Entertainment editor Chris Kocher looks back on his music memories
As the calendar soon flips to 2019, it’s time again to look back at the music that served as this year’s soundtrack — at least for me.
I’ve been sharing this column of concert memories annually since 2010, to help me to remember the great entertainment options that our region provides. These types of lists are always subjective, of course, but I do try to keep my ears open.
As usual, I wasn’t able to get to as many concerts as I would have liked. Sometimes life just got in the way, and choices had to be made. Sadly, I couldn’t make the Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band concert at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena because I was on deadline making that week’s Go section.
But when the conditions are right, nothing beats a live performance in the same space as the musicians, sharing a connection that you can’t get from sitting on the couch watching on TV.
One cherished experience this year happened outside the area: I finally attended the annual Northeast Regional Folk Alliance conference in November. Held at a Connecticut hotel, NERFA is designed so that musicians can meet concert promoters and radio DJs — but what it really means is three days of wall-to-wall music.
A few selected artists perform at a series of formal and semiformal showcases, but “guerrilla” showcases happen well into the wee hours of the morning. A whole floor of hotel rooms open their doors for literally dozen of performances at the same time, so it’s impossible to see it all. I certainly did try, though.
OK, on to the list.
• John Flynn (Jan. 12, 6 On The Square, Oxford): I’ve been a big fan of Flynn’s music for years now and once saw him perform a short set at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, but this was the first time I’ve been able to see a full concert. He did not disappoint. Carrying on the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Flynn inspires audiences to examine their preconceived notions and find their better selves. That wouldn’t work if the songs weren’t so direct, so heartfelt, so well-crafted and sometimes just darn funny.
He shared some choice cuts from recent releases, such as “Malala,” “Two Wolves,” “Just Like Woody Done” and “Bury Me with My Guitar,” and he also previewed a few songs that are on the new album “Vintage,” released later in the year. “Sing Me on My Way,” about his wish to hear a lifetime of music in his final moments, is a revelation.
• Vance Gilbert (Jan. 20, 6 On The Square): Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that Gilbert has been on this list in previous years — more than a few times, in fact. There’s a good reason for that: He’s not just a superior singer, songwriter and stand-up comic but also one of my favorite humans, period.
This time around, there were heart-tugging classics such as “Boy on a Train,” “Goodbye Pluto,” “Old White Men” and “Unfamiliar Moon” as well as lighter moments such as “Zombie Patty Cake,” “God Bless Everyone” and a Halloween poem about growing up in Levittown, Pennsylvania. As part of the final song before the encore, the former jazz crooner even made up a strange and funny improv about the audience.
We also got a preview of his expected 2019 album with songs like “Pie and Whiskey.” As always, I can’t wait to hear what he’s going to do next.
• John McCutcheon (Feb. 16, 6 On The Square):McCutcheon is very much the folk singer’s folk singer, a consummate instrumentalists who writes his own songs that alternate between compelling and fun, while also honoring the traditional music that’s come before him. As with Flynn, I’ve been a fan for years and yet somehow this was my first time seeing him live.
Several of the songs from the setlist were from his 40th album “Ghost Light,” which had come out a couple of weeks earlier. Alongside “A Perfect Day,” “Me and Jesus” and “The Machine” (a tribute to Guthrie) were older selections like “The Streets of Sarajevo,” “Leviathan” and what is perhaps his best-known song, “Christmas in the Trenches.” He also dazzled the audience with his skills on hammered dulcimer, a fascinating combination of percussion and stringed instrument.
I read the other day that he has another new album due out early next year. Talk about prolific.
• Alex Creamer (Feb. 23, Cyber Cafe West, Binghamton): During my time covering music in Greater Binghamton, I’ve been thrilled to see a few local musicians gain wider acclaim outside of the region — among them Zarni de Wet, Brian Wolff, Driftwood, Milkweed and Bess Greenberg. So you’ve heard it here first: Creamer is the next one to keep in your sights.
Her music has grown and matured a lot since I first saw her as an EPAC Idol contestant in early 2016. This show served as the album release for her long-gestating debut “Shaking the Shelter,” and she did share most of the songs from it — including standouts like “The Wallpaper Song,” “Asking for a Broken Heart” and “Stand in the Rain.”
But in the second set, Creamer showed herself capable of handling pretty much anything with a few new songs (such as “March of the Plastic Soldiers”) and near-flawless covers from Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and even Johnny Cash.
Since then, Creamer has devoted herself full-time to music and done a cross-country tour; a new album with duo partner Reid Miner is in the works now. I’ll definitely keep you in the loop on that one.
