Entertainment news and reviews from Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and around the world.
Last Sunday the New York Philharmonic made their annual visit to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. This year they were accompanied by the US Marine Drum & Bugle Corps to help “Celebrate America!” in honor of the July 4th holiday weekend.
The day initially displayed gloomy skies and forecasts of intermittent thunderstorms, but by late afternoon the storms abated and guests with coolers and children in tow started arriving and filling the lawn.
The NY Philharmonic lead by Maestro Bramwell Tovey demonstrated their traditional impeccability with a mostly patriotic program that opened with the Star Spangled Banner and then somewhat ironically turned to two Russian composers. First offering the Waltz from Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade suite and second, what was the highlight of the program for me, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Russian-born Kirill Gerste as soloist performing his distinctive interpretation the classic.
Not being a student of classical music I couldn’t site you the nuances of Gerstein’s version that separate it from other pianists. I can say that at times it appeared more modest than previous versions I have heard but at the same time he showed a command of its challenging passages that left me in awe. For myself and any other pedestrian classical music fans it was absolutely wonderful.
With the second portion of the program the real patriotism kicked in when the US Marine Drum & Bugle Corps lead by Major Brian Dix took the stage displaying their emblematic precision. Of course we eventually got to the Sousa’s marches but before that we enjoyed several equally patriotic and emotionally stirring passages including a delightful rendition of Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring.” Also included was a unique take on “Don’t Rain on My Parade” which the Major, after happily admitting he grew up in the Hudson Valley and expressing his admiration for the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, dedicated to Marine veteran Allan Gerry the center’s visionary and creator.
Finally the NY Philharmonic returned to the stage along with the US Marine Drum & Bugle Corp for what had to be one of the largest collections of musicians to yet grace the stage at one time at BWCA. Together the two companies concluded the Star Spangled program including a medley of the armed services anthems where audience members were encouraged to stand and be recognized when their branch’s song was performed. And finally, of course, the aforementioned Sousa’s marches that have become the signature of any Fourth of July celebration.
Following the concert guests were treated to a spectacular fireworks display that was the best I’ve seen this year and I would suspect came at considerable expense to BWCA. But as this event annually attracts almost all of Bethel Woods’ membership being the signature concert of the year, along with the member recognition reception the display was the icing on the cake that concluded a perfect evening that reaffirmed my dedication to supporting the Bethel Woods Center and all performing arts.
Note: My apologies to Major Dix and the US Marine Drum & Bugle Corp. Camera restrictions did not allow me to photograph their portion of the performance with my pro camera. I also regret I was unable to capture images of the fireworks display. It truly was spectacular.
Wednesday night brought Daryl Hall and John Oates’ “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” tour to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The tour started last year in support of a four CD box set of the same name which is a must have for definitive fans of the duo. It contains choices spanning their 40 year career including hits, rare tracks, and previously unreleased gems and live cuts. And for the most part that is what we were treated to this evening.
This was your basic “give ‘em what they want tour.” They came to play the songs everyone wanted to hear and hopefully sell some T-shirts in the process. We all know they have been playing these songs for 20 years or more so we really hope they enjoy themselves. And from all indications they did.
There were all the #1 hits from the ‘80s, “Kiss on My List”,” Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go for That,” “Maneater,” and “Out of Touch.” They reached further back and pulled out a personal favorite of mine, the tour’s namesake, “Do What You Want, Be What You Are,” which was released as the first single off of the “Bigger Than Both of Us” album in 1976 before releasing their first #1 single “Rich Gil” off the same album in 1977.
There were some plugs for John Oates new CD “Mississippi Mile” which was released in April and “Live from Daryl’s House” a successful monthly web show that has been running for over three years now. The web show is definitely worth checking out, it boasts an impressive list of guests and some great music. But this night wasn’t about new material, this night was for classic H&O.
