Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

South End Rife with Music, 2015 Edition

September 26th, 2015

Yes, yes, it was the Boston jazz festival, the South End one, and since Berklee took it over, now the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival. The music college close to monopolizes it with faculty and students. Hell, there’s plenty of superb music for all of us anyway. Play on.

I went to the latest iteration today. It’s still free. It’s a food, clothing/jewelry marketplace and ethnic food vendor paradise. The terrific range of jazz, blues (not enough any more), funk and more pours out of three stages simultaneously. Take your pick.

A few of my sights and judgments follow. If you haven’t been going, you’ve missed much. There’s no atoning, just planning. Do this.


Carlos Averhoff, Jr. and his group featured the more modern, hotter sax, drum and more jazz. carlos
stefonharris4 The remarkable vibe guy Stefon  Harris played with Omar Thomas’ Large Ensemble. He kept at it the whole time and was a huge hit (with me as well). He’s another I’d gladly pay to hear.
Caili O’Doherty was another charming lyricist and composer, well adept at promoting her new album. They were good. Caili
The Berklee table offered earplugs. That initially seemed like hipster irony. Then I trotted over to hear Alissia & the Funketeers, who seemed to be playing at jet-plane decibels.
We Four was a Berklee faculty-centered tribute to John Coltrane. They had my number, particularly the famous Javon Jackson on tenor sax. javon2
felix Felix Peikli  and the Royal Flush Quintet was colorful in ever sense. They’re a wonderful throwback to the nights of hot clarinets.
The Chorobop trio performed pre-WWII Brazilian dance music that had people grinding. chorobop


My pick for the afternoon was unquestionably Jackie Foster. She stunned the audience while singing as a guest of Marty Walsh (not at all our mayor) and Total Plan. She’s not quite 20. I have no qualms about predicting a fabulous career for her.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Very close sounds in the Village

August 7th, 2015

denhert2Without question, my favorite intimate NYC music venue is the 55 Bar. My Boston drinking buds and I visit when we go to the City. While it humbly advertises itself as a Prohibition Era dive bar, it really is a wee place that features jazz in the broadest sense, one where you can sit within touching distance of the musicians.

This Wednesday, the three of us went for KJ Denhert with guest, her long-term singing bud, Vicki Genfan. They have been singing together for decades since college (one at Ithaca and the other down the hill at Cornell. They both sing and play, with KJ specializing on vocals and Vicki on guitar. Each will occasionally guest on the other’s gig. They like each other and it shows in the music.

As always, we arrived 10 minutes before showtime and trotted to the barstools next to the band and johns. The early sets at the 55 don’t have a cover, just a two-drink minimum per very long set. Out stools were literally right there.

Genfan2Pix notes: Click a pic for a larger view. These are Creative Commons, so use ’em if you want; just credit Michael Ball once. I won’t apologize for the grain and such. The light inside the 55 is Dis as befits the underworld. The bulbs are in fact red, so these are even color corrected a bit. I won’t use flash when I’m close to musicians. I have some upbringing.

Back to the 55, if you go look carefully for the 55 street number to its down-the-stairs entry. It’s, if you pardon, cheek to jowl with the famous Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher. It seats maybe 60 at deuces and quads, with another 20 or so at the bar. There are no bad seats, you are all close to the music.

KJ likes to scramble her style(s). She sometimes is urban folk, but does real jazz licks and her own blues. She performed mostly originals for us, with beyond Genfan on some, the combo’s drums, guitar and bass guitar.

She and Genfan performed together on an off. Sometimes KJ sat next to me while her friend went solo. Again, they like each other.

To Vicki, I’d never heard or seen her signature style. After the break, she came over and I asked her if there was Denhert4a name for that spanking the frets just above the guitar body. She turns her guitar into more of a percussion instrument…think piano. It’s a hell of a lot more powerful than beating the body for a thump or 20. She creates a combination of rhythm and melody with the flourishes.

She was impish though. She could have told me that she’d named the style. I found that out by clicking around to read about her. She calls it slap-tap. Good stuff.

As every other time we’d gone to the 55, the music was superb, particularly because we were a few feet from it. I guess it also helps that it is such a small room that they don’t have to blast the audio to the point of making your ears bleed. (Don’t you hate that?)

This is kind of like the Lowell Folk Festival. I have some CDs to buy. I also chatted with both of the lead singers. Is it true that memories are free?

You should go out to their sites or YouTube or Amazon and listen. You’re allowed to buy their music even if you didn’t sit next to them.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.


