The Best of 2015
By: Tom Pragliola
Living in Brooklyn, making occasional visits to Florida, and having a number of music loving friends, were the ingredients that enabled me to see and hear as much great music as I did this past year.Here are some of the highlights:
Scott Sharrard at Bar Chord: When not on the road with the Gregg Allman Band, Scott presided over a Thursday night residency at this music centric bar in Brooklyn that allows people to bring in food and pet dogs, and has a large area outdoor area out back for the overflow. It became one of the hippest places to be on Thursday nights as Scott and his Brickyard Band often welcomed guest musicians and let their hair down playing some ferocious soul and funk.
Brooklyn Bowl: Starting off in January, this was the site of a Birthday Bash for Rock, Roots and Blues – Live’s co-founder Steve Hefter. That night we were introduced to the trippy jazz of Naughty Professor, and enjoyed the dance grooves of Big James’ Funky Nation. The Bowl is the site of a continuous production of excellent music on almost a nightly basis. One show I attended that was extra special was the double-bill of Samantha Fish and Marc Broussard. Both of these artists had a packed house in their sway with Samantha highlighting the blues from her recent release “Wild Heart”, and Marc playing a rollicking set of soul, and funky rock and roll as evidenced by the video of “Rock Steady”/”Dynin’ Man”/”Home”.
Tab Benoit at Le Poisson Rouge: On February 21st Tab was in NYC at this small club on Bleecker Street. It was cold and snowy outside, and a packed, sweaty crowd inside. Tab seemed on a particular mission to get things heated up and played the set with virtually none of his usual between songs patter. A great artist and his band in command of their craft. Always one of my favorites. See Tab do "Night Train" from the show:
NMA and Anders Osborne at The Capitol Theatre: February 27 in Port Chester, NY. My son and I met up with some friends who had come in from Long Island, Rochester, NY and Tallahassee, Florida. We were all riding the rail up front to see the show, especially our Roots Rock Revival instructors, Luther and Cody Dickinson. North Mississippi All Stars (Luther, Cody, and Lightnin’ Malcolm) opened with an abbreviated set, followed by a set from the Anders Osborne Band. And then they joined forces as NMO with an extended mash up of Anders/NMA songs. After the show we had the opportunity to visit with the guys backstage where the young guitar players were pumping Luther for specifics on certain solos. Always gracious, Luther patiently discussed the finer points. We all left happy and exhausted.
Tedeschi Trucks Band in Central Park: NYC, May 18th. TTB kicked off their spring/summer “Wheels of Soul” tour with a free concert at NYC’s Central Park Summerstage. After waiting on a long line for a couple of hours, I actually met up with my son as we wiggled our way up to about twenty feet from the front. The band tore through a truly inspiring set of great music, with guests Doyle Bramhall II and Sharon Jones joining in for a few numbers. It was exhilarating. It seemed that all was right with the world and the future looked bright. Great music can do that for you. Video: “Bring It On Home" with Sharon Jones.
The Who HITS 50: May 26. The Who’s 50th anniversary show stopped in Brooklyn in at Barclay’s Center. I made an exception to my general policy of avoiding arena shows to give my son the experience of seeing The Who performing their classic songs. He was raised on classic rock so he is familiar with them all. We suffered through a dreadful opening set by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. The Who put on an excellent show, including Pete Townsend’s windmills and Roger Daltry’s mic swings. Pino Palladino on bass and Zak Starkey on drums provided a steady, solid foundation. Great fun but I’m reminded why I don’t normally do arena shows.
Gathering of The Vibes: May 31. It was the 20th year of this Festival in Bridgeport, Ct. and my first time attending. A fantastic line-up in a beautiful setting. Great food, great people, great vibe, great fun! With two stages going simultaneously, I had some tough choices. The Word was finishing up the opening set on the Main Stage as my son and I were arriving. Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band was playing the smaller stage. After Jaimoe I went over to the Main Stage to see Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings playing a polished set of soul/r&b. I left in the middle of their set because I did not want to miss the set by Doyle Bramhall II on the small stage. Doyle performed songs from his long awaited, and at that time, still to be released solo CD. Then it was back to the Main Stage where friends had saved some space up front for the two upcoming sets - Tedeschi Trucks Band and Gregg Allman Band. Two of my favorite bands whom I will see again and again. Exhausted, we made our way to the food vendor area for some much needed ice cream waffles, and slowly exit for the one hour drive home.
NJ Crawfest: June 1st. This two day festival in northeast New Jersey has become a welcome fixture on the festival calendar. The theme is New Orleans – food and music! I attended on Sunday. The first band I saw was Nikki Hill on the tent stage. Loud, spirited rock and roll. A good start. I moved out to the Main Stage to see the latter part of the Jarekus Singleton set, shielding myself from a steady rain while getting a video of his song “Refuse To Lose”. The band was tight and the sound clear. Back to the tent to see Marc Broussard. I was distracted thinking about the rain and getting some of that N’Awlins food, and the fact that seeing and hearing the band at Brooklyn Bowl is so much better. After some food I went back out to the Main Stage where George Porter Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners played a freewheeling set. When it comes to New Orleans funk, George is the man. A storm was brewing as we waited for the final set by headliner Dr. John. The delay and the weather led me to the very conflicted decision to head home. I left disappointed that I did not see Dr. John. But Crawfest in NJ every June is a treat and I know I’ll keep coming back.