Opening the show was country music singer/songwriter Jimmy Wayne. Wayne has been on the country charts for several years including a #1 with “Do You Believe Me Now” in 2008. I was surprised “Sara Smile” was left to the duo themselves, even though Wayne also had a hit with the song in 2009 reaching #31 on the Country charts. I suspected there would be some kind of collaboration but sadly no.
If there could be any complaint for the evening it would be that the show seemed a little short. Maybe it was because I was still thinking of Phish’s two set three hour marathons of a few weeks ago. Or maybe it was that they originally said goodnight after only forty five minutes or so before coming back for three well-choreographed encores. Still, I wasn’t the only person looking at their watch when the band finally left the stage around ten o’clock. Nevertheless we got what we came for so ultimately fans left satisfied.
On another note, for the second consecutive show at BWCA the lawn was closed. It is still recovering from 3 days and 45,000 Phish fans. So as a result lawn ticket holders were treated to pavilion upgrades. This was undoubtedly for the best as weaker than expected sales would have left a number of seats inside empty which makes the evening uncomfortable for artists and fans. So with some new sod and a few weeks rest the lawn should be in shape for the New York Philharmonic on July 3rd.
Till then I will be report on two shows from different venues, Peter Frampton at the Paramount in Peekskill on the 18th and Peter Gabriel at SPAC on the 27th.
Deep Purple rolled into Bethel Woods with a 40 piece orchestra for the 8th show in a 16 date tour of North America, their first in four years. “The Songs That Built Rock Tour” sported the Deep Purple line up that has been in place for the last nine years. The venerable Ian Paice on drums who has been in the band since its inception in 1968, along with veteran members Roger Glover on Bass, and Ian Gillan on vocals, both of which have been members for most iterations of the band including during their pinnacle of popularity in the early 1970’s. Rounding the band out were Steve Morse, the youngster at 56, who has handled guitar duties since 1994, and Don Airey keyboardist since 2001.
It was an enjoyable evening. Deep Purple rocked the joint as you would expect. As the tour title suggested they played many of their old hits from their heyday including “Highway Star,” ”Strange Kind of Woman,” “Lazy,” “Woman From Tokyo,” and “Space Truckin’.” They threw in a few from the 80’s and 90’s and even a new song that will be on an upcoming CD. And of course they closed with “Smoke On The Water.”
And even though they are getting a little long in the tooth as many of the Baby Boomer’s favorite bands are they were still able to pull it off. Though I have to admit at times I felt Ian Gillian looked a little strange doing some of his old moves. They just don’t come off at age sixty five the same way they did 40 years ago. But still the band has the chops; they are all solid musicians that have reached journeyman stature years ago. Even Gillian has enough of his voice and the” scream” to bring back the old vibe.
The part that unfortunately failed to work was the orchestra. This was a great idea that was poorly executed. I thought this was going to be cool. Many times bands are not able to re-create in concert what they do in the studio. Often additional production gives a full sound on studio recordings that bands are unable to sustain in live performances. Yet this was different. Deep Purple is just the opposite. Most of their recordings were raw and bare. “Smoke on the Water” is a true story. They recorded most of the “Machine Head” album in an old hotel in the hallways with the wires run out the windows to a recording truck. But here was an opportunity to add something new that hadn’t been heard before. Give new life to these classic songs with the added texture of strings and horns.
Sadly that’s not what we got. Instead it seemed like the sound team tried to prove why the Guinness Book of World Records had once named Deep Purple the loudest rock band on earth. The orchestra was totally lost in the mix. Other than a brief intro at the beginning of the show and a few momentary crescendos the orchestra was all but inaudible. I saw bows flailing, cheeks expanded, and the conductor’s arms churning with enthusiasm but I had to strain to hear any of them.
Still, as I said before it was an enjoyable evening and we left satisfied. I just wish they hadn’t wasted so many fine musicians.
My apologies on the photos. I was not able to obtain photo press credentials for this show so I had to bring the small camera that meets BWCA’s policy.
Next Daryl Hall and John Oates on Wednesday.
