barbmstein@aol.com's blog

It's usually a very good sign when a concert starts on time.

Acts from Jamaica, the UK and the USA made a tour stop in a steamy shed in Philly.  A reggae legend, up-and-coming British singer-songwriter and long time American favorite singer-songwriter combined for a night of great music in the City of Brotherly Love.

Toots & the Maytals hold the current record of number one hit songs in Jamaica, with a total of 31.  They took the stage promptly at 7 pm.  A 4-piece band with 2-female back-up singers, including Toots’ daughter.  Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was dressed in a black and white leather outfit.  They played about 35 minutes.  Lights behind the stage illuminated the group at first in red, yellow and green and throughout the performance they changed colors.  Toots encouraged those in the crowd, still filing into the venue, to participate on almost every song.  At 63, you can tell Toots still loves performing reggae music from his home island and was pleased that Sheryl Crow invited them on tour.  The energetic set included:  “Take Me Home Country Roads” (yes the John Denver song) and “54-46 That’s My Number”.

James Blunt’s 4-piece band looked very Beatles-esque in black suits, white shirts and skinny ties.  Even their hair needed to be trimmed.  I’ve only seen James Blunt a few times on TV, in videos and on DVD.  I expected a mild mannered singer-songwriter who would share his songs in a simple intimate manner.  Instead, James came running out, wearing a grey suit with a short-sleeved white shirt underneath, guitar in hand, doing an up-tempo number.  The 11 song set was high energy for almost 60-minutes.  Touring seems to have helped build-up his confidence.  James, at 34, has passion for his music.  His face revealing a lot of emotion.  Going on before the headliner you sometimes have to win the crowd over.  James did that and more.  Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, during one song he actually ran into the audience to almost the top of the venue and came bounding back to the stage.  Of course James did his biggest hit “You’re Beautiful”, with only 2 studio albums to date, he made the most of his catalog of music.  At the end of his set, James, along with his band, were on stage facing the crowd which was on their feet applauding.  With a camera in hand, James asked us to wave our arms in the air, and took photos of us, perhaps a way for him to remember the evening.  That endeared me even more to this English singer-songwriter.  While not as well known here across the pond, a few people probably discovered him this evening.  I hope we will be hearing and seeing more of James Blunt in the future.

It was actually hard for me to imagine that Sheryl Crow could continue the energy James Blunt created from the stage.  Sheryl has a tight, well rehearsed 6-piece band and 2-female back-up singers.  She also has a lot of hits to draw from and many years of experience to draw upon.  The 46 year-old was dressed in blue jeans with an orange and green trimmed sleeveless cowboy shirt, and cowboy boots.  The humidity in the air didn’t seem to bother her, she still looked fresh throughout the 1-1/2 hours on stage.  Sheryl weaved her numerous hits with politics, personal reflections / beliefs and even the Summer Olympics while videos and lights were helping to create the different moods.  You can visit Sheryl’s tour diary on her website for a set list (http://www.sherylcrow.com/tour/tourdiary.aspx).  In general, the song selections favored her latest release “Detours”.  From which I think the stand out was “Gasoline”.  For the encore, Toots came out to join Sheryl on the Stevie Wonder song “Higher Ground”.

All in all a hot evening of music with three great performances!

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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I’m a child of the 70s.  I grew up listening to AM Radio.

In case you haven’t noticed, I absolutely love singer-songwriters.  Especially MALE singer-songwriters.  There are a few female singer-songwriters, like Sheryl Crow, who you will find in my CD collection, but mainly it’s a lot of very talented guys.

Please don’t hold it against me that I’m a “fanilow”.  Back in March 1977 I watched the “1st Barry Manilow Special” on TV and I’ve never been the same since.  I can’t help it.  Barry Manilow’s music continues to move me over 30 years later.  I still think of him as a singer-songwriter.  His best work, to date, in my humble opinion is 2001’s “Here at the Mayflower”.  Barry was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.

In my formative years during the 70s decade I listened to people like John Denver, James Taylor, Billy Joel and Elton John.  I also liked the music of the Bee Gees and the Eagles.  I was probably too young to realize that many of these artists wrote the songs they sang.  I just knew I liked what I heard.  For me, their music still stands the test of time to this very day.  I really miss John Denver.  I think if John were still alive today, he would have a lot to say to us and I hope we would be listening to him.

Later in the 70s and into the 80s it was performers like Livingston Taylor, Tom Chapin, Daryl Hall and John Oates and Michael McDonald who caught my ear.

Fast forward to the 90s and I found Marc Cohn, Edwin McCain and Shawn Mullins.

