An Americana Summer

It has been a summer of live music, just the way I like it. Let me tell you of some memorable shows.

After the Clearwater Festival, which I wrote about here, the American Roots Festival at Caramoor was upon me, and it brought together a number of acts I’d been meaning to hear, especially the Stray Birds, Doug and Telisha and Spuyten Duyvil.

the duhks

The Duhks: They’re back, and smoking. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Remember you heard about the Stray Birds here first. The group of three sports three excellent players (especially Oliver Craven on guitars, mandolin, fiddle and voice) and a world-class songwriter in Maya de Vitry. Charles Muench is a great bassist and a strong singer also. Several Stray Birds songs could become standards of the Americana repertoire. With any justice, they will do exactly that. I heard the group do two sets, one of them free of all amplication under the stars in an absolutely gorgeous grove. They do covers too, and manage to avoid the clichés of the genre.

Doug and Telisha Williams (now going by The Wild Ponys) are a husband and wife team from Virginia. I love when partners in life can be partners in music, too, and both are strong singers and writers.  “Things That Used to Shine,” from their new album of that name under the Wild Ponys name is a keeper. I’ve talked to them on WPKN, but this was the first time seeing them, but I’ll see them again.

I managed somehow to miss two sets by Spuyten Duyvil, named after a creek between Manhattan and the Bronx. The group is from New York, too. I heard just enough to know that Beth Kaufman is a really strong singer.

Caramoor is an ideal setting for live music; there is periodic Americana throughout the year. The Milk Carton Kids, worth hearing, are October 12.

miss tess

Miss Tess tears it up at Green River. (Jim Motavalli photo)

After Caramoor it was a road trip up to the Green River Festival, a never-miss in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Green River showcases, among others, artists on the also-Massachusetts-based Signature Sounds label. You can’t go wrong with Signature Sounds: Among its artists are Chris Smither, Miss Tess, Eilen Jewell (plus her best-in-the-world guitarist, Jerry Miller, as a solo artist), Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, Crooked Still (now absent the incomparable Aiofe O’Donovan, I hear), Josh Ritter, Erin McKeown, and more.

Mostly it was other people this year, though Miss Tess put on a lovely show. A highlight for me was a reunion of Canada’s The Duhks, who have come back stronger than ever with personnel intact as far as I can tell. At acoustic rave-ups driven by mad fiddle player Tania Elizabeth, there is no band better. And they have an exceptionally charismatic and groove-friendly singer in Jessee Havey. Don’t believe me? Watch this video:

Caravan of Thieves were incredible, too, and the Duhks’ peers on guitars and fiddles, albeit with a jazzier sound. The band’s highly original songs are inspired by the sublime gypsy music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. What other group that tears up the jam band circuit can claim that? And they’re from Bridgeport, Connecticut, right next to me. Fuzz (an incendiary guitarist) and Ben Dean (his equal on fiddle) have a I-can’t-believe-I-just-heard-that quality. Sometimes they trade off lines in a manner reminiscent of the best Indian music. Fuzz and Carrie, who sings, shakes things, and writes songs, are married. Did I mention a soft spot?

New to me at Green River was Poor Old Shine, newly signed to Signature Sounds. This is a very young band, with a lot of the energy of the Avett Brothers—and that’s a lot of energy. The Band are influences, and you can’t go wrong there. Soon after Green River the band played at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, where the week before I’d seen the esteemed Red Molly. This is another fine music series in an incomparable setting.

Let’s not forget the Gathering of the Vibes, where I was a speaker on the Green Stage this year. I’m not huge on jam band music, but I love the event, because there is indeed inter-generational good, well, vibes. Here’s a look at that happy crowd:

the vibes 2013

The crowd at the Vibes’ Green Stage this year: Everyone gets along. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The aforementioned Bridgeport has a worthy Thursday night music series, with shoes held in a park named after the industrial city’s onetime socialist mayor, Jasper McLevy. An Americana show featuring Cricket Tell the Weather and Ada Pasternak was moved inside to the city’s Two Boots Pizzeria. I’d have preferred to see this new group outside, but can you play a mandolin full of rain?

Something of a local supergroup, Cricket features multi-instrumentalist Dan Tressler from String Fingers, fiddler Andrea Asprelli from Five in the Chamber, and guitarist Jason Borisoff from Atlantic Flyway (a duo with Asprelli). Two Boots was very noisy, but this group has incredible potential, with three strong writers. Tressler played his ass off on mandolin, but he’s also a superior fiddle player and an even better singer.

Tonight I’m heading over to see Caravan of Thieves again, free, at the Levitt Pavilion in Westport. Such is the life of an Americana freak getting his fix this summer.

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