. There was even a truly great special effect- a huge swath of fabric was blown into the air and Prince’s shadow was projected onto it, mid-performance, standing taller than life. But in the end it was the raw charisma of the performer himself that made this show rock.

Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet Theatre, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, February 21, 2007.

My experience with classical ballet is very limited indeed. I’m not even sure if I have ever seen a full performance. However, I did experience some ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia when I was there years ago as a tourist. Then the city was called Leningrad and the evening at the theater I attended there was a mix of opera and ballet, probably an affair to service travelers just like me- wanting a taste of Russian culture but not really knowing where else to get it. I remember more about the EXPERIENCE- the tiny, but gorgeous little theater, complete with velvet trappings and arcs of balcony seating– like right out of a period piece movie- than the art.

Fortunately, Russian dance- Russian ballet, to be precise- came to Colorado to fix that. I’ll back up to say first that I’ve ended up seeing quite a bit of contemporary dance in recent years- from intense, bare stage choreography to prop and special effects- laden extravaganzas.  But it took a troupe of Russians to sit me down and get me acquainted with a more disciplined, controlled and beautiful vision of dance as an art.

The entire first part of the performance was dedicated to classic ballet pieces, including three pieces from “Swan Lake.” At first, my reaction was “Man, this is pretty formulaic stuff”- the movements seemed melodramatic and the constant repetition seemed overly redundant. But as I watched, I noticed the smoothness that the dancers were achieving in the course of the movements. I also began to notice things like the ballerinas doing a lot of what they were doing on the tips of their toes- a constant defiance of gravity.

By the second piece of the evening, “Ocean and Two Pearls” (from “The Little Humpbacked Horse,”) I also realized that this form of dance was not as deadly serious as I thought either. Dancer Rostislav Dzabraev seemed to be genuinely pleased about interacting with a pair of female dancers- Olga Novenkova and Eugenia Nazarova- who looked like twins- perfect little ladies moving in synchronized beauty. The image of the twins was an enchanting delight the audience shared with the beaming Dzabraev.

As the pieces progressed at the Lincoln Center, the magic of classical ballet took hold of me and I enjoyed following the seemingly effortless movement on stage. What struck me most about most of the dancers- both male and female- was the general “lightness” their well trained bodies could achieve. Their poses and movements were all so well-executed, that the dancers seemed lighter than air.

Finally, it was a solo piece performed by Natalia Romanova, the rarely seen “Russian Dance” piece from “Swan Lake,” that got me hooked. Gone was the stiff ballerina outfit, with a flowing white gown in its place. This necessarily affected how Romanova’s movements appeared- what was moving here wasn’t just the taut body of the dancer, but the cloth of the costume as well, making her disciplined movements take on a whole new element. The same effect was magnified in the final piece of the first act, “Passione.” The female dancers were all dressed in colorful gowns that also flowed with the dancers’ movements. These were some of the most sensual and captivating moments of the evening.

Like my experience in Leningrad, the performance at the Lincoln Center by the Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet Theatre was perhaps designed for dance “tourists” like myself- a little bit of a lot to give that taste of culture you might not get otherwise. I would have been very pleased to leave it at that, meaning that I personally didn’t have much use for the second portion of the show, a series of Broadway style show pieces performed to a medley of George Gershwin songs. The men wore top hats and tails and the beautiful poise of the classical ballet dancers became just another romp to a show tune. I’ll say this- that even while the Russians went through the motions of a much more mundane form of dance, their training as ballet dancers came through. The “lightness” I noticed during the ballet portions of the evening remained during the second portion- I guess you just can’t deny that kind of quality.

Flogging Molly, Boulder Theater, Boulder, February 26, 2007.

There are no Monday nights when it comes to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with raucous Irish rock band Flogging Molly. Flogging Molly is currently out on their Green 17 Tour, with Street Dogs and TwoPointEight, playing 17 cities, ending in Phoenix on March 17. The Boulder show was the third stop in the tour and probably was typical of the pandemonium these seven musicians stir up every night. The atmosphere in the room was freewheeling, reckless, rowdy, sweaty and completely energizing.

By now, Flogging Molly’s music has been well described as an amalgam of traditional Irish music and elements of punk rock. Perhaps the thing most inherited from punk is the breathless pace Flogging Molly keeps during their show- maybe throwing in a medium tempo piece here or there, but only so things can ramp up to speed again. The Irish elements are revealed in the basic traditional structures of the songs. But more, the songs are designed to include everybody in the room, with plenty of sing along parts- like drinking songs for a pub full of friends. The fans in Boulder kept up their part by shouting along with every tune Flogging Molly played. (Despite posted signs that said “No crowdsurfing whatsoever” a few brave souls were hoisted into the air too.)

While Flogging Molly vocalist Dave King is undeniably a riveting frontman- intense during the revved up music and irreverently gregarious between tunes- the Flogging Molly sound depends greatly on the unrelenting, thick layers of accordion, guitar, banjo and more blasting all around King. Drummer George Schwindt propels everything with piledriving precision. And weaving in and out of it all is the work of fiddler Bridget Regan, who keeps a sense of melody intact even when the rest of the band is thrashing away. Regan provides a critical artistic counterpoint for the group especially considering how King’s raw vocal style dominates the mix.

With all the electricity on stage, however, it must be said that while a LOT of contemporary music is loud, not much of it is as positive and uplifting as Flogging Molly’s. It isn’t that there wasn’t anger, sadness, defiance and more in the songs- in fact there’s quite a bit- but the actual musical FLAVOR is upbeat.

Street Dogs preceded Flogging Molly on stage at the Boulder Theater and it’s a good thing that Flogging Molly is so STRONG. A weaker band would pale after the general dominance of the Massachusetts sextet. Sans fiddle and guitar-driven, Street Dogs, had the same tough, energetic attitude as Flogging Molly and it was clear from crowd reaction that the band has a substantial following of their own. Opening the show was TwoPointEight, from Stockholm, Sweden and they ably kicked things off with a blast of energy of their own- leaning more heavily on the punk side than the other two bands.

It occurred to me while sizing up the three groups at the Boulder Theater that “Irish rock” (for the lack of a better descriptor) has become a burgeoning music movement of its own, kind of like the ska underground. This movement, lead by bands like Flogging Molly and Street Dogs, has a bright future, because however you define the musical elements, the results are clear- excited, sold-out audiences dominated by young people, but also including plenty of older fans. That’s a recipe for continued growth.

For the final songs of the show last night, I went up and found a seat in the balcony. Not only could I relax a bit after being on my feet for more than four hours, but I could also see the bigger picture of Flogging Molly’s success. The Boulder Theater was one big mass of people jumping up and down in happy abandonment to the raging band on the stage. In fact, wherever I went in the sold-out theater last night, I could not just SEE what was happening, I could FEEL it- down on the various platforms on the main level, the floorboards themselves were bouncing to beat. In the balcony, everything shook slightly with the thumping from people dancing madly. Below, Flogging Molly stretched out across the stage, lights blazing and music blaring. A St. Patrick’s Day celebration indeed- an ANY day celebration, indeed.

Finckel and Han, Griffin Concert Hall, Fort Collins, February 28, 2007.

There was a certain something different about last night’s performance by cello/piano duo Finckel and Han, at the Griffin Concert Hall as part of the Lincoln Center Classical Music Series, that tells a lot of the story about this pair. That is, throughout the entirety of the two hour performance, deliberately showcasing classical music history from Johann Sebastian Bach to Benjamin Britten, cellist David Finckel faced the audience- and played everything without written music as a guide. In itself it was an astonishing achievement. I mean I see musicians all the time who play without written music, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who can sit down and play works by Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Claude Debussy and Britten by heart.

That heart is the matter here because Finckel not only was able to play the music, it seemed like he was also INSIDE it. He wasn’t just accomplishing an expert reading of the various pieces of the evening, he was making them live and breath. Finckel often swayed and moved to the intricacies of the parts and each finish had a certain dramatic flair. A side light was that since Finckel’s eyes weren’t buried in the music on a stand, he was looking out at the audience and around the room- something you don’t often experience as an audience member at a classical concert- the performer looking right at you.

Now, Finckel’s musical partner (and wife) Wu Han used written music, and even an assistant to turn the pages, but it seemed like she also was INSIDE the music too. She had to be to be able to keep up with Finckel. As a result, their performance was not only instructive on music from various stages of classical development- Han was generous throughout the evening with historical and artistic perspectives throughout the night- but it was also burning with a passionate musical fire. These two MUST be passionate about their music to make this work.

The bigger picture was that the music choices for the evening represented several hundred years of musical evolution. Bach’s machine-like precision gave way to Beethoven’s more refined sense of melody and structure. Schumann leaned even more heavily on melody and DeBussy beefed just about everything up- and started veering into other directions. The Britten piece showed how far chamber music had gone- to an abstract, playful, dreamy and imaginative triumph of creativity. Having Finckel and Han on the scene to make all of that live is a precious thing indeed.

Stomp, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, March 6, 2007.

OK, so let’s get a little perspective on the dynamic performing group Stomp, who are currently enjoying a multi-day run at the Lincoln Center as part of the Showstoppers Series. If you took all of the stuff Stomp uses in their show- all the buckets, trash cans, brooms and various metal objects- and put a bunch of rowdy kids with drums sticks in a room with it all, every parent within a twenty five mile radius would be calling for your head. Put a bunch of professional performers into the room with all that stuff and you have a cheering audience. The resulting sounds, however, would be similar- a din of clanging, clattering and crashing that effectively drowns everything else out.

That I compare the performers in Stomp to kids is not a put down. In fact I consider it a compliment because what is so exciting and intriguing about the show is how the group uses unusual CONCEPTS to shake loose entrenched ideas of what music, percussion and performing is. Kids usually don’t know much better, so they have fun using whatever is at hand- as does the Stomp troupe. It’s well known by now that Stomp uses everyday objects for instruments- mops, matchboxes, plastic tubs, cans, newspapers, metal lids, wooden poles, hub caps, metal signs and more. And it is the execution of the concepts- the performers’ confident wailing away at all this stuff- that delights and amazes at first.

But as the show progresses, the troupe also demonstrates that it has a strong ATTITUDE about what it is doing. Without saying a word- thankfully, since so many performers want to yap about themselves- the performers in Stomp make connections with the audience with looks and gestures, consciously working the crowd even while leaping through the air with trash can lids flailing.

The attitude and personalities of the performers were so well defined that some of the segments on opening night could be better called “skits,” scenarios that tell a story as well as include street-level percussive flair. One of the “skits” perhaps told the entire story of Stomp in just a few minutes. At one point, three performers sit down and rummage through a garbage bag, finally selecting a couple of plastic bags and a paper bag to make music with. The attitude and the concepts of the piece- that all it takes is an open and creative mind to make something out of “trash”- exposed the very root of the Stomp experience.

One of the most developed characters on stage was a clown type performer who always seemed to be getting the routines wrong. I personally could have done without the comedy segments. I realize that they were necessary for the pacing of the show- and to give the audience members’ ears a break from the general clamor. However, I couldn’t help but feel the skits were exactly that- filler. Cutting the show by 15 minutes- perhaps most of the comedy-oriented segments- would not affect the general strength Stomp wields. But that isn’t what the audience reaction on Tuesday night indicated. They liked the comedy bits and laughed readily.

In the end, what makes Stomp so successful, however, isn’t necessarily the percussion work or the staging. The success comes from the fact that the whole thing becomes infectious. After watching Stomp you end up feeling like indeed YOU could be banging on just about anything and have a good time doing it. A savvy organization, Stomp knows this and perhaps the cleverest trick of the evening was the gradual “training” of the audience to join in with orchestrated handclapping. It started with just a two hand-clap call and response, echoed at various points throughout the show- even by the clown- but ended up as a whole chorus of handclapping, people in the audience having the time of their lives doing it.

Eric Clapton, Pepsi Center, Denver, March 7, 2007.

At first it just seemed like overkill when guitarist Eric Clapton stepped onto the stage at the Pepsi Center on March 7 with two other great guitarists- Doyle Bramhall II and Derek Trucks. But once the guitar licks started getting traded around on the heavily blues-oriented material, it seemed clear that on this tour, it wasn’t about Clapton as a guitar god, but it was about making exciting guitar music as an ensemble. The trio certainly did that, pulling out a healthy chunk of the classic Derek and the Dominos album “Layla” as well as jamming with opener Robert Cray on the final tune of the night, “Crossroads.”

Perhaps it is because Clapton’s guitar work has become so legendary- touted as one of the best guitarists of our times- that it WAS necessary to bring on a couple of strong players and share the spotlight. While everything Clapton does on guitar seems effortless and distinctive at the same time, placing his playing next to Bramhill’s rougher, more piercing tone and Trucks’ meatier, heavier slide sound gave a vital perspective on the music itself. This wasn’t just Clapton’s call on the music, but something shared by all the players. Stepping back- Clapton literally at one point was just hanging back at the side of the stage, guitar hanging unused in front of him- and letting Trucks and Bramhall rip it up in their own way made Clapton’s own contributions all the more sweet.

So it seemed that the spirit of this tour naturally recalled the jam-like atmosphere that filled the “Layla” album and tunes from that collection made up a large chunk of last night’s show. That included the strong opening tune “Tell the Truth,” as well as the muscular blues work-out “Key to the Highway,” an excellent acoustic-guitar driven version of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” Jimi Hendrix’s stately “Little Wing” and, of course, “Layla” as the show’s climax. Also, Clapton included a Derek and the Dominoes tune from the sessions for Derek and the Domino’s second album, “Got to Get Better in a Little While.”

If you were to actually tally up the time, there’s a good chance that Clapton spent more time singing at the Pepsi Center than actually playing guitar. This, however, is not a bad thing in any way, since his voice remains expressive. Clapton can really bark out those lyrics when he wants to and the mellowed flavor of his voice filled in nicely on the slower tunes such as “Wonderful Tonight.”

The set list for the night did not stray very far from the big, wall of guitar sound of Derek and the Dominos, or from a bluesy-tone, so a big part of Clapton’s career- especially his rock hits with Cream- went unrecognized. However, just enough was sprinkled into the show to keep things interesting for those who needed hit-power. The first encore tune, “Cocaine,” for example, went a long way to getting things stirred up in the end. One of my favorite moments of the night was hearing Clapton play acoustic solo a little. One of the most dynamic tunes was a revved up version of “Motherless Children.”

Now let’s not forget the opening set by Robert Cray, who took the stage with a lean, three-piece backing band. Cray has a great, soulful singing voice and he plays with the melodies of his songs, well, like a guitarist, bending notes and playing with dynamics. Cray’s guitar-playing is also distinctive and at the Pepsi Center revealed a fluid, polished quality that inevitably wound up in a flurry of notes. When Cray took the stage with Clapton, Bramhall and Trucks (plus the six piece backing band that included two vocalists, two keyboardists and bassist Willie Weeks) he not only kicked off the lead vocal duties, but also added his guitar voice to this festival of frets. It was a peak moment for any guitar fan, indeed.

Viver Brasil, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, March 20, 2007.