The First (really about 27th) Lowell, The Angels…

July 26th, 2015

This must be musical adultery. I only spent four hours at the Lowell Folk Festival this year, before heading to a  Spinners game. I have never combined those and usually am there for one or two full days. I think we have hit 27 of te 29 of the festival.

To mitigate my callousness, I did drag three friends who had never attended any LFF. I bet they’ll be back. That sort of makes up for my uxorial unit being out of state playing grandmother to our two littlest ones.

We did manage to catch four groups in a range. If you have never been, do go and before, check the site above and see how many, how varied and how impressive the lineup is. I write and say it often, this is without any doubt the best free (yes, free) musical festival in the country. If you have the slightest honor, you’ll chip in money when bucket bearers come around swapping sleazy Mardi Gras beads for donations.  Lowell is easy to get to from much of New England. The difficulty in the festival is choosing which of five or six simultaneous performances to catch. Sometimes you have to play honeybee and flit from one stage to another.

Here follow a few sample snaps. There’s a link at the bottom to a Flickr album of 33, four groups and a gigolo-ish Park Ranger keeping the customers happy by dancing with them.


Like any music fan, I can carp. I’ve listened to a lot of Zydeco and Cajun going way back. Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Roadrunners put too much rock-and-roll to suit me, but they are damned good. Leroy is a statue until he makes love to his squeeze box. leroy2
leroy4 One of the Zydeco  Roadrunners scant instrument is, depending on where you grew up, a washboard, washboard vest, rubboard or scrubboard. It works and he works it.
We have heard the Fairfield Four several times, previously when all were oldsters. Only one is a senior in latest incarnation, but it’s gospel at its best. fairfield7
harrisbros3 The Nashville-based Harris Brothers, Reggie and Ryan are more power than grief in their Appalachian blues.
I can’t find the name of the John Berberian Ensemble drummer. He truly got into the performance. berberian1
berberian8 The man himself, John Berberian, is an oud master.
Armenians and others couldn’t sit still when the Berberian Ensemble was on. berberian5

One National Park Service ranger had a great, sweaty time spinning one audience member after another.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Elves working on JP Porchfest

February 8th, 2015

111 bands this year for the JP Porchfest…plus:

  • theater performances
  • storytelling stage
  • dance stage(s)
  • circus acts

We were in the group who fought the rages of winter to fill the hall at the First Baptist to view the wee documentary of the first version last year. The website and FB page have details already on the second annual one, on the sked for Saturday, July 11th from noon to 6PM.

Band signups start in mid-March. The organizers have been churning along for months though. Watch the sites for ways to volunteer and announcements of the musical/potable/comestible fundraisers.

At today’s show, you missed free seltzer, popcorn and Hersey’s kisses…plus a lengthy performance by Jamaica Plain Honk.

jph3 jph5
jph4 jph2


JP tries Porchfest

July 20th, 2014

Jamaica Plain did a fine job copying other such events in its first JP Porchfest yesterday. 50 or so groups performed at 35 venues, most of them quite literally porches.

I careered among many venues, playing a speed-listening version of the Odyssey. To my ear, there was a little terrible music, but most was good and some superb. With so much simultaneously in the works, no one was stuck anywhere. Here’s hoping this becomes annual.

As a disclaimer, several shots here are of a group where my wife sings and plays. I’m prejudiced. They jam weekly and perform as features on occasionally, largely bluegrass. Their road group has taken to call themselves Still Here.

Among some of the gems I found was Damn Tall Buildings, Rebecca Hope, and Outrageous fortune. As an indication of the event’s diversity, they play respectively bluegrass/blues, up tempo ballads, and swing. Click over to the event site for a list, many of which have videos.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Avery ‘Montana’ Ballotta of Damn Tall Buildings dtb2
rhope1 Rebecca Hope
A couple of the Outrageous Fortune gang fortune3
stillh8 Still Here’s mando player, surely the best gurning of Porchfest
My uxorial unit for Still Here. She’s the primary family musician. stillh2
stillh6 Of course Still Here had the mandatory bluegrass components, including dobro…
…and a banjo stillh7

Fiddles and such in JP church

November 23rd, 2013

Nothing like a coffeehouse, except there was coffee and tea in the back room, but as concerts in UU churches go, JP’s version worked well last night. We heard first Cat and the Moon, and then The Bombadils.

There’s more folk, bluegrass, acoustic, Celtic and such concert coming up. Some are listed at the notloB site. The next one at First Church JP is a kind of battle of four string quartets on Dec. 7th, Saturday.

Here’s a few snaps from yesterday. The lighting was grim. Only a few were usable. We had positive memories of the space though. Two of our sons attended Kids Arts there for years after school.