So now we come to my second tale of Phish’s successful 3 day season and tour opening weekend at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
I will start with the result and then try to describe all the factors that lead up to it. Bottom line, I did not get photo credentials for the Phish shows. Nor, as I am now realizing have I been afforded photo credentials to any show this year. I’m starting to see a pattern.
For those of you that don’t know me, and painfully once again for those that do, for me covering concerts is about the visuals. Now there are many who will argue with me, and for good reason, but there are many different types of performers. The purists will say, “It’s about the music stupid!” and for many bands that is true but even Neil Young admits that today it’s just as much about posing as it is the music. Very few would argue that Lady Gaga would be just as successful without her visual presence. Artists can’t make a career selling recordings. They have to get out on the road and sell tickets and merchandise. I would suspect Phish made one of their most significant profits last weekend on the limited edition” Phish at Bethel posters” that were gobbled up at the merch tents before the show even started. More on that later .
So my endeavors as a reporter have really been impelled by my love of performance photography. I have been photographing concerts for almost 40 year,s going back to a time when the photographic technology wasn’t up to the challenge. We tried to pass it off as artistic but those blurry grainy images were the best we could do back then. Now I have actually recreated that look for style but I think it is just trying to make those old photos look better. My point is first and foremost I am a photographer and hopefully an artist.
This blog was supposed to be more about photos, even though it has yet to realize that vision. And honestly if I could just post photos without having to write I would be happier. It was intended for those who could not attend or for those who could not get good seats or for those that choose the lawn for the sound quality or even for those with short term memory loss.
When I initially started covering Bethel Woods for the Sullivan County Democrat I was required to write accompanying reviews of events. Tours understandably want more traction than just a couple of photos. They hopefully get a favorable review that they can then cite later in an effort to sell more tickets. It had been years since I had written anything serious other than a business email yet I dove in whole heartedly and my efforts seemed to please my editor. For the most part I kept things positive and non-controversial so as not to bite the hands that were feeding me.
Still the Sullivan County Democrat is a local paper with limited distribution and funding so space was at a premium. I would have liked to see more of my work get ink but people weren’t buying the paper for my photos or stellar insight. And since I wanted to get more photos out there I felt a blog was the perfect vehicle. So for this season I thought I had established a perfect relationship with the paper. I would write my blog and post additional photos for the digital media and they would have exclusive rights to print whatever portions of the blog and/or photos they desired. It would be a wonderful season.
So now new this year, add to the mix, Bethel Woods outsourced their PR to KKPR Marketing and Public Relations. I’m not going to knock BWCA for this. I am a believer in outsourcing to experts. I work for a company that continually tries to reinvent the wheel in areas they have no expertise and they never get it right. Now the job of a PR firm is to craft and spread the word. The unfortunate byproduct of that is you get a slanted spin on the news. Again I can’t really fault BWCA for that. Why would you want to spread anything else? So unfortunately for me it now becomes easier for the newspaper to get their content directly from the PR firm. One guess on how that worked out for me. “As a result, we will no longer require you to work at any Bethel Woods events on our behalf. Again, thanks for you past efforts and good luck in your future projects.” Ouch! Talk about a Dear John letter.
So now the dynamic changes and it will be interesting to see where things will go. I no longer have the traditional print media behind me and I wonder if I will still be afforded access if I am only writing and photographing for digital media. The sticking point becomes the photography. Anyone can attend a concert and write a blog or post a review about it on line. It’s the unique ability to provide images of what people missed or were unable to see.
Now the other side of this is the fact that digital media has changed imagery in the music industry as much as digital music. Going way back no one cared about photography at concerts. The photographic technology wasn’t good enough and there really wasn’t a market for photos. Then around the time all of us had Farah Fawcett hanging on our walls there was an explosion in poster sales. Photos and the posters generated from them became a major revenue stream for whoever could control them. So naturally the artists wanted the rights to their own images and the ability to make the profit off of them.