There was a good reason why the program notes for Viver Brasil’s performance at the Lincoln Center on March 20 were so complete. The whole first portion of the Los Angeles-based dance troupe’s show was so dependent on the story elements of the presentation that they didn’t want the audience to miss the point. So much so, that the troupe also verbally explained the action- drawn from Afro-Brazilian religious traditions- before the start of the show.

Then the stage was transformed into the world of “orixas,” or deities, and their devotees, King Xango, a thunder orixa, and his three wives, and the twin sons of Nana, goddess of the marshes. The ceremonial nature of the dancing all but necessitated the background knowledge to appreciate what all the constant stage movement and shaking was all about. Clothed in colorful, distinctive outsized costumes to reflect the other-worldly nature of the storyline, the dancers fulfilled parts in brief plays about legendary figures from this other culture. Not knowing the significance of the characters meant losing the significance of the dance, which seemed to be meant to serve the story fully.

Once freed from the story-based material of the first portion, the company appeared to put some distance between the dancing and tradition in the second portion. Or did they? The first piece, “Identidad/Identity,” brought female dancers onto the stage in more modern outfits and the dance seemed more fluid and aggressive. However, many of the motions the dancers were performing seemed very similar to the traditional moves on display earlier in the evening. An instrumental break featured musician Jose Ricardo Sousa on the berimbau, an African traditional instrument. And the following dance, “Capoeira,” illustrated a popular Brazilian martial arts game. The final pieces also were based on traditional sources making Viver Brasil a traveling crash course in Afro-Brazilian culture.

To call Viver Brasil a “dance troupe,” however, is not very accurate. Dance and dancers were featured fully, but a large part of the success of Viver Brasil’s presentation has to do with the fact that the entire evening is backed by a live percussion section and two female vocalists- Vania Amaral and Katia Moraes. As active as the dancers, the drummers kept a quick tempo throughout the evening, constant rhythm washing over everything. The vocalists’ voices rose above all the clanging and clattering with relentless strength, often swelling emotionally, full and mighty.

A pivotal moment occurred during the piece “Capoeira.” The pair of featured dancers- Gustavo Caldas and Ulissus de Oliveira- at one point stepped back from the mock kick boxing of the piece and each took turns tumbling with ease and style across the stage. This moment of sheer athletic ability seemed to electrify the crowd, which finally found something familiar to cheer about. It didn’t take any special knowledge to appreciate the gracefully twisting and turning bodies flying across the stage.

But further, Caldas, Oliveira and Sousa all began working the audience about this time in the program- encouraging them to do some call and response clapping. The tumbling and the deliberate outreach broke through the kind of studied atmosphere the show seem to engender up until that point and brought the audience into the action. At the end of the set, the drummers and dancers piled off the stage and into the crowd, leading them out into the lobby to jam and disperse. What started as a cultural lesson ended as a party, a wise and vibrant turn in tone that literally had the audience out of their seats, eager to join in.

History of Rock and Roll Panel Discussion, Rocky Mountain High School, Fort Collins, March 22, 2007.

Although in the real world of rock and roll, one more associated with midnight than morning, 7:45 a.m. is pretty early, anytime really is a good time to talk about music, so it was not TOO hard to get to Rocky Mountain High School to participate in a panel discussion about rock and roll writing and publishing for a first period class.

At the invitation of instructor Scott VanTatenhove, who has been teaching a condensed survey of the roots and progression of rock music, I joined Scene Magazine Publisher and Editor Michael Mockler and Rocky Mountain Chronicle Entertainment Editor Elliot Johnston for a question and answer discussion that ranged far and wide over the contemporary music scene.

The session tried to sum up some of the realities of the music business in general- like how and why “national” bands will and will not play local venues. And it got into the mechanics of writing a review- which was coincidentally the final class project. There was some philosophizing about writing, especially about including critical comments in a review. And some agreement seemed to be met among the panelists about the importance of independent and especially local and regional music.

VanTatenhove kept things going with a prepared set of questions, but sometimes it was a little difficult to corral the conversation into a single stream. But that in itself is kind of indicative of rock and roll- it’s a mess, a big bundle of influences. It’s all over the place as an art form and it’s all over the place in our culture. In the end, that’s what makes it worth talking about- rock and roll is here to stay, so you may as well enjoy your piece of the pie by knowing where it came from and by guessing where it’s going. Sure, I’ll get up in the morning to talk about that.

Notes for History of Rock and Roll Class
Rocky Mountain High, March 22, 2007.


-Music is an essential human expression, therefore worthy of discussion. It’s as varied as the number of artists playing music.

-Music is a continuum. There really is no starting point or ending of music of any kind. The commercial aspects of music- CDs, radio, TV, downloads, whatever, is only the tip of the ice berg.


-Treat all musicians with same respect. Either someone is playing or not- that’s the real dividing line.

-Disregard personal prejudices

-Report on the event, not yourself. Get to the point, what’s most important.

-If you really want to evaluate others’ music, you should play music too.

Writing Business:

-Media explosion means bigger need for material, but also bigger competition.

-Today- one person should be willing to do it all- write, photos, video, design, market.

-Start small and expand as your skills and contacts grow.

John Popper Project, Aggie Theatre, Fort Collins, March 23, 2007.

I have a better name for this group- the John Popper Party. Part of this comes from the attitude the great modern harmonica player and vocalist brought to the stage at the Aggie Theatre last night. He seemed relaxed, happy and ready to jam. With a large wine glass in his hand, he made no bones about the fact that he was having a great time in this new band format- where he didn’t have to “think” so much- and he called the Aggie a “great” place several times. No one would disagree with him at that moment because he and his band mates in this quasi-experimental unit were treating the rowdy crowd to a collision of sounds from crashing grooves to Popper’s trademark harmonica trilling.

That Popper was ready to party boded well for the rest of the John Popper Project, which includes DJ Logic on turntables, Tad Kinchla on bass and Marcus Bleecker on drums. Kinchla and Popper, of course, are best known as band mates in Blues Traveler, and Bleecker is from Mosaic. Logic has been jamming with a number of bands including Ratdog and has stepped up to be a mighty sound foundation in this new touring group. He seemed to get the underpinnings of the grooves going throughout the night, with Bleecker and Kinchla digging in to provide power and funky counterpoints. Meanwhile, Popper punctuated the proceedings with those great speedy runs up and down the harmonica and vocalized on more song-oriented material. The music sounded like what it was- a jam session among talented guys- a party of sound.

But what really made this a party was the crowd itself, who showed nearly as much interest in Logic’s warm-up set as in the live music itself. As Logic spun discs and messed with the rhythms, a widespread dance party began to heat up, which only intensified as the rest of the band eventually took the stage. As the group locked down on the grooves- a mix of urban toughness and rock and roll grit- and worked them with a certain off-the-cuff looseness, the audience remained in gear with them, bodies bobbing up and down the whole night. In a way, it really didn’t matter what “song” the group was playing because I think this crowd would have gotten off on anything- they had that kind of open attitude. That’s probably what has Popper smiling so much- no big band, no major hits, just musical fun- his kind of party- the John Popper Party.

Kathy Mattea, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, March 24, 2007.

I’m glad I saw Kathy Mattea at this point in her career. At the Lincoln Center last night, her show certainly paid tribute to her country music hits, but it also gave a good taste of the musical twists and turns this artist has experienced since those break-out days. While her country-oriented songs still maintain that kind of clever word play that country is famous for- perhaps even a clichéd part of that genre- she also presented big meaty chunks of Celtic-oriented music- Mattea wailing on a penny whistle- rock, gospel and folk. The mix seemed natural enough and the set progressed easily back and forth among the different kinds of influence.

Her maturity as an artist didn’t shine through only on the songs, but also through the entirety of her Lincoln Center presentation. In between songs, Mattea displayed a relaxed yet perky attitude that went a long way to connecting the dots between the music and the crowd. But further, it must be said that Mattea’s band is top notch- including Bill Cooley on guitars, Randy Leago on keyboards, Rick Blackwell on bass, Fred Carpenter on fiddle and Jim Brock on drums- every note was in place, harmony vocals were dead on perfect and they maintained a very close eye on the dynamics of each piece. The sound was exceptionally clear and well-mixed- something not always the case at a lot of shows. Even the stage setting- with large drapes and colorful frames suspended behind the musicians- hinted at some performing class.

In all, Mattea’s show was refreshing in a way that many are not. This was just plain, good showmanship, based on the songs and communication of the band rather than on any kind of bigger distraction. It was clean, effective music, with enough sincerity to rouse emotions and enough attitude to stay lively.

The set list included: “Love at the Five and Dime,” “Goin’ Gone,” “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, “Live It,” “Walkin’ Away a Winner,” “Come From the Heart,” “Untasted Honey,” “She Came From Fort Worth,” “Harley,” “Wade in the Water,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Where’ve You Been,” “Down on the Corner” and “Mary, Did You Know?”

Aida, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, April 9, 2007.

I’ll admit right away that I’m not a musical-loving guy. I’ve seen several shows on Broadway in New York City- “Pippin,” “Evita,” “Cats” and “Dreamgirls”- and seen a number of shows off Broadway- way off-Broadway, like the Big League Theatricals’ current touring production of “Aida,” currently playing the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins as part of the Showstoppers series, for example. I’ve seen ‘em in London- “Chorus Line”- and seen ‘em on the big screen- “Chicago”- and the little screen- “Moulin Rouge.” However, this form of entertainment- the fusion of stage acting and dramatic song- continues to feel forced and artificial to me. With that prejudice in mind, however, I can still report that last night’s opening performance of “Aida” was a spirited contemporary example of the genre.

However, for me, last night’s successful opening night wasn’t effective because of the headlining draw for the show- the lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Elton John- definitely the cash register names involved here. To be honest, I found the storyline- as exotic as it was, set in Egypt- to be full of all-too familiar elements. Despite foreign names for the characters, it was the same old story about young lovers from opposite sides of the fence- in this case a war between the countries of Nubia and Egypt. It’s happening during an extreme time of crisis, there’s villainous things happening in the subplot, but the passion of love is so strong it turns the tide of the action.

The fairly limited range of Rice’s lyrics, staying on a well-worn path thematically, then naturally colors John’s music. While his savvy pop song craftsmanship is certainly evident, what the performer has to jam into those melodies- Rice’s words- sounded like an odd fit at times to me. However, John knows enough about showmanship to keep things moving at a fairly brisk pace, so “Aida” does not dally in any one situation for too long, maintaining, at the very least, a vital energy.

The rest was left up to the production itself to make this show work at the Lincoln Center and this is where last night’s performance shined.  The stage setting was very versatile, with an ever-changing array of dropped curtains, Egyptian-styled statues on moving pedestals and lighting effects keeping the scene on stage fresh. The stage changes were swift and efficient.

The costuming was particularly interesting, mixing contemporary and more exotic styles freely. Stage props such as machine guns purposefully conflicted with the ancient Egyptian themes reflected by the statuary and some of the backdrops- helping confuse the sense of what time period this was supposed to be happening in- a nice touch, really.

The two lead female performers- Leah Allers, who played Amneris, and Marja Harmon, who played Aida- were both dynamic and riveting when on stage- strong choices for royal women in the story. Also strong were the ensemble dance pieces, the troupe mixing precise movements with effective costuming. Some of the dance pieces were downright sexy and that in itself went a long way to bringing a contemporary feel to an old story.

While I applaud the use of a live band for this production- and the music was certainly plenty dynamic- I would advise the sound engineers to look at how overpowering the low end is- many times drowning out the words of the performers, some of whom projected through the thick live band sound better than others. Also, I’m not sure that the band- especially the drummer- knew that their incessant warm-ups before the show were plenty audible in the auditorium prior to curtain-time.

Asylum Street Spankers, Avogadro’s Number, Fort Collins, April 13, 2007.

I had bad luck all day on Friday- I guess being Friday the 13th really meant something after all. But then my luck changed dramatically when I walked into a packed house at Avogadro’s Number for the return of the Asylum Street Spankers. Bad luck turned into very good luck as this crazy bunch of Texans made laughs come from the belly, made toes tap vigorously and made any and all irritations of the day just dry up and blow away.

Now, there’s a lot to describe about a Spankers show- the ever-changing instruments, the cascade of words- but if you were to boil it down to something, it would have to be attitude more than anything. It’s a tongue-in-cheek attitude about just about everything. It’s an irreverent attitude. It’s an energetic attitude. It’s a we’ve-done-this-thousands-of-times-but-still-dig-it attitude. That attitude, which turns wry social commentary into fun and everyday foibles into head-nodding chuckles, seems to be driving the whole thing.

That attitude also is why it’s not such a stretch that the Spankers’ latest CD release- “Mommy Says No!”- is a kids’ record. After all, kids will do things that adults do not necessarily approve of- and they get away with it because they “don’t know any better.” Well, the Spankers are all old enough to know better, but are young at heart enough to go ahead and do it anyway. That doesn’t mean that the Spankers’ kids’ material is inappropriate. It just means that there’s a certain youthful viewpoint that “mature” adults might just shake their heads at- as though they have forgotten what it was to be young and crazy.

When I arrived at Avo’s, the Spankers were right in the middle of one of the new kids’ songs- “You Only Love Me For My Lunchbox.” But looking around, I didn’t see any kids in the room and everybody who was there seemed to be getting a real hoot out of it. It didn’t matter that the words were perhaps much more kid friendly than some of the other songs. What did matter is that the Spankers put plenty of their madcap energy into it. So, rather than being a “kids’ song,” it was just another crazy Spankers’ tune. So went this particular evening- no matter what song the group plowed into, a characteristic attitude made each one fun to listen to.

Now, with all that said, the Spankers’ show at Avo’s was decidedly NOT a kids’ show. There were songs about the war on drugs, about sleeping in the wet spot, about the skullduggery of the CIA and an a cappella laundry list of sexual activities- things you wouldn’t present at the local elementary school, for sure.

But that’s the genius of this group- to be able to place Black Flag’s “TV Party,” songs by Harry Nilsson and big band leader Bob Crosby, as well as originals all in one big happy barrel- and make it sound like the Spankers invented it all. Mixing blues, ragtime and tin pan alley pop styles together- and a hilarious form the group called “hick hop”- with all this songwriting mayhem is a wild ride indeed. Then mix in a constantly changing array of instruments- from washboard, ukulele and banjo to jug, rubber chicken and, my favorite, the musical saw- and you’re starting to get the picture.

Most of the material was funny- like the love song that declared that if a male partner really loved the female, they would gladly buy tampons for her, take out the garbage and clean the cat box- among other unmanly-like activities. And the Spankers applied a highly proficient musicianship to it all. But the most riveting moment of the show wasn’t silly at all. That was when vocalist Christina Marrs stepped up to sing a spiritual, accompanied by the resounding hand claps of the audience and other band members. In just a few minutes, all of the other stuff was put into perspective. It was like a “serious” artist including something lighter and funnier in their set, just to change the mood so the return to heavier stuff has more impact. Only in the Spankers’ case, it was pretty much the opposite- a weighty moment changed the mood so that when the group returned to the lighter stuff, it seemed fresh again. Fresh is right- the Asylum Street Spankers are welcome back anytime.