These concerts are enjoyable, easily accessible and inexpensive ($13 in this case) evenings.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

The fiddlers were clearly the hits of the evening. Each band featured one. Here The Bombadils’ Sarah Frank blends strings and vocals. bombsara
catricky Cat and the Moon’s Ricky Mier on banjo.
The Cat of Cat and the Moon is Kathleen Parks. catcat
She’s a Berklee student who started with Irish music as a kid fiddler and does all and sundry now.
Sarah Bombsfrank
bombevan The Bomadils are from various parts of Canada. Here bassist Evan Stewart plays.
If I had to pick, I think Sarah was having the most fun. Bombsarahf

I think this is Eamon Sefton, of Cat and the Moon. Another Berklee student, here he went from his acoustic guitar to an Irish drum.

Squeeze Your Honker, Somerville

October 13th, 2013

OK, kiddies, the annual, multi-day Honk! fest in Somerville MA is pretty damned good. It’s not the Lowell Folk Festival, but it’s intense, different and just as fun. Plus, we can go by bike or subway from Boston.

We did the biggest, longest day, Saturday this year. Even with intermittent mist, we didn’t regret it. In fact, the dampness led us to two visits to Five Horses, where I’d been numerous times, but Cindy never. Our youngest works in the South End, Boston, version.

We can be as provincial as New Yorkers, but really, really Boston, this free fest is mandatory. Also is chipping in $5 or more into the donation buckets. Get real. Get grateful.

Some of What We Saw

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License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Band links: The Honk! list routes to all the bands.

Minor Mishap(Austin) all flashed my favorite color.


balaansinger Drummer/vocalist from Brass Balagan (Burlington, VT).
Big heads from Bread & Puppet Circus Band (Glover VT) await skulls and shoulders. breadpuppet
allseeingtuba Tuba bulb from Gora Gora Orkestar (Boulder) sees all, shows all.
Gora Gora was rife with horns. goeralips
forwardblades I see your pathetic glockenspiel and the Forward! Marching Band (Madison) raises you saw blades.
Minor Mishap had lots of brass. minorhorns
goradance Introversion was not the order of the day and many, most women danced to any and every band.
Many kids saw adults at their freest and joined in. balagansway
dja DJA-Rara (Brooklyn) did amazing things with modified found objects.
The amazing drummer for Brass Balagan had everyone hopping, stomping and clapping.  balagansticks
 chesterbubbles  An extra was gigantic bubbles seemingly in time to the music.
Balagan’s flag lady worked harder than the musicians.  balaganflag
 2ndbone A bone player for the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society (local)
The nomadic belly dancer did her thing with several bands and seemed to befuddle kids.  howtoenvy
 minordrum The longer Minor Mishap played, the more enthusiastic they got.








JP Music Fest Tunnel Down

September 8th, 2013

Why was I surprised? I commented again, as I have for the past four years, on the annual Jamaica Plain Music Festival.  I love it, but I am not a slavish schmuck who will defend it in every aspect against all critics.

I thank UniversalHub for its one-sentence citation that produced a thousand or so hits on what was fundamentally a photo spread. Yet, the few commenters who went on and on about how I had no right to dare criticize the audience can stuff it. Sorry, kiddies, I lived 21 years n JP, saw it swing to hipster-lite, and do damned well have that right.

Here’s a word or 12 to the anonymous sorts at UH, come over here or even stay on UH and leave a email. We can deal with your issues.

Regardless, I had a busy day yesterday and didn’t really comment on the third or so of the groups we heard and saw. For a recap, let me spew:

  • Red Dog, was not ready for even minor league. It’s a garage band, heavy on bass guitar, that is strong on beat and very low on lyrics. Try again.
  • Allison Francis. She does good deeds and has good politics, but there’s a reason she was at the top (lower end) of the bill. Her voice is so-so and lyrics predictable.
  • Afro D All Starz. were super hot. Theywere a relative big band with a variety of instruments, voices and words. Expect to hear more of and from them. We loved them.
  • Jesse & The Hogg Brothers. We found them entirely forgettable. As Southerners ourselves, we were stunned by their simplistic, clichéd words and sentiments. This was like someone making fun of New England Yankees. No. They exceed the limit of cute.
  • What Time Is It Mr. Fox? Shtick or not, these guys win. They have good costumes and far better music. They went far beyond clever, blending camp and good to great music, both instrumental and vocal. We’ll buy their stuff.’
  • Peter Sykes. Tinny and under-amplified harpsichordist was perfectly adequate for recital-classic tunes. He was not right for an open venue to engage a large audience.
  • Hobo Chili. A fun group came in with lots of horns and other instruments and a variety of vocalists. They were totally fun, but no way would you say they were your weekend listening choice. They are really strong on horns and can likely develop.
  • Coyote Kolb. They are better on their website than at Pine Bank. There’s a Black Keys pretense that they did not deliver in JP. I like their recorded tunes, but their JP Fest showing was bland.
  • The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library. This was a big hit of the afternoon, both musically and visually. We were amused by the sexy librarian conceit but more pleased by the solid performance and lyrics. Their CDs are well worth the price.
  • Merrie Amsterburg. She has a tinny voice, worthy of a student broadcaster on WERS. Nuff said.