With the coming of digital media, images aren’t as coveted as they once were. Media and imagery are everywhere as are artists trying to be successful. They now give away songs, images, and other merchandise in a hope they can use their fans to spread their popularity. Whereas traditional artists and management companies are still trying to control those images thinking they are losing profits, younger artists encourage fans to post photos or videos to their social media pages and spread the word.
Once an artist is successful there is a market but it is the “official” posters and merch that are coveted. Remember that “Phish at Bethel” poster. It wasn’t the quality of the photo of the band that made it a collectible. The band wasn’t even on it. It was a photo of a bus in a field! It was the fact that it was the “Official” poster that gave it value. So the fear that I might actually sell a few photos that they wouldn’t get a cut of is a ridiculous waste of effort. I would point out that I have never sold any of my concert photos and not because I haven’t been offered. It’s the art thing, once it becomes work it loses its passionate allure.
So what’s happened in the concert world is camera policies are all over the map. Some artists are restrictive, some are receptive. The same goes for the venues. Bethel Woods had adopted a “No detachable lens” policy which has worked for them for years. And while I hate it, I can’t really fault them for it. The problem again is the promoters and management companies that think they are missing out on a revenue stream. So it is easier for BWCA to have a middle of the road policy that is easier to enforce. They don’t want to deal with different policies on a nightly basis and why would they? They aren’t losing customers based on the camera policy. Well maybe me on some shows but I’m a minority of one.
So for now I will have to wait and see if I will still receive access. The first test will be Deep Purple this Sunday. I have applied for access to both KKPR and Deep Purple’s management company. Film at 11:00, maybe.
Tale of Two Cities? No, more like two tales of a concert.
First, did Bethel Woods Center for the Arts open the Pavilion this weekend with three sold out performances by Phish? Did the Phish Phaithful descend on BWCA by foot, bike, car but more by bus just before each show to party and dance themselves into euphoria each night? Did Phish deliver each performance with signature solid, tight jams that fulfilled all expectation? Did the BWCA volunteers and staff do the site and county proud per usual as ambassadors and stewards of the sacred ground of rock music? Those were all givens and rhetorical questions at best.
Did the BWCA security work in harmony with Phish security and while maybe bending a few rules still provide a safe, enjoyable, party environment? And despite that harmony could an expectantly few disparaging stories be told that about incidents that might happen anytime you pull together 15,000 humans into a large, beautiful, yet slightly limited space? And was the band their families, friends, management, roadies, and everyone else associated with the tour impressed with BWCA, the museum, and staff? Affirmative, affirmative, and more affirmatives.
If BWCA was waiting for the perfect artist for a multi-day event then Phish was an excellent choice. While their fans might have a reputation as “hippies” for those who chose to put a disparaging connotations to the term they were undoubtedly one of the most polite and respectful crowds I have ever seen at the site. And while the followers were not thrilled with the sites usual refusal to allow any on site camping they found other ways to get the fans to the site in a safe orderly manner. Using an unprecedented number of buses, ticket holders were brought on site from campsites and assorted accommodations from surrounding areas in a surprisingly orderly manner. This resulted in less than usual traffic delays, safer roads, and a carefree party atmosphere.
Musically Phish was as solid as ever. While I was only able to attend the Friday night opener, from the first chords of “Tweezer” the band delivered two solid 90 minute sets with few breaks jamming from one original to the next with a few covers thrown in for good measure. Highlights included “Bouncing Around the Room”, Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman,”” Prince Caspian,” and “Possum.” But again I only attended the opener. I’m sure Saturday and Sunday’s audiences were greeted with completely different set lists.
All said and done it appears to have been an extremely successful opener for BWCA. So then you may ask “What is this other aforementioned tale of this concert?” Well my friends tune in next time for the woeful tale of the worst of times.
Opening the show and sponsored by BWCA was Barnaby Bright a unique indie band made up of Becky Bliss on vocals, harmonium, and ukulele and her husband Nathan on guitar, clarinet, and vocals. Originally from Kansas now based in Brooklyn the duo present a melodic acoustic sound that is unpretentious and genuine.
