One summer. 40 shows before Labor Day. One helluva season.

Well folks, I’m back in action after spending the summer doing my usual, chasing shows. This year it went to a whole ‘nutha level. Most summers, I’m lucky if I make it to 20, 25 shows in the parks. These year, I far surpassed that. Made it to 40 shows before Labor Day.

Some of the highlights:

Rhiannon Giddens: I love her work with Carolina Chocolate Drops. She’s the second member of the group to release a solo project. The band was stellar, and their repertoire covered a wide range, from Americana, blues, and spirituals to Beyoncé. Rhiannon sings and plays with authority.
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Systema Solar: This band is from Colombia. I met up with some young fellow Colombians who were visiting the city, and couldn’t wait for the band to take the stage. With their limited English, they asked where I was from. When I told them I was born and raised in NYC, they said I was the only American that they met who was dancing and enjoying the music. They wanted to know why. I told them that Duke Ellington once said, “There’s good music, and then there’s everything else.” This band joins Los Amigos Invisibles as my all-time fave party bands.

Big Bands Represent: Thought I’d heard it all when it comes to big bands. Then I saw Letieres Leite & Orkestra Rumpilezz at Lincoln Center Out of Doors‎. A ferocious set of Brazilian music. Arturo O’Farrill, a band leader in his own right, sat in with the group. And the final concert at Lincoln Center was Lyle Lovett’s Big Band. I sat next to a couple, and we marveled at the generosity of Lyle Lovett, as he let his musicians lead various parts of the concert.

Best weekend of music: August 1-2 at Central Park Summerstage. Mardi Gras meets Carnival, with Dr. John and the Nite Trippers on Saturday, and Brasilfest on Sunday. What a treat.

Singing and Dancing in the Rain: The weather forecast for the VP Records 35th Anniversary Celebration was spot on. They said rain starting around 3, and they were right; it rained the whole time. I had my trusty Helly Hansen. Wasn’t going to miss this. I remember when VP Records first opened on Jamaica Avenue. Back then, folks thought it was a joke, selling records from West Indian artists. Caribbean Massive packed the place to see the likes of Maxi Priest and other performers.

Roomful of Teeth: This was the only set I was interested in attending from the River to River series. This group has a unique approach to a capella singing. Great set.
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Batala NYC: If you saw the beginning of the post-parade ceremony for the U.S. Women’s Soccer team, you saw this group of women dressed in red and white, playing samba drums. The week before, I saw them at Penn Plaza, and my mouth dropped. They played straight through for 45 minutes! And they don’t just beat dem drums—they dance with ’em!
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Muscle Shoals All Stars: From the minute they took the stage, I was on my feet dancing. And this was at Lincoln Center, where the audience is rather staid, to put it nicely. Muscle Shoals was the ‘muscle’ behind some of the biggest hits in the business. Guests included the incomparable Bettye Lavette, one of my all-time faves, and the legendary Sam Moore.

Jason Isbell: Smokin’ country music from a master storyteller.

Dance, Dance, Dance: The dance performances this year were really fantastic. For the July 4th Holiday, I checked out Un Break a Mozart and the Dash Ensemble. The performance was part of the celebration of the arrival of Lafayette’s ship, L’Hermione. Later on in the month, I got to see Philadanco as part of their 45th anniversary.

Afropunk: Blew the roof off of Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center. The bands gave us a real flavor of the festival.

The Tempest by the Classical Theater of Harlem: Saw the preview of this presentation during the July 4th weekend. The setting for this production was in Haiti, which added another layer of magic to this mystical piece. And this was my first visit to Marcus Garvey Park. But not the last. I checked out the circus performance there, and one of Jazzmobile concerts which featured Jeff “Tain” Watts and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
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Best Family Event: My niece and I attended the 40th anniversary celebration of The Wiz at Rumsey Playfield. The place was jam packed; and the audience was in it from the first note. At one point, I could hear my niece singing in the background—and she knew every verse to the songs! That’s how much of a fan she is. So lucky to spend that evening with her.
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Third World: ‘Nuff said. The Jamaica Gleaner had a great review on the show. I was surprised to see a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while, so we got to hang out. I was told her that the Third World show was my 30th for the season,, and I was on track to make 40 shows. And a guy sitting next to me piped in and said, he’d already see 50 shows! My friend confessed that this was her first show for the season. Between schedule conflicts, and trying to find someone to go with her, this was the first time she got the chance to hang out. “Next year, I’m gonna take a tip from you,” she said, “and go solo.” Yep, that’s what I’m talking about.

tUnE yArDs: This was one of the best closing shows that I’ve even seen at Celebrate Brooklyn. This woman is such a consummate performer, with a deep musical reservoir that infuses her songs. Absolutely brilliant.

The Ones That Got Away:

  • Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. A mistake on my part. I placed the date in my Google calendar instead of Outlook. I never use my Google calendar. If it’s not on Outlook, it doesn’t exist. That won’t happen again.
  • And of course, the pop-up performance by Stevie Wonder in Central Park. I didn’t find out about it until I went home and watched the evening news. It was just as well; the tix sold out in 30 seconds. So I didn’t have a chance. But it made me see how people can get FOMO.

And I’m Not Done Yet!

Every day, there’s always something low-cost or free to do in New York City. This month, I’ve been hanging out at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. Last week, I saw a fabulous performance of The Amigos with special guest Nature Ganganbaigal. A fantastic collaboration where Americana meets China. Thursday, October 14 will be the Nicaraguan guitarist Aurelio. And one of my music heroes, Randy Weston, has taken up residence with the Jazz program at the New School. As part of his residency, he will present the traditional music of Morocco on October 13.

So as we enjoy the autumn leaves, I hope that all of you had just as much fun as I did over the summer.

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