Overview of our afternoon, is that we got a lot for free, but not everything was a gem. Do come…every year…and expect fine entertainment. If your go to the Lowell Folk Festival at the end of July, you’ll return with some keeper CDs and at least two new favorites you wondered how you didn’t know before the weekend. The JP Music fest might produce one or two on on great year that are spectacular.

We can do the you-get-what-your-pay-for jive. Lowell is far better, but, hey, JP is free, is local and easy to get to.






JP’s Annual Day Party

September 7th, 2013

It’s no Lowell Folk Festival, but the Jamaica Plain Music Festival is a quarter to a third a good, jammed into much time, not requiring hustling among six venues, and for us very parochial Bostonians, does not make us travel out of town.

[By the bye, you have truly missed it of you haven’t done the LFF. We’ve been there almost every year since it was the American Folk Festival. It’s annual for two and one-half days, blues/folk/world/more…and free, free, free.]

While only in its fourth year the JP thingummy stays pleasing to the eye and ear, and with its hipster vendors — designer cupcakes, God’s doughnuts, Indian, New Age fruit pops, food-truck sammies — for the nose and mouth. We did it again. Here’s some snaps and comments on about a third of the bands and a few of the spectators.

Look at me! Look at me!

If you go next year and haven’t been and haven’t lived or spent a lot of time in JP (I lived there 21 years), steel yourself. Many of the locals are full of themselves, but not in an aggressive and obnoxious way. They are more vain and egotistical. They know they are hip.

weehipMany men and children and a few women wear Trilby-style hats, often in straw instead of felt. They may even dress their tots in them.

Having raised three, I know how much fun it is to dress up kids before they can object. That surprises all of us ex-boys who didn’t grow up with dolls.

Today, as always, there were a couple of hacky-sack guys. Late teen or early 20-something hipster types near the stage for everyone to revel in their splendid skills, sexiness and such. They are terrifically silly but have no idea they are. They go shirtless and foot the toy up, around and laterally for an hour or more, give each of us lesser mortals the pleasure of watching their posturing and posing. Yawn.

JPplank3This JPMF had an extra though. A couple was in the middle of the Pine Bank fields, again so everyone could benefit from watching them, for two hours or more doing acrobat, yogic stuff.

There may have been some Tantric connotations, as the guy stayed on his back with his arms and legs supporting the woman. She’d plank and twist and twirl and do a handstand on him. They were slow and far from flawless, but insistent.

They didn’t watch us, but knew we were watching them. For God’s sake, they were literally in the middle of the field, being exhibitionists.

They went on and on and on and on.

Far less visually intrusive were various promenader types. It still is summer, sunny and warm, so the déshabillé young women were common, in all senses, and benign enough. In their Danskin or similar tops, they showed themselves off to all genders, ages and orientations. No foul there.

In an unfortunate variation, a few badly aging men joined the hacky-sack types but after their shirtless prime. For example, one I recognize from the West Roxbury Y weight room is 45 or so. He must believe he is still 17 and prime. Instead, he wore only shorts and shoes and showed his fairly muscular arms, his big, honking beer gut, his very shiny scalp, and his pale blue tats. Some chum should let him know he’s a chubby, wrinkled baldy who should dress for public display. Sigh.

A far better display came from several hundred dragonflies. The fields are normally for soccer or softball. Today, the dragonflies were chowing down on the likes of gnats and mosquitoes. Some spectators didn’t seem to notice, but many from toddlers to blue hairs gawked. When we arrived just as things started noonish, the dinosaur-era critters far outnumbered the audience. Even as the fields filled with maybe 400 folk, the dragonflies kept relentlessly eating the pests. Bless ’em. I only regret that they flitted nonstop, did not land, and moved so fast I couldn’t get a single shot of them.