The couple opened the show with “Don’t Look Down” a song that won them the Grand Prize in the 2010 New York Song Circle Contest. Hearing the song live accompanied only by harmonium and guitar was a treat. I’ve always been a lover of demo tapes and original raw versions of songs and while the more produced version on their debut CD “Wake of the Hero” has a more commercially acceptable sound I found this performance more heartfelt. They then moved to their new single “Gravity” where Nathan’s hammer on style and tapping the box of his acoustic guitar give this song an addictive flowing feel.
Yet through their whole set the one thing that captures you are Becky’s harmoniously melodic vocals. No more so than on a wonderfully haunting song “Donologue” on which the harmonium took on a bagpipe like quality while Nathan’s clarinet added a mournful feel of the highlands, truly setting the mood for the evening’s headliner.
Eileen Ivers then took the stage with the infectious enthusiasm that has earned her praise on all sides of the pond and around the world. Nine time All-Ireland Fiddle Champion with a list of musical credits that scream melting pot the Bronx native of Irish immigrant parents easily transported the audience to the Irish country side. Telling stories of family and friends, she played a series of medleys that often started soaring and soulful and ended in a foot stomping reel.
Accompanied by Immigrant Soul, her longtime touring band which consists of Buddy Connolly, a Newark native and three time All-Ireland champion himself on button accordion, whistles, and keyboards. Along with Tommy McDonnell on percussions and lead vocals whose resume reads like a who’s who of modern music. Rounding out on acoustic guitar, bouzouki, and backing vocals are Greg Anderson and Leo Traversa on Bass. Together their many influences feed Ivers style.
After dedicating an improvisational musical torrent that earned her the acclaim, “Hendrix of the violin” to site interpreter and Woodstock ambassador Duke Devlin , Ivers worked the crowd into a foot stomping frenzy . Leaping from the stage and playing up and down the aisles she brought the evening to a crescendo with the audience dancing and singing along.
A word about the photos. Some of you may notice the photos are not up to my usual quality. That is because I was not afforded press credentials to the Events Gallery shows so I had to use a consumer grade camera that meets venue guidelines. I anticipate when the Pavilion opens I will be granted the same access I was provided with last year.
With the opening chords of Dylan’s “My Back Pages” on his signature 12 string Richenbacker guitar, Roger McGuinn strolled into the Events Gallery at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on Friday night and for 90 minutes delivered a one man show that led the audience through the pages of his career.
Telling stories of asking his parents for his first guitar after hearing Elvis’ “Heatbreak Hotel” (from which he played a few bars) and realizing girls like guitar players. To getting his first paying gig in Chicago at 16 years old before graduating High School, McGuinn took the mostly Baby Boomer crowd of more than 400 through his early years as struggling musician. Getting his parents to sign off on letting him fly to LA at 17 to work with the Limeliters. Moving east and joining up with the Chad Mitchell Trio and meeting Joan Baez. Being hired by Bobby Darin to write folk songs while living in NYC and hanging out in Greenwich Village. McGuinn told stories and sampled songs that he wrote, as well as many that influenced him over the years.
He spoke of first hearing the Beatles and their uniqe sound and trying to find his own by combining it along with his many influences. Then moving back to LA and working at the Troubadour where he met Gene Clark with whom he would form the Byrds. With Clark and a “pudgy kid” who came in one night and started singing harmonies, McGuinn spoke and showed how he developed his sound that would become his trademark.
Telling all his stories while seated on a simple piano bench surrounded by 3 guitars and a banjo Roger worked in most of his hits from over the years including “Mr Tambourine Man”, “Mr Spaceman”, and the highlight of the evening an extended version of “Eight Miles High” with some fantasic guitar work on his “Martin D-7″ 7 String Guitar developed especially for him by the classic guitar maker.
In the end it seemed fitting to tell stories of early folk and rock music in a place that holds so much history.