The BAM R & B Festival: The 21st annual free summer outdoor music series at Metrotech Commons. The music comes to me every Thursday for two months each summer as the stage is set up right outside my office building. A tasty lunchtime treat. This year I enjoyed the following artists – r&b veteran Bobby Rush, strutting his stuff at age 82; Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaies, getting
his career into high gear at age 65; the ageless George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic; great young jazz artist Theo Croker; and the timeless Jon Cleary and The Absolute Monster Gentlemen. It was a funky good time. See related photos and videos.
Les Dudek at BB Kings/Lucilles: Making his annual northeast tour, Les hit NYC on July 10th and treated his faithful followers to a high energy show, performing songs from his latest “Delta Breeze” along with classics “City Magic”, “Old Judge Jones”, “Gypsy Ride”, etc. It has become a much anticipated event on my “not to miss” calendar. Les sounds better than ever with his current lineup of Dan Walters on bass and Greg Stewart on drums.
Butch Trucks and The Freight Train: Aug. 21st in Huntington, L.I, NY. It was the debut of Butch’s new band at The Paramount Theater, with Berry Oakley, Jr. on bass, Butch’s son, Vaylor Trucks on guitar, and Bruce Katz on keyboards. The band came out smokin’ with the high energy “Hot ‘Lanta”. They mixed ABB classics with blues, funk, and soul/jazz covers. Highlights included the guests - 17 year old guitarist Lara Cwass on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, and 20 year old singer/guitarist Heather Gillis on Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine”. An extremely impressive debut.
Gregg Allman Band: Aug. 28th at PNC Holmdel, NJ. The road does go on forever and I’m still on it. Couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Gregg’s great band, led by guitarist and musical director Scott Sharrard, one more time. In addition to traditional arrangements of Statesboro Blues, Midnight Rider, Melissa, etc. the band is performing new arrangements for some of Gregg’s and The Allman Brothers Band’s classic songs. Gregg and the band did a powerful version of Warren Hayne’s “Soulshine”, a raucous rendition of Scott Sharrard’s “Love Like Kerosene”, a funky version of “Whipping Post”, and ended the evening doing Dickey Betts’ “Southbound” with guests Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston, and Bill Payne of The Doobie Brothers.
TTB at The Beacon: Oct.3rd. A chance at the last minute to get tickets and I’m on that road again. I’m joined by my son and two of his friends to see the latest can’t miss show “At The Beacon”. Highlights include the band reprising a couple of songs from their “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” summer tribute to Joe Cocker, and I was able to get a video of a rousing “With A Little Help From My Friends”. TTB continued to provide some of the outstanding musical moments of the year.
Dead & Co., MSG: Nov. 7th. Label me lucky. Two good friends each scored four free tickets to see Dead & Co. and each had one they were not using. On very short notice, me and my son were at the show. I found no good reason to not be at an arena show again. It was my son’s first “Dead experience”. Of particular note for me was not John Mayer on guitar but Oteil Burbridge on bass. The friends that gave us tickets were sporting the latest fashion, the new “Let Oteil Sing” t-shirts. Consensus was that Mayer passed the test, and this latest re-incarnation of Grateful Dead alumni - Dead & Company - were a respectable, solid crew. See “St. Stephen” video.
Matt Schofield at The Funky Biscuit: Nov.13th Boca Raton, Florida. Seeing Matt play in his favorite venue was a powerful, overwhelming experience. Playing with his Florida mates – Aaron Glueckauf on drums, Rodrigo Zambrano on bass, and Jason Matthews on B-3 organ, Matt said early on in the show, “we’re all in tonight, cutting loose and keeping it on the edge”. I was invigorated with excitement as the most sophisticated, elegant, and funky and soulful blues poured out at me. Five stars. I felt that I’ve seen the most extraordinary music during the year, and none better than Matt Schofield at The Funky Biscuit.
American Showplace Music at The Cutting Room, NYC: Nov.20th. An old style review staged by the record label, American Showplace Music. This was a series of short sets by the following artists and their bands – Todd Wolfe, John Ginty, Chris O’Leary, Bruce Katz, Alexis P. Suter, and Slam Allen. An impressive stable of bluescentric artists. Highlights were Bruce Katz’s “Norton’s Boogie”, Alexis performing an emotional version of “Let It Be”, and Slam Allen wading thru the audience and at one point standing on a table and getting maximum audience participation.
Stevie Wonder at MSG: Nov. 24th. On the day of the show a friend wants to know if I’m interested in two tickets available because his friend couldn’t make it. It is good to have concert going fanatics as friends. Once again, I found myself in Madison Square Garden. Hey, it was Stevie Wonder! The sound that night at the Garden was excellent, each instrument identifiable and coming through fairly clear. That is quite an accomplishment at an arena show with a band that varied between 18 and approximately 27 people. Stevie put on a tour de force, playing the entire Songs In The Key of Life album, and many, many more from his inimitable catalog of 50 years. What a way to close out the year!
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