• “Durante!” (March 4, Schorr Family Firehouse Stage, Johnson City): Considering that legendary comedian Jimmy Durante died when I was 6 years old, this tribute act is the closest I’ll come to see the Schnozzola live. Grover Kemble is a near-perfect imitation of the nightclub star, all one-liners and manic energy but with moments of sincerity that show the serious man beneath the clown.
Aided by Regan Ryzuk on piano and Tim Metz on upright bass, Kemble shared classics from Durante’s repertoire, such as “Start Off Each Day with a Song,” “Make Someone Happy,” “The Glory of Love” and, of course, “Inka Dinka Doo.” They also paid tribute to other stars of the era, such as Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson and Ethel Merman.
All of it felt like a throwback to a lost era of entertainment, and it offered an important lesson: No matter what age you are, it helps to stay “Young at Heart.”
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (March 14, State Theatre of Ithaca): A typical “Weird Al” show — which I saw a few years ago at Tag’s Summer Stage in Big Flats — offers up all the best parodies from his four decades of skewering pop music, along with multimedia and costume changes for pretty much every song. This concert, part of the “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour,” put the spotlight on Yankovic’s original music in a stripped-down format.
Even though these weren’t direct parodies, they often followed the style of a particular genre or band, from Chicago blues (“Generic Blues”), the White Stripes (the Charles Nelson Reilly tribute “CNR”), the Doors (“Craigslist”), earnest singer/songwriters (“Good Old Days”) and country (“Truck Drivin’ Song”) — and his longtime band nailed every one. Yankovic even dug up a song that he jokingly said he forgot he wrote — the rarity “She Never Told Me She Was a Mime.” The concert ended with a choice medley of parody songs, a Devo cover (“Uncontrollable Urge”) and the “American Pie” / “Star Wars” crossover “The Saga Begins.”
For the “Strings Attached” tour in 2019, Yankovic will upsize again to include a full orchestra — but hopefully he and the boys will consider a “self-indulgent” sequel sometime soon.
• Joe Crookston (May 5, Atomic Tom’s, Binghamton): Even though he lives just up the road in Ithaca, Crookston doesn’t play in Binghamton all that often — so it was great to catch him at this venue in the heart of the downtown arts district. (Thanks to Binghamton Live for making it happen.)
Over the past decade, I’ve watched Crookston gain a wider audience in the folk world — and rightly so. He’s a thoughtful, funny guy who wants songs to mean something in the 21st century, and he does that through the well-crafted stories that he sets to music and delivers with passion.
This concert featured a good overview of Crookston’s musical journey, from earlier songs like “Freddy the Falcon,” “Dance and Sway” and “Hands, Metal and Wood” to newer (and as yet unrecorded) ones such as “The Rattlesnake Song” and “Children Lose Their Balance.” A few never lose their ability to affect me, such as “Blue Tattoo” (about an Elmira survivor of the Holocaust) and “Fall Down as the Rain” (a metaphor about death and rebirth that’s destined to become a folk standard).
Crookston loves to hop genres these days, from folk to country to blues and beyond. I particularly loved the reimagined blues version of “Bird By Bird.” He’s packing even more instruments these days, and I’m loving his fiddle and slide-guitar playing, but his finger-picking acoustic guitar work is still the heart of his songwriting.
• Brandi Carlile with the Secret Sisters (May 8, State Theatre of Ithaca): Earlier this month, Carlile earned six Grammy Award nominations for her album “By The Way, I Forgive You” and its song “The Joke” — the most of any solo female artist. “I Forgive You” also has appeared on numerous year-end best-of lists. Having seen her live at this show, I can attest that the heaps of praise are well deserved.
Backed by longtime collaborators and twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth along with a string ensemble and other musicians, Carlile played each of the 10 songs on “I Forgive You,” with standouts “Every Time I Hear That Song,” “Sugartooth,” “The Mother” and “Fulton County Jane Doe.” Mixed in were a variety of older songs from her four previous studio albums, including “The Story” — the title track for her 2007 debut that first brought her praise from critics and the public. Carlile and the twins also stepped to the front of the stage for “Cannonball” completely unplugged, powered by their voices alone.
The State was hotter than an oven for this sold-out show, but by the anthemic “Hold Out Your Hand” at the end, the whole crowd was on its feet and feeling the energy.
Opening act the Secret Sisters — who are, in fact, sisters — shared their angelic sibling harmonies on “To All The Girls Who Cry,” “Black and Blue,” “Bad Habit” and other songs. Then Laura Rogers and Lydia Slagle returned to the stage several times with Carlile, including for the Secret Sisters song “Mississippi.” Carlile saved the sisters at a low point and produced their 2017 album “You Don’t Own Me Anymore,” and it’s clear their love for each other is mutual.