Pink Martini, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, April 17, 2007.

By the time Pink Martini wound up their set of exotic, simmering Latin-flavored music at the Lincoln Center last night, a couple of dozen happy patrons were winding their way around the floor in a jumbled up, free form conga line. It wasn’t particularly the participants’ idea- Martini vocalist China Forbes had offered a free CD to the first audience members who would get up and join one couple who were already dancing in the corner and get the thing going. But this was a natural move anyway because nearly the entire evening had been made up of a seductive, infectious dance music and as you looked around you could see people kind of squirming in their seats. That they finally got up to dance up and down the aisles was no surprise.

I personally am not inclined to join a conga line, at least not in public, yet I felt the urge nonetheless. Pink Martini’s music rarely strayed from dance grooves and you could hardly not have a physical reaction to it. But more, I found myself romanticizing about the moment- conjuring up the image a big ballroom with potted palm trees, exquisite drinks and an evening of dancing. Pink Martini would have to be the band for that fantasy, such is their musical richness, creating atmosphere as well as sound.

I’ll be honest. I hadn’t heard of Pink Martini before and my initial general impression from the name was that this was going to be some kind of novelty act, vamping on the past. Rather, Pink Martini seems to be the real thing, certainly drawing from a wide swath of musical history and other cultures, but not necessarily turning the set list into a string of curiosities or object lessons. The group plays its material (a mix of Cuban chestnuts, Harry James, Carmen Miranda and originals like the title song of the band’s new CD, “Hey Eugene”) for its inherent beauty and effect. And while the final effect of the band was that celebrative conga line moving around the Lincoln Center, the term beauty also applies.

I liked Forbes’ voice and the way she slid easily around the melodies like a jazz singer. Now, I don’t know much Spanish, Portuguese or French, but Forbes sounded like she knew what she was doing as she switched languages like a musician switches instruments. Her command over dynamics combined with an easy-going, relaxed but also sensuous stage presence made her very easy to listen to. Forbes played it straight with the songs- at least the ones in English were about passionate love and romance and she turned what might be considered frivolous lyrics into slow-burning flames.

Pianist and Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale also demonstrated plenty of dynamic control. While certainly capable of pounding out some chords and big keyboard flourishes, I often heard a light and exact touch to his playing. Maybe it was the un-effected natural sound of the grand piano- actually a rare acoustic sound in itself- but Lauderdale also seemed to be applying an unusual level of grace and finesse to his parts. The rest of the band- three percussionists, guitar, violin, trumpet and bass- all followed suit, never overpowering the vocals or the piano.

While the show featured plenty of vocal music, with Forbes in the spotlight and ably supported by vocalist Timothy Nishimoto, Pink Martini was not afraid to back off the voices and play some instrumental pieces, offering an opportunity to really listen to bassist Phil Baker and guitarist Dan Faehnle. One of the truly beautiful moments of the evening came when Lauderdale supported violinist Paloma Griffin in a duet that was highly melodic and deeply touching in its direct, emotional simplicity.

All of that working together is, well, beauty. It’s also the recipe for a conga line.

Zilla, Hodi’s Half Note, Fort Collins, April 21, 2007.

There was no doubt you could FEEL what Zilla was doing last night at Hodi’s Half Note, but whether you could HEAR it or not was another story. To be specific, what was missing in the sound mix last night was most of what hammered dulcimer player Jamie Janover was doing. While there was plenty of volume at work- and I was occasionally buffeted by the air being blasted away from the speakers at the front of the stage- but there was no discernable musical texture to it.

The good news is that you could easily hear- and feel- the precise whipcrack drum work by String Cheese member Michael Travis. But much more than the other members, guitarist Aaron Holstein was much, much too strong in the mix. In fact, his signals were so strong that it was many times overmodulated, replacing any sense of the melody weaving in and out of the rambling pieces with an annoying, rumbling low end blat- a decidedly unmusical sound. While this seemed to get better as the evening wore on, the actual volume of the signal didn’t, effectively cutting Janover out of the deal.

The result was a driving throb that still worked well on the crowd, who may well have danced to just about anything. And maybe that’s the key here- is to get moving no matter what the sound is like. However, I would guess that if Zilla could hear what was getting pumped out over the speakers to the audience, they probably wouldn’t have been too happy either. If this was band-engineered sound, they should seriously reconfigure their settings.

So the sound sucked- what more can I say? After checking out Zilla- despite those problems- I can say that I GET what makes these guys play in this format and I like it. Travis is a very effective rhythm machine and I could see how being able to just lock into a groove and then let it ride for a luxurious amount of time could be heaven to a drummer. Holstein seemed to be having a grand time adding bass, guitar and keyboard parts at will underneath Travis- though the volume problem limited what could really be heard of his playing.

Around and on top of all this was Janover’s contribution, which I found to be the most interesting and evocative part of the music. Janover’s hammered dulcimer set-up is a unique deal- besides the highly electrified dulcimer, Janover was surrounded by percussion tools of all sorts- including a mounted kalimba, electronic drum pads plus small acoustic drums. Between adding the delicate dulcimer sounds that gives Zilla’s music a certain lightness, Janover also responded to Travis’ work on his own drums, the two often synching into the groove together. Holstein’s noodling around provided a much-needed counterpoint to this, completing the band’s neo-electronica sound.

That’s why it was disappointing that the sound at Hodi’s on this particular night was questionable. I KNOW that there is much more to Zilla than what I heard live- their recent double-disk release “Alliz” reveals this with a crystal clear mix. But I’ll have to save all out praise for another time. To present this band, you don’t need rock stadium volume, you need a much more definitive approach to the mix and that was lacking on this particular date.

The opening band, Prism, fared better with the sound and their progressive instrumental music benefited. I was particularly impressed with the bass-drums rhythm section. As the quartet got revved up in each piece, I heard a lot of funky subtleties (is that possible?) being thrown in by the bass in specific as well as the drums. Then, as the whole group got charged- after negotiating several groove and musical figure changes together- the musicians reached for a frenzied climax. Prism was dramatic and effective and the crowd danced just as happily to their music as to Zilla.

The Police, Pepsi Center, Denver, June 9-10, 2007.


Let’s begin this report by going back to when tickets went on sale for what is already being called the biggest tour of the year- the reunion of Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland as the Police.

I knew when the announcement was made that the Police tour was going to be coming to Denver, that I wanted to go. Throughout the 1980s, Police music was always a part of my listening and despite the fact that I have seen Sting several times as a solo artist, it just wasn’t the Police, as classy as he was with his own bands.

I feel like I have gotten pretty good at getting tickets for shows I want to go to and have managed to easily score seats for just about everything I’ve been interested in. But this wasn’t the case the morning the Police tickets went on sale. I was online for over two hours and in the end, all I managed to get was a single ticket up in the third level behind the stage. That was tough luck for the people I was going to buy tickets for as a group- but I figured I would just go by myself no matter what.

Then the June 10 date was announced and while it still took a little doing, I did manage to buy a small block of tickets, thinking, well, I could always sell the single ticket I bought for the first show, since that event had sold out quickly. But then again, I realized that this situation offered me the opportunity to go see the show both nights- and I couldn’t pass it up.

June 9

Anticipation was high in the Pepsi Center for the first sold-out show in Denver. Opening act Fictionplane began playing its meaty, melodic rock to a lot of empty seats, but by the time the lights went out for the main act, the place was full and cranked up.

Fictionplane, featuring Joe Sumner on bass and vocals (like his dad, Sting), Scion Daunt on guitar and Pete Wilhoit on drums, are out promoting their first album release, “Left Side of the Brain,” and their first single from that record, “Two Sisters.” Unfortunately, the sound for this band was so muddy that you couldn’t really tell what the songs were about, but the band put in a spirited performance, much more edgy than the Police itself. In another context perhaps, the group might have made more fans, since this night was unequivocally about the Police and their much more clear-cut fusion of rock, reggae, jazz and pop. Still, Fictionplane earned a hearty ovation.

At the end of the set change, Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” came blaring over the PA system and the audience did exactly that- got up and shook off their complacency in readiness for the Police. A roar went up when the lights were shut down and the Police piled onstage. Beginning with “Message in a Bottle,” the show was a fairly complete survey of the Police’s music- from the rougher cut earlier tunes like the dynamic show closer “Next to You” to the much more delicate and ethereal “Walking in Your Footsteps.”

There was no doubt about it- Sting was a crowd favorite from the moment he stepped on stage. After all, he is such a focus for the Police, being the lead singer, songwriter and bassist for the band. Just a smile or the wave of his hand provoked cheers from the crowd and his presence on stage seemed to be the essential electricity that kept the audience roaring.

However, this reunion tour also well-establishes the significant contributions of Summers on guitar and Copeland on drums. Summers’ guitar work adds so much to the sound, from bright embellishing chords laid in between the melodies to some frenzied rough stuff that gave the music a heightened sense of tension- all things Sting can’t really do by himself. Copeland has both a solid sense of the basics of the rhythms- propelling each piece with whipcrack snare work and hard-thumping bass drums- as well as creative fill work that helps give the music its sense of adventure. This was further emphasized by Copeland’s extra playland of percussion instruments- from gongs and cymbals to tympanis and a wide assortment of jangly things- that rose up out of the floor of the stage at opportune times.

As mentioned, the set list was a basic survey of the Police’s music and included a revved up “Can’t Stand Losing You,” “King of Pain,” “Every Breath You Take” and the simplistic, sing-songy “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.” The effect, at times, was hit and miss, however. “Driven to Tears” was exciting and dramatic, but the intro to “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” was an inscrutable mess, cleared up only when Sting got through the first verse. “Invisible Sun” was a treat to hear and the only tune of the night to be accompanied by special video production- the rest of the night, the video screens displayed imagery from the show itself. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” was missing some of the angst the song expresses, softened around the edges.

While the sound for the entirety of the evening was passable, it was the more restrained material that worked best on the ears. “Walking on the Moon” was buoyant even if made out of simple fluff- and was the first song of the evening that the band seemed like they were really on the same page- like they had been together all along. “Walking in Your Footsteps”- featuring Copeland on jangly stuff in his percussion playland- was a major highlight of the evening- cool and evocative.

The stage is an oval affair that, despite some lights ringing the perimeter and the ever-shifting color bars hung above, was kind of spare, focusing on the band, not production tricks. There was an upper riser encircling the back end of the stage, which Sting used a couple of times and Summers at least stepped up onto on occasion, but was for the most part unused.

That the Police have just embarked on their world tour was reflected in the stage presence of the three musicians. Sting certainly seemed at home being in the frontman position and he showed some pleasure at still being able to make the crowd sing. Above and beyond the band’s music, some of the most powerful moments of the show were when Sting got the crowd involved in that “ee-oo, ee-oo” call and response thing- something that is just perfect for the arena setting. But at the end of the set and encores, Sting made a hasty retreat off the stage, without chumming around with Summers and Copeland.

Copeland, at times would come out from behind the drums kit to wave and greet the crowd with a big grin and comments no one could really hear- otherwise, he stuck to business. And Summers seemed a little stiff and cold in terms of dealing with the crowd pandemonium around him- barely showing emotion, at least on his face.

The main set closed with “Roxanne,” the stage bathed in red light- of course- and the band followed that up with two two-song encores. The final number, “Next to You” showed some teeth and while there may have been plenty of opportunity to criticize the band after being apart for so long, the roar in the arena told the story of their success. People leaving the arena seemed well-satisfied that they had gotten a good dose of what has perhaps become a forgotten pleasure- the Police’s music.

June 10

Of course, I had every expectation that the June 10 show would be very similar, if not exactly like the June 9 show in terms of set list and band behavior. However, what was different was that I was going with other people. While I am dedicated enough to music to go ahead and attend events by myself, it’s a weird way to go, since concerts are a lot about people being out with each other in a thousand little groups around the arena.

What I wasn’t prepared for was that when we reached the top of the escalator on the upper level, we were greeted by Pepsi Center people offering free upgrades, I guess since this show wasn’t sold out. We checked out our seats- the first row on the third level, behind the stage- a pretty good vantage point. However, when we asked about the upgrades, the fellow we talked to couldn’t find four seats together until he pulled out another batch of upgrade tickets from under his podium. From this he peeled off four tickets in the first row on the lower level right behind the stage- and I mean RIGHT behind the stage. The person sitting in front of me, for all intent and purposes, was Stewart Copeland at the drums. OK, so the band was turned away from us most of the night, but then again, it was just like sitting on the stage- and the concert imagery I was seeing was just about what the band was seeing- the massive crowd in the arena going nuts for their favorite tunes.

This in itself made the second night much more enjoyable than the first. However, I do not think it was my imagination that the band too was having a much better time. Sting seemed to be much more outgoing- and he slowed his exits from the stage quite a bit to do some waving and pointing at the crowd around the stage. He took a few more tours around the riser behind the stage, lingering to work up the crowd behind. I have to admit, I was yelling in delight when Sting did a little crowd rousing just a few feet in front of my seat.

Copeland seemed to be pretty much the same as the first night, but Summers seemed a lot more expressive with his body language and his comfort with the stage. He even smiled on occasion and took his own turns at whipping up some crowd reaction.

The set list was almost identical- maybe “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” was a little earlier in the set, that’s all. But since I was familiar with the set already, the act of discovery was more about listening to the stuff that didn’t register as completely the first time around, such as “Synchronicity II,” “When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around,” “Spirits in the Material World,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger” (with more cool jangly playing from Copeland,) “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” and “So Lonely.”

Despite the fact that the first night was so cranked up in anticipation, I got the drift that the second night audience was having even a better time- or maybe it was just that I was having a better time. But from my vantage point from behind the stage, looking out into the arena, I saw thousands of people dancing and waving their arms, all with this big grin on their faces. I had a big grin too and the energy in the air was uplifting and positive. At the end of the show, this carried me out of the arena with everything I like about live music- the sense that some musicians are creating something really powerful and that being with the band and the audience is refreshing and rejuvenating. Just hang the details and look at the results of the Police reunion- happy people. That’s how well the Police tour is going.

Live Earth, NBC broadcast, July 7, 2007.

Akon, John Mayer, Melissa Etheridge, Al Gore, Pharrel Williams, Alicia Keys, UB40, Kelly Clarkson, Dave Matthews Band, Madonna, Macy Gray, Kanye West, Bon Jovi, Smashing Pumpkins, Lenny Kravitz, Roger Waters, Linkin Park, The Police.

Wow- I had no idea that one of the most powerful live music experiences I would have this summer would happen in my concert buddy’s living room. That is, the six hours of the NBC network broadcast of Live Earth concert coverage.

“Live Earth, the Concerts for a Climate in Crisis” was a well-coordinated slate of pop music concerts occurring simultaneously in major cities- New York, London, Tokyo and more- around the world on July 7- a date that was popularly thought of as the luckiest day of the millennium. Well, it was certainly lucky for the fans attending any of the shows that NBC covered in its titanic broadcast that ended up lasting from six to midnight Mountain time. It was even luckier for those who could watch it on television- being able to be right on stage with this staggering litany of contemporary performers.