The Musicians

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License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Allison Francis was early up and a good example of the occasional solo performer. She is a politically solid local who is a Midway regular. She was fun but not a great singer. allisonfrancis
AfroDshunguclose Probably the hit of the afternoon was Afro D All Starz, a big group with driving hip hop and funk. The head dude (emcee, leader, trumpet and vocals), Pete Shungu.
Christopher Huang was violinist and per song fiddler. AfroDHuang
AfroDFriedman Adam Friedman played flute.
Steve Mossberg bend over the keyboards. AfroDMossberg
AfroDshungu Shungu alternated trumpet and voice duties.
I think this blissed out guitarist is Reid Angwin. AfroDDavenny
Foxfuries A deceptively fun group was What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? (named for a Brit kids’ game). The backing vocals were from five women, collectively the Furies.
Lead is 3rian (sic) King. FoxKing
FoxCohen3 Nathan Cohen was on fiddle.
Another equivalent of a big band was Hobo Chili. There were a bunch of them, replete with brass, strings and voice. Leader Steve sang and trumpeted.  HoboSteve
 HoboDougorAndrew  I’m not sure whether it was Andrew or Doug on guitar.
 Lance on trumpet and Geoffrey on tenor.  HoboGeoffreyLance
 Library Prize for name did not go to Mr. Fox. Rather The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library got the thematic drama queen/costume non-award.
 The eponymous leader was definitely the least librarian-esque of the bunch.  LibraryEpstein
 Librarysing The sexy-librarian conceit worked well for the women band members. Their lyrics put the lie to the sweet melodies. Civil Engineering Blues was my favorite, a riff on Seinfeld’s yadda yadda, with lines like, “and nothing they do will solve any of this
so they may as well just smile
and they may talk a lot, but it’s la la la”


Here for the Music

January 30th, 2013

At 8 PM, the Cantab’s performance space was so quiet we could have heard a caterpillar crawling. By 9, with the opening act half way through their set, the me-me-me birds so overpowered the amplified voices and instruments it was a pantomime.

Straining to hear Hoss Power, then accepting defeat, I thought of the sighs, moans and worse of my musician friends who play in bars. I also climbed into the WABAC machine in a flash memory of when I angered a singer in a New York nightclub.

Last evening was the predictable. By 8:30, the scheduled start, the small room filled, almost entirely with 20-something college sorts. Cantab does a good deed on Tuesdays in bringing in two bluegrass bands for only the price of a passed tip hat and your swilled booze. Being cheap and bluegrass being current hipster fodder, the room, then the adjacent standing space were jam-packed.

…but not for the music.

Da utes were there to socialize and toss back $5 beers and wines. They bellowed and brayed. Some never looked up from their smartphones. A small subset in chairs closest to the stage were clearly there for the band. There were smiles and waves; maybe their were all friends of the group — a lot of folk, mostly women, with a fiddle, mandolin, two guitars, banjo and upright bass. As many as there were hip to hip on the small stage and with working mics, they were no match for the increasing chatter.

Management is used to this and surely the bar had no objections to the non-stop hand signals for another round. We drank a couple ourselves.


In the big-kid world of performance halls with pricey tickets, folk who talk endlessly and in increasing volume over performers doesn’t work. Abutters and staff hush them or remove them. My muse-I-can chums assure me that’s not the way in most bars. Customers are all about themselves. The band is coincidental.

It suddenly reminded me of my own issue many years ago. I pissed off Sesame Street’s Olivia, a.k.a. Alaina Reed.

Before her long stint with Big Bird, she was already a singer and actress. Her blues were powerful and convincing.

I was single and brought a female companion for the show. I also brought my new 35mm camera (decades before digital photography). I was considerate and discreet — no flash and only a few shots. I prided myself in being considerate.

Yet in retrospect, I was different only in degree from the clods at the Cantab last night.

After her long set, she stopped by our table on her way out of the room. She looked fiercely into my face and told me  how rude I’d been. She said that the several shutter clicks had tested her concentration.

To me, the noises were so few and faint that I hadn’t considered them a problem. I immediately apologized and iterated that several times. She was decidedly not placated. She stood there and kept at it.

Surprisingly, she did accept my invitation to have an I’m-really-sorry drink with us. Cocktail in hand, she relentlessly scolded me. Naively, I had assumed that the double social lubrication of apology and alcohol would ease the anger. …not at all.

She must have told me 15 different slight variations on how difficult it is to maintain focus as the sole singer in a room and how my selfish noises had challenged her focus. My and my date’s praise for her show also had no obvious effect.

Eventually, she finished her drink and seemed to tire of verbally slapping me. She never once smiled nor showed the slightest indication that anything was forgiven.

The testiness of artistes is the stuff of legend. Alaina Reed was at once right and self-righteous.

Last night, Hoss Power’s musicians plugged away as though everyone could hear them and was listening to the music not each other. They left the stage smiling and were pretty good. No one learned any lessons from them about how to behave in public.

Different people, places and times…