•Esperanza Spalding & The Royal Tease (June 10, The Forum, Binghamton): Right from the start of this concert — a fundraiser for the Binghamton Philharmonic — the eclectic Grammy-winning jazz bassist set out the premise of the show: “We’re not going to play any songs you know, but these will be better.”
The promise didn’t exactly hold true, but I did get the feeling that she was trying out some new material — which proved accurate when her album “12 Little Spells” came out in October.
Wearing a shirt that said “Life Force” and backed by her hot five-piece band, Spalding took the audience on a journey through her eclectic catalog, from stream-of-consciousness poetry like “Dancing the Animal” and “Word Jungle” to the seductive croon of “Hold On Me” and “Shine.” There also were a few jams and improvs, with Spalding giving each member of the band a chance to shine — particular saxophonist Myron Walden.
Before taking her final bow, Spalding called her music “complicated if you try to explain it but simple if you know” — and that perfect sums up an artist who is reshaping jazz for a new generation.
• My Sweet Patootie (June 16, 6 On The Square): It’s been far too many years since I’ve seen this swing-jazz trio in person. Not only are violinist Sandra Swannell and fingerstyle guitarist Terry Young talented musicians and singers, but their songs and banter are just plain fun — like a modern vaudeville act.
I mean, how can you not love songs like “Daddy Needs a New Tractor,” “Whistling & Jangling,” “Make Yourself a Happiness Pie,” “Pandemonium” and “The Epic Tale of Doris and the Pig Latin Lover” just by the song titles alone? Backed by percussionist Paul Clifford, these crafty Canadians also snuck in a few heart-tugging moments with “Under the Sun” and a cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Mainly, though, My Sweet Patootie offers a positive energy that has audiences smiling as they head out the door — and in grim days like these, we can use all the joy we can get.
• Cheap Trick (Aug. 5, Spiedie Fest & Balloon Rally, Binghamton): The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers cranked it up to 11 — maybe even 12 — during their performance at the region’s annual celebration of marinated meat and large floaty things.
Billed from onstage as “the one, the only, accept no substitutes,” the band covered their career from the their latest single (“The Summer Looks Good on You”) and album (“You Got It Going On” from 2017’s “We’re All Alright”) to its first album (“Hello There,” “Big Eyes”) and everything in between. They even tossed in a couple of covers (Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour”).
The Tricksters saved their biggest hits for later in the set: “Dream Police,” “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender” and the 1980s power ballad “The Flame.” (Every rock band had one back in the day, to show the ladies how sensitive they are.) For “Surrender,” Rick Nielsen pulled out his now-famous five-neck guitar — a funny sight gag parodying rock ’n’ roll excess. Even after 45 years, these guys have still got it.
• Baby Gramps (Sept. 5, Cyber Cafe West):I’ve made no secret over the past few years about my love for Seattle’s surrealist folk trickster. He sings in a voice like Popeye, his humor can be risqué and his setlist can pull from the hundreds — perhaps thousands — of blues, Americana and jazz tunes that are stored in his unusual but brilliant brain. He’s also a fascinating and frenetic guitarist, banging and picking on his old National steel for sounds that even the manufacturer never imagined.
This return to Cyber Cafe was as close to a “greatest hits” show as Gramps is ever likely to get, with favorites like “Goblin Fruit,” “The Monkey Puzzle Stump,” “I Got the Jitters,” “Night Bloomin’ Jazzmen,” “Did You Know Mississippi John Hurt?” and “Hocus Pocus Bowlegged Locust.”
He paid tribute to two of his influences with a New Orleans medley and Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna.” When latecomers showed up, we somehow got two helpings of “The Hoodoo Bash.” I guess that’s one he particularly likes, which is just fine by me.
• Tessa Lark & Michael Thurber (Oct. 5, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Binghamton): Violinist / fiddler Lark first made an impression here when she soloed at the Binghamton Philharmonic’s season-opening concert last fall. This time around, the orchestra invited her back for a performance with Thurber on upright bass.
Their setlist blurred the lines between folk, classical, bluegrass and jazz. Each of them took a hand on a reworked Bach piano piece that became a string duet, they shared Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli’s Gypsy jazz tune “Minor Swing,” and classical tunes blended with Appalachian reels during several medleys. They also shared a never-before-performed-live instrumental called “Tom and Nancy” in honor of two friends who support their music.