It was also lucky for Al Gore and other outspoken proponents of the Earth-friendly messages that Live Earth ultimately existed for to deliver. Gore’s global warming slide show and the resulting film version titled “An Inconvenient Truth” were the inspiration for the entire program and thanks to support from important artists and his own high profile in the international eye, his messages- and plenty of other perspectives- were exposed to millions in one major event.

Yes, let’s not think of Live Earth as a schedule of events with a theme, but one big event. It was a major public relations undertaking that wasn’t just about filling those individual stadiums with people- though the crowds certainly added to the excitement of the broadcast. Rather, the entire thing was created to have maximum reach way beyond the actual on-site attendees. In fact, while I generally do not count watching live music on television as a legitimate concert experience, I couldn’t help but feel that above and beyond whatever it took to pull off the stadium shows themselves, that Live Earth was MEANT to be a unique television event. Music fans at home didn’t need to feel they were on the sidelines for this one. In many ways, they were actually the guests of honor as the performers came and went and short films did the job of creatively hammering home various ecological points.

To be honest, I expected the broadcast to somehow mimic the hoopla that surrounded Live Aid back in the 1980s. Coverage of Live Aid was handled kind of like a huge sporting event, with commentators blah blah blahing through it all. It was also, effectively, one big telethon, gathering donations worldwide through the international broadcast. But Live Earth didn’t have any commentators- it simply presented its message with no “expert” help- and while viewers were encouraged to log on to the organization’s Web site to sign a seven-point ecological pledge, there was no particular plea for money. This underscores the purpose of the whole she-bang- to get Earth-friendly concepts out to as many pairs of ears as possible. If Live Earth’s main purpose was to raise awareness and spur action, it seemed to be working spectacularly as names of recent pledgees- from all over the world- continually ran across strips above different stages.

I don’t really know if the attendees of the actual concerts were treated to the main form of exposure during the broadcast- a series of short films by various directors dealing with a variety of ecological issues including global warming in general, but also specific situations such as coal-burning and other forms of energy production. In the end, the messages all came around to the concept that indeed individuals can do something about these alarming world-wide trends just by making small changes in their personal lifestyles. There were funny films, using humor to get the messages across; artsy films, turning simple concepts into attention-getting abstraction; and straight-up serious pleas for change. Part of the pleasure of the entire broadcast was seeing which tack would be used next and each short film skillfully combined entertainment and information.

As for the music, I already have a pet name for the Live Earth event- and that is “Live Earth Mother” since during the six hour broadcast, the performers who really, really shined were all women. That started with Melissa Etheridge’s impassioned performance that lead to her impassioned introduction of Al Gore himself, who spoke to the audience and lead them in a reading of the Live Earth pledge, containing political, social and personal promises about improving the environment and designed to create “a just and prosperous world for the 21st Century.” Etheridge’s dramatic stage presence- her eyes wide and body language suggesting a strong desire to stir up everybody in and out of sight- set the tone for the other female performers that followed.

Alicia Keys was stunning visually and musically. Dressed in a tight, vivid pink dress, Keys dominated the stage as a roving vocalist, then as a keyboardist. Her music- an amalgam of R & B and pop styles- was emotionally satisfying as Keys dug into the songs with apparent relish. This went for medley-like selections of classic material like Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” to originals like her brand new tune “That’s the Thing About Love.” Youngster Kelly Clarkson also was impressive, digging passionately into her catchy, concise pop rock songs. Macy Gray- whose entire band had clearly written ecological and political messages plastered on their outfits- also brought impassioned female soul to the stage.

Best of all, however, was Madonna’s performance in London. A huge band, plenty of dancers, a children’s choir and an exciting light show all combined to provide a rousing atmosphere for the whip-thin, vibrant Madonna to vamp it up in. And vamp it up she did- changing costumes from a body-clinging black dress to super skin-tights- dancing, gesturing and even whanging on a guitar. It sure looked like Madonna was having a great time- and who in their right mind wouldn’t be with all that going on to support you. Guest artists from Gogol Bordello added some more exotic spice and by the end of Madonna’s set, I was cheering out loud- which didn’t bother my buddy because he was cheering too. The skillful build up of “Ray of Light” was, well, orgasmic in nature and Madonna’s portion of the show was worth the entire six hour experience alone.

Of course, the women weren’t alone on stage and there were plenty of male performers. Guitarist and vocalist John Mayer played a deceptively mellow pop rock. Roger Waters trotted out favorite Pink Floyd songs such as “Money” and “Us and Them,” finishing up his set with his own children’s choir and a rousing version of “Another Brick in the Wall.” Waters’ famous floating pig even joined in on spreading the message of the day: “Save Our Sausage.” Jon Bon Jovi- specially introduced by Gore himself (who had been introduced a second time by actress Cameron Diaz)- made a triumphant homeboy appearance in the New York/New Jersey concert, his dramatic rock songs hitting the mark with the on-site audience. In Rio, Lenny Kravitz headlined with his dynamic, soulful rock.

While the more rock-oriented sets seemed to be working well, the low points of the Live Earth broadcast were all provided by hip hop artists. Akon, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West all turned in lackluster performances, perhaps because the volume and proximity needed to turn hip hop into a party just wasn’t there for television viewers. The most artistically challenging of the hip hop sets was West’s, who included a full string section including a full-sized harp in his band. The visual effect was more effective than the sound, which came across as some kind of weak mish-mash of styles with West incessantly ranting on top of it all.

The featured bands at the various concerts fared much better. UB40 succeeded with their pop reggae sound not by blasting it out, but by patiently building the emotional strength of each tune. The Dave Matthews Band turned in perhaps the best band performance of the broadcast, playing a strong, artful and challenging music with changing time signatures and plenty of angst- appropriate for the event because global warming is a situation creating plenty of its own angst. The recently reunited/reformed Smashing Pumpkins also added some slow-building angst, with a roiling electric grunge attached. Linkin Park was fully powerful and triumphant in its headlining slot in Tokyo- general pandemonium seemed to be the result on-site.

The evening’s finale was left up to the Police, who have recently reunited for a major world tour. That this band could side step all the other contemporary performers to be the headliners in New York- even after being apart for so many years- is a testament to the band’s enduring legacy. Even though it seemed that Sting was having a little trouble with his vocals- caught on camera grabbing a sip of tea from a cup between tunes- the general thrust of the music stayed intact, especially thanks to guitarist Andy Summers’ edgy contributions. That John Mayer and Kanye West joined the Police for the last song- “Message in a Bottle,” it’s “sending out an SOS” refrain fitting perfectly with the theme of Live Earth- was superfluous and even kind of dumb, it was a fitting cap for a truly extensive night of music.

Occasional clippings of highlights demonstrated that Live Earth was even bigger than the broadcast I saw. Images of various performers including Metallica, Wolfmother, Cat Stevens, James Blunt, Crowded House and Phil Collins underscored just how extensive this particular effort had gone. The expected reaction, then, is how can you not want to join this movement? Gore’s slideshow/film has been criticized for faulty facts and figures. But as far as I can tell, those are details. Global warming and all the various things that contribute to it, is a subject that concerns many, many people- important or not. That many voices raised to call attention to something in particular should be heard- and they were loud and clear during Live Earth. Wow.

Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Thunder Mountain Amphitheatre, Loveland, July 19, 2007.

Some music transcends the writer and the group that originally recorded it and that was more than evident at Thunder Mountain Amphitheatre for the upbeat, satisfying romp by Creedence Clearwater Revisited on July 19.

Sure, original Creedence Clearwater Revival members Stu Cook and Doug “Cosmo” Clifford were the core of this unit, rounded out by new musicians with some new energy, and their performance was plenty spirited, but the real fireworks last night came from the audience. Everyone around me, crowded up around the stage, was belting out each familiar hit as though it were their own song. This is key to understanding the success of CCRevisited- the music Cook and Clifford recorded so long ago with original lead guitarist, vocalist and songwriter John Fogerty and his brother Tom has so much become the property of the people themselves, that the band basically needed only plow into any one of the many Creedence hits and the audience was more than willing to take it from there.

Of course, that’s not all there was to CCRevisited, making the experience more than nostalgia. In particular, lead guitarist Tal Morris was a fiery presence on stage- stepping forward at those well-established times in each song for the guitarist to let ‘er rip.
Lead vocalist and guitarist John Tristao was also a dynamic presence- his piercing tenor achieving the proper roughness, but also establishing his own turf- through passionate personal vocal inflections in this well-worn material. Multi-instrumentalist Steve Gunner added able support on keyboards, guitar and vocals.

Meanwhile, Cook, on bass, and Clifford, on drums, demonstrated with polished ease their strength as a long time rhythm section. Clifford declared during his brief moment at the center mike that he and Cook had originally met when they were 13 years old, making their relationship go back some 49 years. Those many years have resulted in a strong natural groove together, underscored all the more by the resonating power of the Creedence catalog- something they helped to build, no matter who wrote the songs.

At Thunder Mountain, so packed with fans, they were busing people over from lots at the Ranch, you couldn’t escape the rhythmic power of the funky “Suzie Q” or the quintessential dance groove of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” With Cook and Clifford as the lynch pins, the rest of the guys in CCRevisited had plenty of room to open up and burn.

CCRevisited started the show, after an opening set by Running Wild, with “Born on the Bayou.” From there until an encore that included “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” they had the audience up front dancing and happily singing along with every tune. The set list also included “Green River,” “Lodi,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Suzie Q,” “Hey Tonight,” “Long as I Can See the Light,” “Down on the Corner,” “Lookin’ Out My Backdoor,” “Midnight Special,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary” and “Fortunate Son.” Nothing sounded weak, watered down or rusty, rather it was a buoyant and celebrative performance, something that the people around me last night evidently needed and wanted.

Monolith Festival, Red Rocks, Morrison, September 14-15, 2007.

I should NOT tell you about the Monolith Festival- the great new two-day music festival that was held at Red Rocks on September 14-15. I shouldn’t tell you because it would be kind of sad to see it grow any bigger. I mean, this year, it was pretty much a perfect situation for a live music lover- great bands with a wide diversity of sounds kicking off new music every few minutes in different locations; a large enough crowd to make it feel like things were happening- yet small enough to make it feel like a big, mellow party; a beautiful setting in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains- quite literally the top of the rock and roll world for at least this one full, busy, rocking weekend. I shouldn’t tell anyone and keep this one a secret so next year will be just as fine.

Now, the organizers would probably NOT like this at all. They probably would like to see another four or five thousand more people next year- and I don’t blame them. After all, they did a first class job of pulling together an interesting and challenging schedule, national and international bands standing shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of great Colorado performers. It really should pay off. But I can see it now- add even three thousand more people and instant access to the five stages, showcasing 64 groups, will become a lot trickier. This year it was kind of a walk in the park- or a hike, really. I think I did the stairs at Red Rocks more than 20 times during the two days of Monolith.

The highlights were plentiful. As one of a record number of photographers at Red Rocks this year (a security guard counted 39 photographers grappling for space along the front railing just before the Flaming Lips’ over-the-top performance), I stuck pretty much to my lens for the first several bands I saw, but being up close to the raw power of Ghostland Observatory on the main stage on Friday afternoon made me drop my camera and watch with jaw dropped. Another band that made me lose my cool on Friday was the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- rocking rough, raw and direct. The Kings of Leon impressed with much the same stuff.

Over the weekend, I enjoyed getting acquainted with the exuberance of bands like Everything Absent or Distorted, Little Ones and Matt and Kim. Some of the acts were outrageous- like Bob Log III, the guy who performs with a telephone receiver melded to a helmet for a microphone. The Reverend Peyton’s Hot Damn Band, playing a wild, in-your-face acoustic hillbilly blues, actually kind of scared me a little. Some bands- like power trio Earl Greyhound- just dug in and played a straight, pile-driving, no nonsense rock. Cloud Cult melded visual art- featuring two artists- and music together in a challenging and engaging performance.

The acoustic stage- far from out of place in a festival that featured mostly the upbeat and loud- was a welcome change of pace every time I visited. That included getting a dose of some powerful Colorado female performers- Angie Stevens and Nina Storey. Ian Cooke’s blend of folk songs and cello was fully flavorful and Tim Barry was fully irreverent during his set.

The stages in the visitors center- in the Heart of the Rock Theatre and the Rock Room- took the place of the night club experience, featuring intimate encounters with touring bands of all stripes- progressive rock, hard rock, horn rock. I thought the Thieves were dynamite. 3Oh!3 just plain dominated the room.

But the band that really did it for me- made me plop down on a seat in the upper third of the bowl and take in the full impact of the music- was Spoon. Crafting a powerful and impactful rock out of opposing forces- dissonance and melody, angst and assurance, control and chaos- Spoon rolled it all up together in one crackling, burning set. Yes, and the magic of Red Rocks also came into play- great rock and roll on the stage, a beautiful Colorado night, Denver’s lights wavering out below.

Of course, the Flaming Lips closed the Monolith Festival with all the antics you might expect- with balloons and streamers shooting every which way- lights flashing, people in funny suits waving flashlights, music blaring, videos rolling across the half-circle screen behind the band. It was a celebration of aberration and the crowd- that had swelled to more than half capacity- was happily along for the wild ride. The man-in-a-bubble effect coupled with the scores of huge green balloons that came bouncing down from the top of Red Rocks were cool indeed.

Monolith’s production schedule was more or less under control- I was in the upper parking lot at 3 o’clock on Friday- and I could hear the first band of the festival- Dirty Novels- start right in on time. The timing in the visitor center was held up occasionally by the movements of the bands in and out and the subsequent complexity of sound checks. Due to echoing sound, the bands playing the stage on the upper terrace had to wait for the bands on the main stage far below to finish before getting going and there may have been a few hitches in the timing there. There was good reason to wait- during Spoon’s set, I could hear Cloud Cult diddling on their instruments during their set-up, bouncing off the rocks, mixing at times with Spoon’s music. If Spoon wasn’t so enthralling themselves, this might have been annoying. But all in all, a festival goer with the will to check out a LOT of music, could do so thanks to a well-planned staggered starting time schedule. During my two days at Monolith I saw something like 45 performers and didn’t wait around very much.

That’s why I shouldn’t tell you about Monolith. Because next year, when the line-up gets even stronger, you and your friends just might be the people standing in front of me while I’m trying to get a shot of some guitarist from Ireland. Then I would be sorry I helped anyone find out about what a good time Monolith was. Then I would be wishing for the perfect rock and roll of that first festival year.

Olga Kern, Griffin Concert Hall, Fort Collins, October 6, 2007.

When pianist Olga Kern began her program on October 6 with three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, she was using a light, soft, perhaps even conservative touch on the instrument. That’s all the music, a pleasing, steady roll of rhythm and melody, needed and Kern’s playing remained consistently smooth, adding a shine to the rounded corners of Scarlatti’s formulaic compositional style.