In the new century I discovered John Mayer and James Blunt.  They and many others like them are still coming onto the music scene with their unique song-writing abilities.

Thanks to WYEP I’ve found some new (to me) singer-songwriters, like James McMurtry and John Hiatt.

I realize my taste in music and singer-songwriters leans toward Adult Contemporary.  But think about it, most of these acts are still around after 20 to 30+ years in the business.  They are actively recording, selling albums and placing albums on the charts.  They’re touring and filling up venues.  People apparently still want to hear their music and see them perform.  Perhaps it’s like comfort food for the ears.

I’m happy to say that the singer-songwriter music genre is alive and doing very well.  It seems like almost every artist we play on WYEP is a singer-songwriter.  I’m in awe of the talent that’s out there.  I hope to continue to discover new artists and expand my CD collection.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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During the first week of February this year, Mr. Barb and I embarked on a week long journey through song.  The chartered cruise was called Cayamo (pronounced kay-AH-mo).  I would describe this inaugural event as Woodstock on water.  Ok, I realize there can’t really be another Woodstock and those that were there or say there were there or think they were there in 1969 will probably argue the point with me; but trust me this was quite a unique experience.

It was six days of sailing through the Western Caribbean with the cream of the crop of singer songwriters on board.  A new community of fans developed, united by the music.  We’ve never seen so many smiling friendly happy faces all in one place before.  The ports were secondary to the music on the ship.

Lounges, decks, atriums, lobbies and theaters provided unique venues for some very talented people.  Every night there was a headliner show.  I must confess here, I slept through many (okay most) of the headliners.  The shows were at 9:30 pm, after dinner.  When you’re sitting in a comfortable chair in a theater, with a full stomach and tired from running around all day, one tends to fall asleep.  I tried my best to stay awake and applaud at the appropriate times.  I understand from Mr. Barb I missed a lot of good performances.  It was all about the pacing, which we vow to be better at doing next year. I wanted to be awake for the 11:30 pm (and later) shows, so napping during the headliners seemed to work for me.

The Headliners (in the order I slept through them) were:

John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett, Patty Griffin, Brandi Carlisle, and Emmylou Harris

Other singer songwriters on board included:

Adrianne, Ryan Bingham, Chuck Carrier, James David Carter, Clay Cook, Meghan Coffee, Patrick Davis, The Duhks, Danny Flowers, Gaelic Storm, Ernie Halter, David Ryan Harris, Ari Hest, Chris Janson, Keith Kane, Earl Klugh, Chrystina Lloree, Edwin McCain, Pat McGee, Buddy Miller, Miss Tess, Shawn Mullins, Oakhurst, Josh Rouse, Scarlet Kings, Holly Williams, Beth Wood, Clair Wyndham, and Brandon Young.

Did we get to see every performer? No, we had to sleep (or in my case nap) once in awhile.  We also had to eat and thus had to make a decision to bypass a few performances in the process.  Near the end of the cruise, we tried to at least see a couple of songs by the performers we hadn’t had the chance to experience yet.  So we would poke our heads inside venues or stand outside to at least say we heard them.  There was a merchandise store to purchase the artist's CD’s, but there’s nothing like a live performance.

As you might expect, the coolest moments were the unscripted and unexpected ones.  Like when a performer would join another performer up on stage, unplanned and just sing along or jam.  Brandi Carlisle joined Shawn Mullins, Edwin McCain and David Ryan Harris on The Band’s “The Weight” (which ended up being a popular song during the cruise).  The performers all seemed to be having a great time interacting with each other and enjoying the fan’s often enthusiastic responses.  The atmosphere was right for spontaneous collaborations.  And some of the performers brought family with them, so hopefully they were able to enjoy the cruise as a little vacation.

During one of Edwin McCain’s shows, he swapped places with Ari Hest (who was doing a performance in the lounge behind where Edwin was playing).  What fun being able to see Ari perform a song!

I was mainly enticed to sign up for the cruise due to Edwin McCain and Shawn Mullins being two of the performers.  I was in all my glory when they teamed up to do a concert in an intimate lounge on board.  Now we know they really are two different people.  Edwin and Shawn often get requests for each other’s songs during their concerts.

On the Lido Deck, Edwin McCain, Shawn Mullins and David Ryan Harris (who is in John Mayer’s band) performed in front of a huge crowd of people sitting in their beach chairs in bathing suits.  Mr. Barb took what ended up being my favorite photo from the cruise:  Shawn looking out into the crowd and you could see the reflection of the people in his mirrored sunglasses (check it out at the bottom of this post!).  The performers seemed to feed off the enthusiasm of the fans.