Lark and Thurber even did their own spin on some classics: The Beatles’ “Blackbird” as a scat-tastic singalong, “Sweet Georgia Brown” (better known as the Harlem Globetrotters’ theme) as a fun and frenetic closing number, and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” a more-than-satisfying encore.
• The Black Feathers (Oct. 27, 6 On The Square): I admit that I walked into this show not knowing a whole lot about the married British duo of Ray Hughes and Sian Chandler, apart from a couple of songs I’d heard online. But I was urged not to miss it, and I’m glad I didn’t.
Hughes and Chandler harmonized around a single mic on the title track from their latest EP, “The Ghosts Have Eaten Well,” and a few from 2017’s “Holy Water” while also going back to their debut album “Soaked to the Bone.” Their songs have a definite melancholic edge to them, but the between-song banter helped to lighten the gloom.
• Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio (Nov. 3, 6 On The Square): On the way out of this show, one longtime patron said that it was the best show she’d ever seen at the Oxford listening room. The following weekend, the trio performed a formal showcase at the NERFA conference — one of just 14 acts out of hundreds attending.
It’s been five years since I first discovered Pierson’s music — randomly, through my WHRW radio show — and she’s gained a lot of well-deserved attention since then. She’s a talented multi-instrumentalist who can go from folk to New Orleans-inspired blues and jazz with ease. Bandmates Shawn Nadeau (upright bass) and Davy Sturtevant (strings, coronet and everything else) are the perfect collaborators.
The setlist for this concert showed off the trio’s strengths, from originals like “Singin’,” “The Get Up and Go” and “Good Girl Blues” sitting comfortably next to covers such as “Dark as a Dungeon,” “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” and “Butter and Egg Man.” We even heard a few new ones, including the meet-cute-in-a-bar tale “Drink and Dance,” and Sturtevant stepped up for a couple of his originals, too.
Next time Pierson and the boys are in down, do yourself a favor and don’t miss ‘em.
• Preservation Jazz Hall Band (Nov. 17, Corning Museum of Glass, Corning): New Orleans’ best ambassadors for the music and culture brought the spirit of the Crescent City to this concert, part of the Corning-Painted Post Civic Music Association‘s season.
The songs that the sextet shared — which started with invites to the Big Easy such as “Come With Me” and “Go to the Mardi Gras” — served as frameworks for killer solos from the musicians. Trombonist Ronell Johnson and trumpeter Branden Lewis were particular standouts, blowing their horns while also blowing our minds. They also visited the dancers who gathered at stage left, giving a thrill.
By the end of the concert, band leader Ben Jaffe jumped into the audience and led a march around the aisles, and he also pulled out the famed Preservation Jazz tuba. Amazing musicianship and energy were on display — and it was a heck of a good time.
Have a good Christmas and New Year’s, everyone, and hope to see you at a concert soon.
Kocher is the entertainment editor for the Press & Sun-Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter: @RealChrisKocher. Support our journalism and become a digital subscriber today. Click here for our special offers.
Favorite concerts from the past
Read Chris Kocher’s columns about his favorite concerts from 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014.
What did you love?
What was your favorite Greater Binghamton entertainment offering in 2018? Email your responses to [email protected]m with your name and town of residence, and we will publish your responses.
- Building a Regional Music Market - The Texas Model
- What You Need to Know About Canadian Music and Musicians
- iPod Music Downloads - Download iPod Music to Your Heart's Content
- Music in Nottingham
- Couldn't Find Concert Tickets For A Venue Near You? Consider It A Good Thing
- Touring the "Mother Church" of Country Music: The Ryman Auditorium
- Sacred Love - Seeking a Real, Sacred and Loving Relationship? Try This
- Social Networking and Music: MySpace Puts It All Together in a Virtual Community
- ABC's of the Music Industry
- Choosing Unique Wedding Ceremony Music
- For Your Next Holiday Visit Copenhagen, Denmark - A Jewel Within The Nordic Region
- Condo Hotels Offer Means to Invest in Dubai, World's Fastest Growing City
- Peru Music
- Create Memories with an "Annual Family Slideshow Party" Tradition
- What Makes Melbourne So Marvellous For Visitors? Plenty
- Dish Network Strives To Provide Plenty Of Choices For Its Customers
- Now You Can Know the Real Secret Story of the Famous Love Between Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ
- Review: 2GB SWISS MEMORY USB Victorinox
- The Formation Of Spanish American Culture - Drama, Music And The Fine Arts
- Bilbao, Spain - the Top-10 reasons why I love this city
Concert memories of 2018: Binghamton region's music scene offers plenty to love have 3474 words, post on www.pressconnects.com at December 17, 2018. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.