The next piece, however, Federic Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op.58, naturally challenged the ear and the performer. Though Kern played four formal movements altogether, each movement itself was made up of many little “movements,” the mood and rhythm changing often- sometimes within only a few bars. Chopin’s writing was tied back to Scarlatti because it often returned to a classical sense of tempo and the importance of melody. However, gone were the long stretches of predetermined music that earlier composers relied on to fill time, replaced by new ideas in structure and sound experiments. Chopin’s savory twist on melody- often ending a phrase with an unexpected but pleasing note- in particular gave Kern room for expression as she met each turn in the music with practiced aplomb.

But it was after the intermission that the real fireworks began. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor Op. 36 (revised,) was not just a technical work-out, but one of passion too. The music seemed to naturally demand EMOTION as well as musical proficiency. That meant the light, civilized touch Kern applied to the Scarlatti pieces at the beginning of the evening was replaced with a meaty dominance, Rachmaninoff’s melodies propelled by Kern’s full chording and all-out abandonment to the music’s busy motion.

The final piece of the evening, before Kern returned for an encore, was Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C major, an all-out romp on the piano with Kern at the keys. While the rapid, familiar melody returned often, the piece also included some of that sound experimentation that made the Chopin piece so interesting- dissonance and instantaneous change in mood once again challenging the performer. Kern maintained a masterful control throughout.

This was a dignified and even formal presentation. Kern did not take any time whatsoever to talk about the music- she let the program notes do the talking there. In fact, it was kind of a relief NOT to be given a history lesson by the performer- it meant more time for the music. But that isn’t to say that there wasn’t some showmanship involved. For the first half of the evening, Kern appeared on stage in a colorful red and purple gown, shining with sequins and pointy, red high heeled shoes. For the second half, she took the stage in a lighter colored gown, allowing all the color to be in the music. She was a striking figure at the piano and ably summoned up moments of musical passion and magic in a landscape of ten thousand notes.

Cornell Gunter’s Coasters, Platters, Legendary Lead Singers of the Temptations, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, October 8, 2007.

Let’s call the Coasters, Platters and Temptations show at the Lincoln Center on October 8, the first performance of a five show run to kick off the Showstoppers Series, a success from the very start. Patrons were clapping, dancing and singing along with merry abandonment to several decades’ worth of hit songs- some made popular by the original groups themselves, some not.

Showmanship covered the bill as all three of the groups kept their stage presence very active. Lightly choreographed motion kept all of the vocalists- four in the Coasters, four in the Platters and five in the Temptations- busy and engaged. The Temptations in particular were very effective in the group motion department- constantly using their hands and arms to illustrate the music, as well as dancing together. Everybody was also dressed with style- no t-shirts and jeans, but suits and shiny shoes.

When not singing, each group also had a lot to say to the audience, joking, kidding and generally goofing around. Without all that, the concert probably could have included four to six more songs- but the gregarious interaction set up a friendly vibe that worked well for the audience, who readily laughed along with the quips and joined in on any crowd participation exercise.

However it should be said that at times the musicality of the performance left something to be desired. Especially during the Temptations set, cracking voices and off key notes were prominent throughout their short set, which was more like a drive-by with the group than a full-scale concert encounter.

There were moments of brilliance on Monday, mainly supplied by the lead singer of the Platters, who successfully smashed the time barrier and exhibited some of the chilling, passionate vocals that made vocal music of the 1950s its own unique form of expression. When on the mike, he was a riveting figure and at times was able to single-handedly create a tie back to another era altogether.

However, the pendulum swung just as hard the other way during the Platters portion of the show when the female vocalist took a turn out in the audience while performing Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” Despite the movement in the crowd, which created a stir in the room, the vocals so much lacked artistic nuance that it was a relief when the tune was over. That is not a good sign in any type of show.

But it wasn’t just the performers that challenged the ear. The sound mix was also detrimental. The vocal mikes were mixed in wild proportion to each other and the mix in the speakers blatantly missed half of the only rock and roll keyboard solo of the evening.

With all that said, however, I couldn’t help but be moved by the one new piece of the evening, a rousing and even inspiring patriotic anthem titled “Stand Up, America.” It inspired the audience, who stood and honored military veterans of all kinds while members of the Coasters and the Platters performed the piece as the finale of the first half.

The four piece band that backed all three groups was also pretty much right on throughout the evening. The Temptations added a pianist and musical director, who kept the show moving at a slick, professional, rapid pace.

Now, I know what people are thinking who might have been dancing in the aisle on Monday night- lighten up about the singing, after all they’re very old groups. This is why I called the show a success initially- because really, it served its purpose in ENTERTAINING the people well. However, if I were the musical director of this bunch, I would sit them all down and tell them to work harder at honoring this music with stronger concentration on the art of singing, above and beyond rousing the crowd. “Legendary” or not, all the mugging with the crowd and dance routines just can’t cover up a questionable sound and BECAUSE these are very old groups, they should know better.

Beyond the critical blah, blah, blah, however, I did get a sense on Monday night that this event had ties back to a whole other world. The Lincoln Center had been sent back in time to become the site of one big, happy sock hop. The emphasis here is on “happy” as the crowd seemed to be having nothing but good, clean fun. I think there is a real need for this in these times that are so full of angst. I came away feeling like I had experienced something- a big, old-fashioned rock and roll dance- and that no matter how stretched the lines are between these groups and the original groups that initially became famous, the line is there nonetheless. And it isn’t just the songs that keep this music linked to the past, it’s the presentation, which is what this show was certainly strong on.

Widespread Panic, Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, October 13, 2007.

At the end of Widespread Panic’s first set at the Budweiser Events Center on Saturday, when the band put down their instruments and left the stage, there was a very discernable din of excited voices filling the air. I don’t think it was because no one was paying attention to the band, involved in their own parties. I think it was because that is just how ramped up the Widespread audience gets at one of the band’s shows- probably at every show.

Just like the busy, urgent talking going on at the break, the audience was also busy the entire time the band was on the stage. That is, it seemed like everyone in the room was in constant motion. If they weren’t dancing by themselves, or boogieing with friends, they seemed to be going somewhere- slipping through the crowd, making brief contact with strangers, getting drinks, finding random acquaintances- who knows what else. But this wasn’t just during Widespread’s set. They did the same exact thing during the DJ sets warming up the beginning of the evening and during the break.

I spent many of my teenage years in southern California and I went to a lot of Grateful Dead shows- since they seemed to be playing somewhere close all the time. There is a tendency to want to lump the old Grateful Dead audience with the Widespread audience. After all, they both were/are made up of a lot of hippie-looking people who make it a part of their lifestyle to travel to shows and become part of the “family” atmosphere. Because of this, both audiences end up creating their own kind of mythology about the bands and the shows- time being marked by what happened and stories being fondly told.

Beyond that general impression, however, the Widespread audience differs from the Dead crowd in this one major way: energy. The Dead audience was mellow and friendly- patient enough to allow the band time to get up to speed and finally kick things into overdrive. The Widespread audience wasted no time at all in participating fully in this event- cheering at the start of each tune, vigorously dancing (a lot of folks doing this kind of funky walk/stomp kind of thing- a lot more physical than the more swirly, in-your-own-world dancing that Dead people seemed to favor) and like I said- talking about whatever like there was no tomorrow.

Matching this was Widespread Panic’s commitment to deliver the goods- from the beginning of the first tune. While the tempo of the music rose and fell as the set developed, what seemed to be consistent throughout the evening was a very full, thick sound. In short, Widespread was a big, continuous jolt of electricity the entire time they were on stage.

Center stage was vocalist and guitarist John Bell, whose voice- a world-wise tenor- could easily be heard cutting through the wall of sound. Lead guitarist Jimmy Herring continuously added those snaky, wiry solos. But while Herring, Bell and bassist Dave Schools kept the heavy guitar sound of the band intact, it was keyboardist John Hermann who added plenty of melodic and rhythmic counterpoints to make the music more flavorful. This was also the case in the percussion department. Drummer Todd Nance was a powerful driving force throughout the night while percussionist Domingo Ortiz filled in the cracks with ear-catching accents. The sound never faltered and the band morphed one song right into the next for a strong continuous flow.

Once again, the Budweiser Events Center proved to be a superior place to see a show of this kind. It’s not the greatest looking place aesthetically, but its relative intimacy, compared to the bigger venues in the area, serves to accentuate and even intensify the bigger shows. Roughly half the size of Red Rocks- where Widespread sold out several shows over the summer- the Budweiser Events Center got the same level of show. Even at the back of the floor area- jammed with ever-moving fans- this show seemed right in your face- a very satisfying experience, indeed.

Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, October 20, 2007.

Colorful costumes, interesting props, cool lighting, riveting music and arresting images. All of these things were very evident in the Lily Cai Chinese Dance performance at the Lincoln Center last night. What was NOT evident was the constant motion that is usually associated with contemporary dance. Instead, this company presented a program filled with series after series of visually stimulating vignettes, where the motion it takes to get to each little vignette is not particularly as important as the resulting image itself.

This is not entirely a personal observation. Cai herself came out and explained the difference between her company’s style and that of many others after the opening piece. According to Cai, the difference is inherent in cultural roots- that Chinese dance is about dancing WITHIN a space, not through it, like Western dance. This kind of internalization resulted in less actual movement on stage but a refined sense of control and composure. Motion for motion’s sake- to be impressive with feats of challenging physical dexterity- just wasn’t the agenda for the Lily Cai company.

A perfect example of how this worked was in the piece “Dance from Qing” from Cai’s “Dynasty Suite.” The dancers were dressed in colorful, embroidered costumes with impressive headdresses. On their feet were high heeled shoes- with the heel in the center of the shoe- and this particular dance was about the grace and poise it takes to move smoothly under those conditions. The dancers did not do acrobatics on the shoes, or attempt to gyrate- they simply moved with slow, dignified deliberation, the swing of their hands, holding red kerchiefs, marking the progress of the piece across the stage. The effect was splendid in its simplicity and resonating power.

Those red kerchiefs were not just an accessory for “Dance from Qing.” Instead, as Cai explained herself, the use of props was a deliberate part of the company’s aesthetic. The props- the red kerchiefs, designer baskets on the ends of poles, long colorful ribbons- helped fill in some of the stage imagery while the company was concentrating on dancing “within” their space.

The most effect “props,” of course, were the pairs of flaming candles each dancer manipulated throughout the last piece, “Candelas.” These weren’t just flashlights representing candles, but real fire, which cut through the darkness in the theater like no artificial light can do. It was certainly an otherworldly effect, arousing a primal kind of fascination and fear- I couldn’t help but hope that everything was well in line as the curtains closed close to these flames at the end of the show.

All of this is not to say that the Lily Cai group is in the business of recreating Chinese folk dances. While fully based on ancient forms, there were often moments in the show that allowed for contemporary times to creep in. Those moments were sometimes startling. For example, the first part of the “Dynasty Suite,” “Basket Girls- Dance from Zhou,” featured a style of dance that started with a little motion, then a pose- the women extending their back ends far behind them- something Cai brought to the audience’s attention during her brief time on stage. Later in the suite, during “Straw Hat Girl,” the same pose- the extended back end- was echoed (actually as it was throughout many of the pieces) but in this case, the motion included some modern shimmying and shaking that turned an ancient exercise in poise into a little steamy bit of bump and grind.

The spare but effective lighting also served to accentuate the dance pieces in ways the ancients probably did not conceive of. This was most evident during the piece “Begin from Here,” that featured company members swirling long brightly colored ribbons from the tops of pedestals. The ribbons themselves were interesting to see, but the spotlighting, trained not on the dancers but on the swirling ribbons, turned them into something more- a mesmerizing visual image that engulfed the dancers, all dressed in red suits.

It should also be reported that the music for the concert was at times more intense, perhaps even more exhilarating than the dance itself, also revealing modern sensibilities. Original music by music director Gang Situ and Gary Schwantes during the first two chunks of the program vacillated between the use of traditional sounding instruments in a traditional sounding setting, to full bodied arrangements achieving deep electronic power. The Gustav Mahler piece used to back up “Candelas” was equally powerful emotionally and an excellent counterpoint to the other music. Combined WITH the dance, then, the music played a significant role in assuring the success of the performance.

For those looking for the “usual” in a modern dance performance, this event might have been disappointing for a lack of physical business. For those open to experiencing a unique vision, starting with touchstones to the far gone past then spicing things up with contemporary elements, the Lily Cai concert was satisfying indeed.

DeVotchKa, Yard Dogs Road Show, Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, October 27, 2007.

My perspective on innovative Denver band DeVotchKa is forever warped. My first DeVotchKa show was their “Day of the Dead Gala” at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver on October 27 and I’m afraid that any of the band’s regular gigs would probably pale next to this surreal experience. Between the plethora of bizarre costumes in the audience and the otherworldly happenings on stage, the visuals alone were entertaining indeed.

But let’s also add that DeVotchKa’s music is challenging. It’s a tricky blend of eastern European and western influences. When I talk about western, I mean far western and south as frequent Mariachi references were prominent. It’s a flavorful music- lead vocalist Nick Urata’s fragile crooning backed up by a core band of drums, violin, tuba/bass as well as a full string section and horns at times.

Despite the stage full of musicians, it took DeVotchKa quite a while to get things revved up. They didn’t come on with a bang, but built the set slowly, finally kicking into overdrive towards the end, the audience responding by bobbing quickly up and down in the air.

The whole thing began at the back of the auditorium, a conga line of musicians winding their way through the crowd, following a leering, four-eyed skeleton figure being held aloft in a chair. After making their way to the stage, Urata was brought on in a wooden coffin, his hand inching its way out of the box, finally thrusting a bottle into the air before climbing out. Then the band made deliberate progress through a range of music that had a kind of unwashed guttural quality at times, as well a sense of refinement at other times- especially when the strings were featured in the ever-shifting arrangements.

Small but key moments occurred during DeVotchKa’s set when Urata backed off the mike and started pounding the hell out of the stage boards with his heels- a rhythmic stomping like a flamenco dancer on a barroom tabletop somewhere in Siberia. This was key because out in the audience, I witnessed many of the dancers doing exactly that- stomping the hell out of the floor in rhythm to the music and evidently getting a lot of angst release as a result. This dance move seemed to connect DeVotchKa’s hybrid ethnic music back to some kind of primal, dramatic physical response.

Rhythm was also a major element in Urata’s guitar playing- at times he was a frantic and intense strummer. This created a rhythmic flavor that was separate from everything else, often bringing the whole ensemble together in a flurry.

For the event, all the members of DeVotchKa had painted their faces, some spooky decorations were strewn around the stage and the lighting cooperated in making this an unusual scene.  But it was the infrequent appearances of a matching set of female acrobats that made this set out of the ordinary in terms of stage action. Whether undulating up and down long ribbons of fabric, or twisting around together on a hoop suspended right next to Urata’s mike, the women added plenty to make this into something more than just a concert.

I wouldn’t say that DeVotchKa particularly worked the crowd and didn’t seem interested in rabble-rousing as such. The music- and the visuals- had to suffice in creating that effect- and it did that if the stomping in the audience was any indication.