Performances were being added to the schedule as the cruise went along.  I got to see Edwin McCain and Shawn Mullins perform a total of four times (twice solo; twice together).  Trust me, they compliment each other very well on stage.

On the cruise we discovered acts like The Duhks, Gaelic Storm, Oakhurst, Scarlet Kings, Ryan Bingham, Ari Hest, Evan McHugh and others.  We came home with many CD’s to listen to, to re-live the musical journey.

I can’t really capture the full experience of being on a cruise ship in the middle of the Western Caribbean in February with all this music everywhere.  We had perfect sunny, hot weather and even got sun burned!  While we had an inside cabin, you really only spend time in your cabin to sleep a little bit, shower in a moving telephone booth and change clothing a few times a day.  Once you got your bearings on the boat, it was easy to get around and plan your strategy about which shows to see and when.  Each act usually performed a few times throughout the cruise and Mr. Barb and I would split up at times to hear someone again or someone we hadn’t seen before.  When you’re on vacation and not dealing with daily distractions you’re okay with festival seating at some venues and going early to get a good seat.

We had so much fun this year, we plan to take the journey into song again next year, during the first week of March.  Another night has been added, and this time we will be sailing through the Eastern Caribbean.  We are looking forward to hearing and discovering some more singer songwriters.  And, hopefully, if the technology gods are with us, I can maybe blog on a daily basis.  Our cabin will be on the same floor as the Internet café.

 

Barb S.- Sunday Mix Host

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Summer in the city means concerts and more concerts.

On August 2nd I’m venturing down the pike to Philly to see Sheryl Crow along with James Blunt and Toots and the Maytals.  To be honest, I’m mostly going to see James Blunt.  The only time James was scheduled to be in the Burgh, his concert was cancelled.  I’ve been looking for the chance to see James, so when I saw he was touring with Sheryl this summer, I had to go.  James is a 21st century singer songwriter with 70s songwriting sensibilities.  I last saw Sheryl almost two years ago when she co-headlined a tour with John Mayer which began in Burgettstown (a first night of the tour is like a glorified dress rehearsal, but fun for a fan to see it all coming together on stage).  I love Sheryl’s new CD “Detours”, I think it’s her best offering in years, taking us back to the “Tuesday Night Music Club” days with catchy timely lyrics.

A few days later, on August 6th I will be heading east again, this time to Greensburg to see Edwin McCain.  It will be an acoustic trio show.  I’ve been a long time Edwin McCain fan, but never was able to see him in concert until this year and that was in the middle of the Western Caribbean on a cruise ship (more on that journey into song in another post).  Edwin is very funny on stage and I believe under-rated as a singer songwriter.  I look forward to another entertaining evening of great music.

Speaking of John Mayer, his tour finally rolls through the area again on August 20th.  After seeing John with Sheryl in 2006, about a month later I had the opportunity to see him in a free outdoor concert in downtown Toronto.  I was attending a conference and found out he would be performing nearby.  That was a lot of fun, even though I was standing over a block away, the atmosphere was great.  John still did not yet have the confidence on stage to believe in his music and I’m hoping that touring over the last couple of years has built that level of confidence up.  I have his current CD/DVD “where the light is” and I can see and hear the maturity in his voice.  I’m also digging his new single “Say”.

On September 15th , Shawn Mullins will be back, this time in support of Dar Williams.  I’ve been a fan of Shawn’s music since I heard “Lullaby”.  He seems to play the Burgh at least once a year, and this will be his 2nd visit in 2008, his last solo show being April 1st right after “honeydew” was released.  I believe “honeydew” is Shawn’s strongest release in years.  You can hear the depth and experience in the lyrics.  “honeydew” was also released on vinyl and some of the tracks segue seamlessly into each other, like songs on albums would often do in the 70s.  I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Dar and I look forward to her set.  Dar has a new CD coming out in September called “Promise Land”.  Lending support on the album are such renowned artists as Suzanne Vega, Marshall Crenshaw, and Gary Louris (of the Jayhawks).

I wonder how many people watching the Oscars® ever heard of Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova.  I was rooting for their song “Falling Slowly” to take the coveted Best Original Song Oscar®.  A much deserved win for not only the talented singer songwriters, but for independent music as well.  What a moment it was to see Marketa come back out to give her acceptance speech.  The Swell Season will be in town September 21st.  I’ve vowed to finally watch the DVD of “Once”.  I’ve been enjoying listening to The Frames “the Cost” CD.  I was introduced to their music thanks to WYEP.

The fall will hopefully continue bringing us some more great concerts.  I’m looking forward to seeing Joan Osborne for the first time on October 23rd.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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