Besides, the Yard Dogs Road Show provided plenty of the rabble rousing before DeVotchKa hit the stage. Their energy level was on high from the moment they arrived in a flurry of shouting, stage action and blazing electric rock. The Yard Dogs Road Show is a gritty kind of carnival side show, blasting its way through various stunts and numbers by three dancers in various skimpy or nearly non existent costumes. The sword swallower- at one point sticking a lit orange tube down his throat- was a popular part of the show, but the crowd whooped and cheered every time the ladies appeared. The Yard Dogs barker was properly maniacal, other members of the band were all dressed in distinctive rock and roll hobo style, add some horns, a little gargle singing, some unusual percussion instruments and lots of movement everywhere on stage and you are starting to get the picture.

Opening the whole deal was the Benevento-Russo Duo- an instrumental jam jazz fusion unit, high on energy and apparently determined to make the most of the fast pace by layering sounds- both expected as well as unexpected- into the groove. There was nothing visual or circus-like for this pair- just straight jamming music with the occasional hard tweak.

Put together, DeVotchKa’s “Day of the Dead” gala was a rush of sensory excitement- the music itself not being the least of it. But I’m not sure where that leaves me with DeVotchKa in the future- I mean, after all, it is not Halloween all year round, but that’s what I’m going to always associate with this band- a very vivid night to remember.

East Village Opera Company, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, November 4, 2007.

OK- so I’ll admit it. I don’t know beans about opera. The only live opera I’ve ever seen was as a tourist in Leningrad, Russia- and who knows what that really was. I haven’t had much experience with opera recordings either. However, I know quite a bit about rock and roll and starting from there, the East Village Opera Company’s show at the Lincoln Center last night was great rock and roll. All of the elements were there for a highly satisfying, impressive experience that left me wanting more.

First, let’s just take the opera stuff out of the equation. The East Village Opera Company is, at its core, a crack rock band, nimbly negotiating the quick changes and furious climaxes of the music with the aplomb of any veteran progressive rock unit. All four of the key players- guitar, bass, drums and keyboards- worked each arrangement with a confident swagger. Their sound was aggressive and energetic, the harshness of the electric instruments refined somewhat by a three-woman string section, who added plenty of texture to the mix for a full, muscular effect.

But then add in two great vocalists- a male and female- who not only could belt out a song with definitive authority, but they could do so on pitch and with dynamic control. A lot of rock and roll is about unleashed expression, and the vocalists for the East Village Opera Company nailed everything they attempted with believable passion and artistic precision.

The East Village Opera Company also knows plenty about rock and roll showmanship as the stage setting kept pace with the music. The colored lighting changed quickly and evenly with the peaks and valleys of the tunes, aided by the ton of stage fog being blown into the auditorium. This was MEANT to come off like a big time rock show.

But then, let’s go ahead and throw the opera stuff back in. There was an unmistakable quality to the material- drawn from opera’s long history- the East Village Opera Company has chosen to arrange. It didn’t matter what the East Villagers did to the songs- scratch some screaming electric guitar solo across the rock numbers, or get a hip groove going on the smoother R & B stuff- there was something about the lyrical phrasing- much of it in Italian- and the progress of each piece that came from a different era. It lay in a different sense of melody perhaps, or in a little more varied approach to song structure.

Whatever it was, the East Village Opera Company’s music was plenty distinctive and could be admired for its inherent qualities above and beyond being connected to the world of opera. At times during the show, I simply imagined this band was from another part of the world and that I was hearing their native pop music- and liked what I heard.

Several times during the show, the keyboardist made appeals to the audience to give their music a chance- that if the composers themselves were around today, they might be doing the same thing- so it seems that the group is used to treading in the waters of uncertain critical opinion. Maybe they have to justify themselves to the opera world, but they don’t have to justify anything out in the “popular” world. This band is welcome back any time- and not just as a novelty.

Manze and Egarr, Griffin Concert Hall, Fort Collins, November 8, 2007.

This is awkward. I want to say that the Manze and Egarr concert at the Griffin Concert Hall last night went just fine as part of the Lincoln Center Classical Music Series. I want to say that the performance carried me away with its artfulness, full of passion and playfulness. But this is not how I felt when it was over. Instead, what I felt was a big question mark: was that really what the composers or even the performers meant to present?

Now, I’ll admit that I am NOT a trained classical music critic, so I can imagine there could be grounds for dismissing this review. However, throughout the evening at Griffin, my UNTRAINED ear detected what sounded like a lot of clinker notes peppering the music. While Andrew Manze’s violin playing was generally tuneful and pliant to the progress of each piece, it sounded like Richard Egarr’s piano parts were at times missing the mark.

There was no place to hide last night on stage at Griffin. The concert hall itself is engineered with the ear in mind, so hearing the SOUND of the music was not a problem- from the first row to the last. At times, throughout each piece that was presented, there were audible slurs in the music- little bits of inexact playing that stood out thanks to the fine environment.

The music choices themselves also helped magnify the impression that all was not particularly right. The selections of Bach, Mozart, Schubert and English composer Parry stayed safely within clearly defined boundaries of melody and rhythm. Experimentation was not necessarily an element to this music, at least in as far as dissonance and rhythmic play became more attractive to more contemporary composers. What this means to me is that the music choices Manze and Egarr played did not naturally have elements of discord in them, so those little moments during the concert when the piano and violin clashed were probably not written into the script.

I want to soften the blow here, because the music- especially the Bach- was technically challenging. In a way, it was also refreshing to hear a program that did not stray far into angst in any way- there is so much angst in the world already. My favorite piece of the evening was the C. H. H. Parry Sonata in D major for violin and pianoforte- which featured fanciful melodic play and a refined relationship between the instruments. Especially after the Bach, where the instruments acted more like gears in a machine, the conversation back and forth in the Parry piece seemed genuine.

If this concert had been presented by students or local folk, I probably wouldn’t have paid much mind to those tiniest details that kept distracting me last night. But as experts from out of town, Manze and Egarr should perhaps be held to a higher standard. The difference between a pedestrian concert and one that really sings is in those tiny details and at Griffin, this duo could have been a little sharper.

Top Ten Concerts of 2007

Climbing the steps at Red Rocks more than twenty times during last summer’s inaugural Monolith Festival was a real work out, but worth it. Two days worth of a wide variety of alternative music- from national touring acts to top-rate regionals- on five stages in the Red Rocks environment was my number one concert experience in 2007. Here’s my list of top regional live music events last year:

1- Monolith Festival- September 14-15, Red Rocks. How could you not like a full show by the Flaming Lips at Red Rocks? But the Flaming Lips were only one band in a challenging onslaught of acts presented at the Monolith Festival. My favorites: Spoon, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ghostland Observatory and Earl Greyhound.

2- The Police- June 9-10, Pepsi Center. Both nights of the Denver stop on the much-anticipated Police tour were fun, but my seats for the second night were first row behind the stage. It was like sitting in with the band as they stoked up a riot of nostalgia for their classic rock and reggae music.

3- NewWestFest- August 18-19, Fort Collins. Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest once again delivered plenty, including stand-out sets by the Flobots, the Tanukis, Hot IQs and Los Lobos. This weekend event remains the best live music value in the region.

4- Flogging Molly/Gogol Bordello- February 26/October 30, Boulder Theater. I’m throwing these two together because seeing both Irish punk rockers Flogging Molly and “gypsy punk” rockers Gogol Bordello at the Boulder Theater in 2007 seemed like one great concert- both bands delivering electrifying, irreverent sets.

5- Widespread Panic- October 13, Budweiser Events Center. Nothing but a direct jolt of electricity from start to finish.

6- Eric Clapton- March 7, Pepsi Center. Guitar-heaven, with Clapton, Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II. Oh, and let’s also throw in opener Robert Cray who joined the mix at the end of the show.

7- East Village Opera Company- November 4, Lincoln Center. There were several great shows at the Lincoln Center in 2007, including Kathy Mattea and Pink Martini, but my favorite was the Village Opera Company, playing an exhilarating mix of progressive rock and classic opera.

8- Ozomatli- December 6, Aggie Theatre. The positive energy of nine-piece LA band Ozomatli is undeniable. Other great Aggie shows: John Popper Project and Fishbone.

9- Live Earth- July 7. OK, so this was a television event, but performances by Alicia Keys, Madonna, the Dave Mathews Band, UB40 and many more made the “Concerts for a Climate in Crisis” broadcast notable.

10- 3 Twins- January 12/December 28, Sunset Events Center/Rio Grande- When hometown members of the subdudes are off the road, they play out locally as the 3 Twins and their dance parties- this year at the Sunset and at the Rio- were nothing but a rocking, rhythm and blues blast.

Best Club Shows: Hodi’s Half Note hosted several great events in 2007. My favorites included Jason Ricci, Banyan and Amon Tobin. The most memorable show at Avogadro’s Number in 2007 was the classic reggae of the Melodians, closely followed by the madcap Asylum Street Spankers.

January Recommended: Best Concerts of 2006

I turned 50 in 2006 and can report that despite the predictions of doom that usually go with the half century mark, there’s still some real rock and roll fire in my “old” engine. I got to see some top acts- Petty and Pearl Jam, The Who- and photograph some top acts- Dave Matthews, The Fray- as well as cover a national radio broadcast- A Prairie Home Companion- a taping for a national television broadcast- Brian Boitano’s Skating Spectacular at the Budweiser Events Center- and the area visit of a world spiritual leader- the Dalai Lama. Throw in sets by artists as diverse as The New Cars, Cris Williamson, Yellowcard, Doug Kershaw, The BoDeans, Dinosaur Jr., Rosanne Cash and Ozric Tentacles and you’ve got an outstanding year.

Speaking of fire- at the top of my concert list for 2006 was Tool’s incendiary show at Coors Amphitheatre on August 30. Even from the back of the crowd- literally- the drama of Tool’s heavy rock mixed with striking, innovative staging was undeniably powerful. Here’re my top ten concerts for 2006:

1- Tool- Coors Amphitheatre, Aug. 30. With the entirety of the staging turned into a big video screen, Tool performed inside the imagery for their triumphant “10,000 Days” tour.
2- Acoustic Africa- Lincoln Center, Oct. 30.  Three contemporary African stars- Habib Koite, Vusi Mahlasela, Dobet Gnahore- combined considerable talents for one of the best shows in memory at the Lincoln Center.

3-Pearl Jam/Tom Petty- Pepsi Center, Jul. 2.  Pearl Jam’s set alone was enough to enthrall the crowd, but then Petty and the Heartbreakers added some rock and roll class.

4-NewWestFest- Downtown Fort Collins, Aug. 18-20. Wide, wide musical diversity supported by pro production made the annual Fort Collins street fair a feast of Colorado music- again.

5- A Prairie Home Companion- Budweiser Events Center, May 6. Garrison Keillor and crew brought a live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion to the BEC and in the process featured several regional acts including Halden Wofford and the Hi Beams.

6- John Hiatt- Aggie Theatre, June 25.  Teamed up with young southern rockers the North Mississippi All-Stars, top shelf songwriter John Hiatt was also an exciting performer, mixing equal measures of grit and heart.

7- Reverend Horton Heat- Mishawaka Amphitheatre, Jul 21.  Combined with two other great acts- punk rockers Throwrag and shockabilly band the Horrorpops- the Reverend Horton Heat’s date at Mishawaka was nothing but rock and roll fun.

8- Sounds of the Underground- City Lights Pavilion, Jul. 31. The Sounds of the Underground Tour was much better this year thanks to concise throat-ripping sets by Trivium, Behemoth, In Flames, Cannibal Corpse and, my favorite, Gwar.

9- Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals- Red Rocks, Aug. 23. At Red Rocks, Harper proved that social consciousness and dynamic funky rock still go together.

10- The Fray- Moby Arena, Mar. 26. CSU’s Moby got fired up with live music once again, this time by the nationally popular, tuneful Colorado band The Fray.

Venue of the Year: the streets and parks of Fort Collins for hosting live music all summer long. In a new category, I have to mention the area’s Best Club Shows: the smooth jazz/bluegrass fusion of Pete Wernick and Flexigrass at Avogadro’s Number on May 5 and the exciting country rock of the Texas Sapphires at Swing Station on August 15.

February Recommended

Things have changed in 2007. There’s no other way to put it. The biggest change happens to do with this very newspaper- the Fort Collins Forum. Starting in January, I began my new job as editor and webmaster for the Forum’s brand new Web site. It’s an exciting endeavor that offers some new opportunities.

That’s why I mention it here, in the Recommended column. Readers have come to expect to find area entertainment news and reviews in this space and that will continue. But with the addition of Fortcollinsforumonline.com, I am no longer shackled by the limitations of print and paper. Now, Forum readers can find much more about what’s happening on the arts and entertainment scene because the space on the Web site is nearly limitless.

Okay, I’ll admit it- I have been almost totally biased towards live music and have used my precious few inches here in the Forum to promote that end. However, Fortcollinsforumonline.com breaks everything else wide open and the Recommended section on the site features news, photos and reviews about a wide variety of activities in our community and the region.

For example, Fortcollinsforumonline.com currently features a photo gallery of the Masks at MOCA opening on February 2, spotlighting the diverse creativity of local artists- much more than I could ever feature in this space. Also on the site are press releases about upcoming events, including full information, something just not possible in a single column. It’s liberating for me as a writer. I hope it will become useful to you as a reader too.

The good thing here is that you can check out Fortcollinsforumonline.com yourself anytime, 24-7, seven days a week- just log on and explore. The site is updated frequently and my personal guarantee is that this will not be just another online newspaper, but much more. From my end, the Web site currently includes a full review and photos of Randy Newman at the Lincoln Center and the 3 Twins Dance Party at the Sunset, as well as the Masks at MOCA gallery.

So, it’s really okay that I wasted all this space explaining this bold new direction, because there’s plenty of arts and entertainment news on Fortcollinsforumonline.com- check it out and visit frequently. Still, I can’t resist recommending these upcoming dates:

Hodi’s Half Note has opened in the old Starlight spot and features the 3 Peas on February 17, the Piggies and the Jimi Austin Band on February 22 and John Lee Hooker Jr. on February 26. At the Aggie: Particle on February 16, Breaking Benjamin on February 17, GZA on February 21, Honkytonk Homeslice on February 22 and Gallagher on March 2.

The Lincoln Center dance series continues with the St. Petersburg Ballet on February 21. Classical duo Finckel and Han continues the Lincoln Center classical series at the Griffin Performance Hall on February 28, the same date E-Town returns to the Lincoln Center with guests David Wilcox and the Yonder Mountain String Band. And Stomp will bring its invigorating, innovative show to the Lincoln Center on March 6.

The Mid-Winter Bluegrass Festival, this year headlining the Dillards, occurs at the Northglenn Ramada Plaza, February 16-18. Wendy Woo will be playing the Stonehouse Grille, Tuatha plays Avogadro’s Number and Chris Hillman plays the Rialto Theater in Loveland on February 24. Flogging Molly is at the Boulder Theater on February 26, the Taste of Chaos Tour features the Used, 30 Seconds from Mars, Chiodos and more at Magness Arena on February 27 and Eric Clapton plays the Pepsi Center in Denver on March 7. Coming to the Budweiser Events Center: Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard on March 12.

March Recommended

If you love live music, mark your calendar for March 31. That day has an especially good line-up around town, which includes the band Cracker, featuring pals David Lowery (former Camper Van Beethoven frontman) and Johnny Hickman, playing Hodi’s Half Note on March 31 along with the Railbenders. That same night, vivacious Colorado singer-songwriter Wendy Woo plays the Stonehouse Grille. But also on March 31, the great jazz-bluegrass fusion band Pete Wernick and Flexigrass returns to Avogadro’s Number and Colorado hard rockers Rose Hill Drive returns to the Aggie Theatre. It’ll be hard to choose.

More music: Singer-songwriter Cozy Sheridan returns to Avogadro’s on March 18. Also coming to Avo’s: Bonepony on April 5 and the Asylum Street Spankers on April 13. Funky all-female rock band Glass Ceiling will be playing Washington’s on March 23, the same night the John Popper Project, featuring DJ Logic, hits the Aggie Theatre. Also coming to the Aggie: Agent Orange on March 29, Norma Jean, plus three other throat-shredding bands, on March 30 and Kan’ Nal on April 6. Yo, Flaco! plays Hodi’s Half Note on March 26 and Banyan, featuring bassist Rob Wasserman, plays Hodi’s on March 29. The Just Jazz Quintet will play the Stonehouse Grille on March 27 and Halden Wofford and the Hi Beams return to Swing Station on March 30.

St Patrick’s Day: I’ve already celebrated St. Patrick’s Day- way early with raging Irish rock band Flogging Molly at the Boulder Theater on February 26. On their “Green 17” tour to celebrate the Irish holiday, Flogging Molly rocked the sold out crowd with relentless, irreverent energy. For those who wish to celebrate closer to the real date of the holiday, check out the Elders at the Rialto Theater in Loveland on March 16, and Fort Collins’ own Lalla Rookh at Swing Station in Laporte on March 17. The Street Dogs, who opened the show at the Boulder Theater for Flogging Molly will be at the Marquis Theater in Denver on March 26.

Lincoln Center: Part language lesson, part Hollywood musical, the Portland, Oregon-based “little orchestra” called Pink Martini was created in 1994 by Harvard graduate and classically trained pianist Thomas M. Lauderdale. The group made its European debut at the Cannes Film Festival and has since continued to tour the world. Pink Martini will be at the Lincoln Center on April 17. Also coming up at the Lincoln Center: Viver Brasil on March 20, Kathy Mattea on March 24, Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz Trio on April 3, “Aida” on April 9 and John Prine on April 13.

No foolin’: The 3 Stooges were the geniuses of slapstick comedy and the Rialto Theater in Loveland will be hosting the annual 3 Stooges Film Festival on April 1. Free posters will be available in a limited number and non-perishable food items will be collected for the Food Bank of Larimer County.

Afterword: At first it just seemed like overkill when guitarist Eric Clapton stepped onto the stage at the Pepsi Center on March 7 with two other great guitarists- Doyle Bramhall II and Derek Trucks. But once the guitar licks started getting traded around on the heavily blues-oriented material, it seemed clear that in this case, it wasn’t about Clapton as a guitar god, but it was about making exciting guitar music. The trio certainly did that, pulling out a healthy chunk of the classic album “Derek and the Dominoes” as well as jamming with opener Robert Cray on the final tune of the night, “Crossroads.”

April Recommended

Electronica innovator Amon Tobin will be performing a rare local date at Hodi’s Half Note on May 3. Tobin not only plays with sound and rhythm, he creates his own sample tracks by recording “robotics, animals, insects, musicians, utensils, motorcycles, and any of a thousand other things that make interesting noises that can be manipulated and reshaped into something fresh.” Also coming to Hodi’s: String Cheese offshoot Zilla on April 21 and Jason Ricci and New Blood on May 4.

Dance Express: Enjoy modern and Middle East dance with Dance Express, Rossah and El Badree for the upcoming “DanceMakers: Middle East Crossroads” production, April 28-29 at the Lory Student Center Theater on the CSU campus. Dance Express “celebrates diverse dance experiences for persons with and without disabilities in northern Colorado.” Rossah is a Janila Salimpour dancer and ethnomusicologist and El Badree is the Fort Collins Egyptian folkloric troupe. The program is designed to “broaden our horizons of understanding through the dance experience.” Dancers will also be appearing at the Fort Collins Museum on May 4.

Lincoln Center: Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” is a “classic tale of love, loyalty, betrayal and courage,” and will be closing out the Showstopper Series April 9-12. Also coming to the Lincoln Center: John Prine on April 13 and Pink Martini on April 17.  The “Movies with MOCA” film series continues in the Lincoln Center Mini Theatre on April 18 with “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and tickets have already gone on sale for Lyle Lovett and his Large Band’s performance, along with kd lang, at the Lincoln Center on July 14.

Other events: The upbeat and somewhat wacky Texas band, the Asylum Street Spankers, recently released an equally upbeat and wacky kids’ album, “Mommy Says No!” and will be returning to Avogadro’s Number on April 13. The Firefall Acoustic Trio will be performing at the Stonehouse Grille on April 14 and The LA Guns, along with Open Fire, will be at the Yukon in Loveland on April 20.

Brazilian Girls will be at the Aggie Theatre on April 22 and Phish cover band, the Phix, will be playing their final show at the Aggie on April 28- that one is free. On the Rocks celebrates the release of their new CD at the Yukon on April 28, Tish Hinojosa plays Avo’s on May 4, surf guitar legend Dick Dale plays the Aggie on May 4 and Leon Redbone is at the Rialto Theater in Loveland on May 8. The Front Range Chamber players will be joined by the Boulder Brass for their season finale at Trinity Lutheran Church on May 13.

May Recommended

I’d like to start my wish list for May and early June live music events off with some area shows, beginning first with rowdy Fishbone at the Aggie Theatre on May 15, followed by the first big show at Thunder Mountain Amphitheatre, with Rare Earth and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, on May 18. Fishbone, currently on their “Still Stuck in Your Throat” tour, play a manic rock, complete with horns and a crazy energy. I can still recommend the Rare Earth event without knowing what’s up with the band because last fall’s Guess Who show at the Amphitheatre, located on the Thunder Mountain Harley Davidson facility in Loveland, showed that the venue was very crowd-friendly- providing easy access, a comfortable, effective staging area and plenty of concessions.

The next weekend, I would love to see two very strong female performers- country superstar Martina McBride at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on May 26 and the fresh, soulful Joss Stone at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver on May 27. McBride was named “Best Live Act” of 2006 by the Chicago Sun Times, and will be joined at the BEC by Little Big Town and Rodney Atkins. Stone has gone through such a quick transition since her debut album that her second record is titled “Introducing Joss Stone.” What remains the same, however, is the strength of her voice and the force of her attitude, worth the drive to Denver.

I would start June off- and my personal Red Rocks schedule- with Big Head Todd and the Monsters’ return gig at Red Rocks on June 2. I then plan to follow that up with both nights of the much-anticipated reunion tour by the Police, hitting the Pepsi Center in Denver June 9-10- so far, shaping up to be the biggest tour of the year.

That’s just the short list. There’s a lot more coming up as we steam roll into the 2007 summer concert season. Hot Hot Heat will be performing at the Aggie on May 16. The Killers open the schedule at Red Rocks on May 17, followed by Norah Jones on June 1, Harry Connick Jr. on June 7 and Manu Chao, along with Gogol Bordello, on June 8.

Fort Collins band Wasabi will be celebrating the release of their second, full-length CD, “The Border,” with a number of regional shows including Hodi’s Half Note in Fort Collins on May 25, the Fox Theatre in Boulder on May 30 and at Dulcinea’s 100th Monkey in Denver on June 2. There’s an interesting date at Avogadro’s Number on June 7, when the Euforquestra returns, along with opener Lindsay Mac, who “plays cello like a guitar.”

It’s tempting to say the season at the Mishawaka Amphitheatre has opened, but Mishawaka has been presenting regional bands all along. But some special dates are on their way nonetheless. That includes the Ramble on the River Festival, scheduled for May 18-20 at Mishawaka. The fest features hosts WhiteWater Ramble, as well as Zuvuya, Harmonious Junk, Oakhurst, Victor Barnes, Soulfeel and more. Also coming to Mishawaka: Tickle Me Pink on May 26 and Ziggy Marley on June 10.

If that’s not enough, then several traditional series in the Denver/Boulder area have also opened. That includes the series at the Botanic Gardens in Denver, presenting Linda Ronstadt, along with Nina Storey, on June 5. The Botanic schedule is closely following the schedule at Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, including dual dates with the Neville Brothers, Leo Kottke and Loudon Wainwright III, Patty Griffin, John Hiatt and Shawn Colvin, Gordon Lightfoot and the subdudes throughout the summer.

June Recommended

The not-for-profit Conscious Alliance will be hosting “Sonic Bloom,” a benefit event taking place at Beaver Meadows Resort Ranch in Red Feather Lakes on June 21-23, being held to support the organization’s latest initiative. Titled “Project Restoration,” the initiative is working to build a network of food distribution facilities on impoverished American Indian reservations in the United States. As with all Conscious Alliance events, attendees are encouraged to donate 10 non-perishable food items, redeemable for an exclusive event poster, this time designed by artist Luke Brown

Sonic Bloom will feature three days and nights of music and camping, and will include dance, art and human performance “together in an atmosphere that inspires open channels of creativity for everyone involved, especially the audience.” The Sonic Bloom musical line-up includes Zilla, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Bassnectar, The Motet, Michael Kang (String Cheese Incident) and many more. The event will also feature a variety of greening initiatives implemented by Our Future Now, a non-profit project co-founded by Kang. Other musical highlights include The Sonic Bloom Orchestra and The Rebel Alliance Jam.

Taos Solar Festival: If you’re in the mood to get out of town, one of the West’s most unique festivals is occurring in Taos, New Mexico, June 29-July 1. Each year, through the “universal language of music,” the Taos Solar Music Festival celebrates sun and renewable energy and is known as one of the music industry’s original Green events. Now in its ninth year, the festival features three days of eclectic music, interactive exhibits and activities, and much more. The Solar Village, located on Solar Fest grounds, for example, is free and open to the public, with booths and demonstrations designed to
 inform and expose alternative and renewable energy sources and solutions.

The Taos Solar Festival’s main stage is powered through the use of photovoltaic panels and this year’s line-up includes Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Michael Franti and Spearhead, the John Butler Trio and more.

Sunday Concerts: Right here in town, the free Sunday Concert Series has already begun in Old Town Square. The series opened on June 3 with performances by host band, White Bird, as well as other local musicians such as Tim Hunt. The series runs in the afternoons on Sundays and continues throughout the summer. Coming up in Old Town Square: June 17, Justin Lee Fishman, Maxwell Hughes, Katie Keiser and Blame the Dog and the John Taylor Band; July 1, Dave Tharpe, Hide the Valuables, Rob  Solomon and The  Secret Life; and July 8, The Droplets, Steve Eulberg, Come August, Slopeside.

Hot dates: The original grunge rock pioneers Dinosaur Jr. will be playing the Aggie Theatre on June 15. Also coming to the Aggie: Saosin on July 2, Bad Manners on July 6 and Rusted Root on July 7.  Liz Barnez will perform for the Pride in the Park event in Civic Center Park on June 16. Exotic “gypsy rock” band Tuatha plays the Mishawaka Amphitheatre on June 17. Also coming to Mishawaka: Johnny Hickman, co-founder of Cracker, along with the Piggies, the Jimi Austin Band, Jason Vigil and more on June 23, and 12 Cents for Marvin on July 7. The Caleb Riley Funk Orchestra returns to town after a successful tour to Louisiana for a gig at Hodi’s Half Note on June 22. Also coming to Hodi’s: 3 Peas on June 29. Denver folksters Jubilant Bridge plays Oak Street Plaza for the Noontime Notes Concert series on June 26.

July Recommended

CoCOA- the Colorado Coalition of Artists- Gallery features “Reunion,” a coast-to-coast regathering of seven CSU alumni artists from the 1970s. The show opens Friday, August 3 during Fort Collins’ First Friday Gallery Walk and runs through August.

Featured artists for “Reunion,” all with “deep Colorado roots,” include Randall Wilson of Los Angeles, Daniel Genova of New York City, Steve Smith of Denver, Don Stinson of Evergreen Colorado, and John Garretson, Randy Yeates, and Steve Allen, all of Fort Collins. Contemporary work by the artists will be on display and the Sparkers, a trio made up of local musicians who also met while attending CSU in the 1970s, will provide live music during the opening. Gallery hours are Saturdays 12 to 4 PM and by appointment at 423 S. Mason St., 221-3019.

CCR: Creedence Clearwater Revisited, featuring Creedence Clearwater Revival original members Stu Cook on bass and Doug “Cosmo” Clifford on drums, will be performing at the Thunder Mountain Amphitheatre in Loveland on July 19. The group says on its web site that the pair came together again in 1995 to play for some private functions, but the demand was so great for their music- live reworkings of famous Creedence tunes with a new band- that they have been busy ever since. Their double live CD, “Recollection,” on Universal Hip-O Records, was certified gold by the RIAA in 2002. Also coming to Thunder Mountain: Little Feat on August 3.

Mishawaka: Casper Lomayesva is a Hopi Native American who “sings a message from his native roots to the upbeat sounds of reggae music.” Casper and the Mighty 602 Band will be headlining a show on July 15 at the Mishawaka Amphitheatre, along with some of Colorado’s top reggae acts including The Atoll from Fort Collins and The Desciples from Denver. Also coming to Mishawaka: Soul Creek and Fatty Jenkins on July 20, the Itals on July 21, Kan’nal on August 4 and Pato Banton on August 25. There’s also some dates firming up featuring Warren Haynes- “one of the greatest guitarists in the world,” according to one local fan- on September 1 and Robert Randolph and the Family Band on September 15.

Lyle Lovett: I’ve heard the grumblings- folks complaining about the high price of tickets for the upcoming Lyle Lovett, kd lang show on July 14 at the Lincoln Center. OK, so it’s a little bit of a shock in our northern Colorado comfort zone, but welcome to the big time, Fort Collins. Actually, a show with two top acts in the relative intimacy of the Lincoln Center makes this a good deal for real fans, especially when you consider Lovett will be taking the stage with his Large Band, a crack unit that will fill the stage with musicians. Also coming to the Lincoln Center: George Winston on July 30.

Plan ahead: The schedule for the Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest this year, on August 17-19, has been released and music fans will be pleased. Bruce Hornsby will headline on August 18 and Los Lobos are slated for August 19. Throw in the subdudes, Chris Daniels and the Kings and scores of other Colorado bands and you have a full weekend of free, live entertainment.

Cowboy Junkies: The Cowboy Junkies will be playing a rare “seated” show at the Aggie Theatre on July 23- tickets are limited. The Aggie schedule is packed in upcoming weeks. Dates include a free show with Trampled by Turtles Free on July 25, legendary rapper and actor Ice T on July 21, regional phenom Tickle Me Pink on July 28, Leon Russell on August 2 and that great John Hiatt/Shawn Colvin double bill on August 3.

More music: The Big Bender Beer Bash- featuring Big Bender Records artists such as the Earps and Clint Clymer- will debut as an annual event at the Yukon in Loveland on July 13. Also coming to the Yukon: Hell’s Belles on July 27. Noontime Notes continues at Oak Street Plaza with Rosann Winn and Bob Montgomery on July 17, Jason Downing on July 24, Grupo Aztlan on July 31 and Steve Eulberg on August 7. The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey will be performing at Hodi’s Half Note on July 19. Coming to Hodi’s: Donna Jean and the Tricksters on September 27.

August Recommended

The NewWestFest live music extravaganza- “Bohemian Nights”- kicks off on Friday, August 17 with an Old Town Square show by Colorado rockers Chris Daniels and the Kings. Then enjoy an entire weekend of free music on five stages located throughout the downtown area- including Old Town Square, Oak Street Plaza, Library Park and on Chestnut Street and Mountain Avenue. Most of the bands are handpicked Colorado acts- such as the Brotherhood of Dae Han, the Motet, WhiteWater Ramble, Bluegrass Patriots, Caleb Riley Funk Orchestra, the Jimi Austin, Poquito Maz, Hot IQs, Dotsero, Funkiphino and dozens of others. Then add headliners such as Bruce Hornsby and the subdudes on Saturday night, August 18, and Los Lobos on Sunday, August 19- and you have the city’s best live music opportunity of the year- and, again, it’s all free. 

Jazz Festival: Added to the summer festival schedule is Avogadro’s Number’s first annual Jazz Festival slated for September 1. The line-up is significant, including the Poudre River Irregulars, Mark Sloniker Jazz Ensemble, Mary Buirgy, the Just Jazz Quintet, the Montgomery Jazz Group, the Loveland High Jazz Combo directed by
Matthew Arau, David Williams and Deco Django with Bill Pontarelli, Hot Club Nouveau, and the Mark Manges Project with Rosann Winn. The event is scheduled for 4-11 pm on September 1 in the stage room and on the brand new patio stage. Also coming to Avo’s: Liz Barnez, Celeste Krenz and Rebecca Folsom on August 24 and the Wendy Woo Band on August 25.

Monolith Festival: There’s still more festival fun ahead with the two-day Monolith Festival, scheduled for September 14-15 at Red Rocks. This is also a mix of Colorado music and a lot of outside bands, also occurring on five stages- utilizing the main stage for headlining acts such as Cake, the Kings of Leon, Spoon and the Flaming Lips as well as stages in and around the visitor’s center and just south of the main stage. Performers include the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Kid Sister, Ian Ball of Gomez, 3OH3!, Nina Storey and Angie Stevens. This is a truly ambitious project- a first of its kind at Red Rocks, with potential to become one of the area’s premier annual events- and a great way to end the summer.

Ticket Alert: Tickets go on sale August 18 at 10 am for the upcoming Widespread Panic dates, October 12-13, at the Budweiser Events Cernter in Loveland through Comcast Tix. Tickets are $42.50 plus a facility fee, and an applicable ticketing service charge.

More music: One of my favorite club bands of last year- Austin’s rambunctious Texas Sapphires- will be returning to Laporte’s Swing Station on August 17. The Mishawaka Amphitheatre still has some major summer dates left including Israel Vibrations on August 24, Paton Banton on August 25 and Warren Haynes on September 1. Coming to Hodi’s Half Note: the Stanton Moore Trio, featuring Robert Walter and Will Bernard, on August 23. At the Aggie Theatre: WhiteWater Ramble with Octopus Nebula on August 23, the Drew Emmitt Band on August 29, the Del McCoury Band on August 30, the great progressive rock band Mae on September 5, the Sugar Hill Gang on September 6 and Shooter Jennings on September 12. In the area: Weird Al Yankovic will be performing at Coors Amphitheatre in Denver on August 31. Linkin Park brings this year’s Projekt Revolution tour, also featuring My Chemical Romance, to Coors on September 3.

September Recommended

The schedule is heating up again at the Lincoln Center as the 2007-08 season gets under way. But not before a special event takes place. That is, on October 5, when all five finalists from NBC’s smash hit show Last Comic Standing come to the Lincoln Center in their only Colorado appearance. Then the Classical Music series kicks in with a concert by pianist Olga Kern- a Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medalist- at the Griffin Performance Hall on October 6. The Showstoppers series begins on October 8 with the nostalgic sounds of the Coasters, Drifters and Platters through October 11 and the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company, melding ancient Chinese forms with modern dance, opens the Dance series on October 20.

Donna Jean and the Tricksters: I spent the majority of the 1970s in southern California and during that time, the Grateful Dead seemed like the house band. One of the most thrilling moments of each show was when vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux would step up to the mike and add a strong, swelling female voice to the jam mix. A couple of decades down the road, Donna Jean is still singing strong in a new alliance with contemporary jam band the Zen Tricksters. Their advance release CD has some live stuff with that great Dead-like roll to it, but what is more impressive is the slower, simmering studio cuts the group has been working on. See the live version when Donna Jean and the Tricksters come to Hodi’s Half Note on September 27. Also coming to Hodi’s: That One Guy on October 10.

Melvins: On September 21, the Aggie Theatre will be showing the film, “A Purge of Dissidents,” before the headlining performance by the Melvins. The film was animated by artist Dalek and the soundtrack is by the Melvins, Husker Du’s Grant Hart, Jon Spencer and David Yow. The showing will be followed by Big Business and then the Melvins performing live. Also at the Aggie: Savoy Brown on September 20, Robert Earl Keen on September 26 and Redman on September 27.

More music: Fort Collins bluesman Jeff Stephenson will be performing at the Stonehouse Grille on September 18. The Iguanas will be at the Yukon in Loveland on September 21, the same date Otem Rellik plays Road 34. motorhome- one of the NewWestFest standout bands- brings its rocking Americana to Swing Station on September 28. Country music legend George Jones will be at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on October 3.

Poetry at the Rialto: Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004-2006, will be reading from his work at the Rialto Theater in Loveland on Saturday, September 22. Kooser was the first U.S. Poet Laureate chosen from the Great Plains and his most recent collection is “Flying at Night” (University of Pittsburgh Press 2005). “Delights & Shadows” (Copper Canyon 2004) won the Pulitzer Prize and his many other honors include two NEA fellowships in poetry and a Pushcart Prize.

Afterword: I couldn’t see them all- but I did manage to catch 40 bands from the five stages of Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest, plus 2 bands from the “The Side Show- Pine Street Festival,” a brand new independent event running downtown during NewWestFest, August 18-19. All in all it was a feast of fun. Sure, I had to keep on the move to see that many groups, but at each stop I heard something different. What was the same throughout the festival was a kind of inherent quality and talent no matter what the genre. My favorites this year included Otem Rellik, The Tanukis,  Henry Butler, the subdudes, Listen, motorhome, The Flobots, Hot IQs and, of course, Los Lobos. What a great time!

October Recommended

I’m going to celebrate Halloween this year with a couple of road trips. The first one will by on October 27 to see the Devotchka/Yard Dogs Road Show at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver. Devotchka not only composed and performed the majority of the songs on the “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006 multiple Academy Award winner) soundtrack, which was also nominated for a 2006 Grammy Award, but they also have a reputation for a wild stage show. The Yard Dogs Road Show has been described as “a living patchwork of vaudeville and rock and roll.” The band’s live music supports a show that includes “sword swallowers, dancing dolls, fire eaters and sunset hobo poetry.” Benevento/Russo Duo will open that show.

Then, for good measure, I’m going to include the second night of Gogol Bordello’s two night stand at the Boulder Theater, on October 29-30, as part of my Halloween plans. The colorful “gypsy punk” band has made a strong impression recently with its madcap blend of Eastern European folk styles and hyped up rock, as well as an indelible “old world meets new world on the street” image. So much so, members of the band were featured guests during Madonna’s set in London for the Live Earth broadcast. Gogol Bordello. Boulder. The night before Halloween. Should be good.

Lincoln Center: The 2007-2008 Lincoln Center season got kicked off with two very different events. The Olga Kern concert at Griffin Concert Hall on October 6, the first of the Classical Music Series, was very formal and the musicmaking intensely focused. Way on the other end of the spectrum was the Coasters, Platters and Temptations show on October 8 that cranked up the Showstoppers Series by turning the Performance Hall into a big sock hop party. That’s diversity in programming.

There’s a lot more of that diversity coming up at the Lincoln Center. On October 20, the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company combines modern dance with ancient Chinese forms to create a style that has been described as “elegant, sensual and captivating.” The East Village Opera Company updates opera with rock on November 4, the Showstoppers Series continues with “The Producers,” November 6-9, and classical duo Manze and Egart perform at the Griffin Concert Hall on November 8.

More music: Galactic, along with special guests the Lifesavas, will be at the Aggie Theatre on October 22. Also coming to the Aggie: The Breaking Barriers Benefit Concert, presented by Fort Collins Youth for Animal Rights, on October 23, featuring Saving Verona, Vices I Admire, Life in Electric, Ghosts of Verona, 3carpileup and the Common Rejection.

Avo’s: For the last 11 years, I have been recording and performing in a group with Mark Rosoff and Dave Zekman called TVS and two fingers. We present a unique combination of performance poetry and sound art that has taken us on tour throughout the state and beyond. We will be celebrating the release of our new compilation CD, “Big Treasure,” at Avogadro’s Number, from 7-10 pm, on October 25. Our special guests will be Russ Hopkins and Jerry Palmer and we hope you’ll join us. Also coming to Avo’s: Lloyd Drust and Kevin Jones on October 26.

November Recommended

The cultural celebration that is the band Ozomatli continues. The eight-member group known for its political activism as much as for its music- a riot of LA street influences- has recently emerged with a new album, “Don’t Mess With the Dragon,” and a refreshed attitude. The group’s web site claims a lot of “growing up” happened as the album was being recorded in prime Los Angeles studios. “More interplay” was the result, according to percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi. Ozomatli, known for its interplay with the audience during their live shows, will be bringing their current “Ozo on Ice” tour to the Aggie Theatre on December 6. Also coming to the Aggie: Cracker on November 17, Keller Williams on December 1, the Lemonheads with Evan Dando, along with Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez, on December 8.

Lincoln Center: I don’t know how opera fans like them, but as a rock and roll fan I liked the East Village Opera Company, who played the Anything Goes Series at the Lincoln Center on November 4, plenty. Everything was there for a great rock show- lights, stage fog and a raging electric band. But then when you add the element of opera- classic songs from opera’s long history reinterpreted to fit the modern setting- you have something new and different. It was like watching a pro unit from another part of the world, singing in another language, but communicating just fine. The East Village Opera Company, passionate and exhilarating, was a surprise hit in the Lincoln Center’s current season.

Coming up at the Lincoln Center: The Fort Collins Children’s Theatre presents “Oliver” at the Lincoln Center, November 15-18. Directed by Morris Burns, this hometown  production is cast with 40 actors, ranging in age from 10-50 years, and includes a live orchestra, full set and “grand costumes.” Meanwhile, the Adventure Cinema Series continues with “Gulf Coast Adventure” on November 19 and the Show Stoppers Series continues November 27- December 1 with Frankie Avalon’s Holiday Show. In the Mini Theatre, OpenStage’s production of “Noises Off,” directed by Judith Allen, through December 1.

The Laws: Nashville-based, Canadian born and raised, husband and wife singer-songwriters, the Laws, will be performing several shows in Colorado in November. Their song, “Am I Still the One,” from their most recent self-released album, “Ride It Out,” won in the General Category of the 2007 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC, and they’ll be on KRFC’s Live at Lunch program on November 23 and performing at Avogadro’s Number on November 24. Also coming to Avo’s: Tom Kimmel on November 17 and Jubilant Bridge, playing a benefit for the Food Bank for Larimer County, on November 23.

More music: The Rialto Theater in Loveland has a nice string of concerts on the calendar. That includes Jonathan Edwards on November 16, Sweet Sunny South, along with Mollie O’Brien, on November 17, and Acoustic Eidolon, doing a three night stand at the Rialto, November 29-December 1. Road 34 Bike Bar also has a string of good stuff coming: the Caleb Riley Funk Orchestra on November 30, the Other Side of Clearview with Vices I Admire and No Fair Fights on December 7, and one of my favorite acts from NewWestFest, the Flobots, on December 8. At Hodi’s Half Note: Sour Boy Bitter Girl on November 21 and Mike Doughty on December 6.

December Recommended

Steve Eulberg, one of Fort Collins’ leading acoustic instrument players, is celebrating the tenth anniversary of his independent music company, Owl Mountain Music, as well as the recent success of his latest CD, “A Piece of it All,” with a performance at Avogadro’s Number on December 21.

Eulberg, who specializes in mountain and hammered dulcimer, has plenty to celebrate. His song, “War is Sweet” enjoyed chart-topping success on independent Country radio back in September and the album, “A Piece of it All,” is currently on the Grammy ballot for Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album. Eulberg’s great year also includes placing songs on Gospel charts and seeing his song “I Didn’t Know I Was Lost” included in a music sampler by Dulcimer Players News. Also coming to Avo’s: Colcannon on December 16, Mark Van Ark on December 20 and the Starlite Ramblers, along with the Fort Collins Bluegrass Band, on New Year’s Eve.

More music: See a truly thrilling harmonica player when Jason Ricci returns with his burning blues rock band to Hodi’s Half Note on December 20. Also coming to Hodi’s: Wasabi on December 22 and the Motet on New Year’s Eve. Check out 11 piece funk band Archie Funker- complete with a 6 horns- at the Stonehouse Grille on December 17. On New Year’s Eve, the Stonehouse will be hosting a “Highlands” celebration with Chaotic Serenity.

January: Looking ahead, there’s plenty of great entertainment coming up in the Fort Collins area in January. That begins with a special event at the Rialto Theater in Loveland called “SongPlanet Saves the Planet” an Indie Music Showcase to benefit IdeaWild, on January 4. The show will feature bluesman Pat Carr, the Michael Stone Band plus the Moondogs and Prymal Rhythm.

Coming to Swing Station on January 4-5, Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans. Hodi’s will be hosting a CD release event by the infamous DJ/performer Magic Cyclops on January 4. Also on the schedule at Hodi’s in January: Tea Leaf Green on January 13 and the New Mastersounds on January 17.

On January 9, the Brotherhood of Dae Han kick off a string of hot January shows at the Aggie Theatre, which also includes Tickle Me Pink on January 11, the Reverend Horton Heat and Nashville Pussy on January 12, Xavier Rudd on January 17 and the Squirrel Nut Zippers on January 18.

At the Lincoln Center in January: Popular cowboy performers Riders in the Sky will kick off the year for the Imagination Series at the Lincoln Center, January 17-18. Also coming to the Lincoln Center: The Great American Trailer Park Musical on January 19, premier comic ventriloquist Jeff Dunham on January 21-24, and the all-male comedy ballet company Les Ballets Trockaderos de Monte Carlo on January 27.