Posted in Uncategorized on November 6, 2016 by midliferocker


Led by an explosive redhead with a voice to be reckoned with, a soul-filled rock band is flying high.

By Steve Houk

OK, let’s get all the bird references out of the way right at the beginning. I mean, with a band called Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, you gotta have some, right? So let’s make it fun for a sec, a cool modern folk tale of sorts.

So the Kincheloe family had a nest in the tiny hamlet of Halcottsville New York, about 150 miles north of the big city, the one with all the pigeons, aka Dirty Birds. Halcottsville is where Sister Sparrow, her brother (and future Dirty Bird) Jackson and their sister Mama Quail grew up. The Kincheloe parents would often bring music back gleefully to the nest and feed it to their family, classic vintage rock mostly. Eventually, they would push young Arleigh gently out of the nest out into the world and let her fly…er, sing…with them at their own gigs. It was that musical spirit that set their little Sparrow aloft to begin her own soaring journey.

“At like 8 or 9, I started sitting in and singing with the band,” said Sister Sparrow, aka Arleigh Kincheloe, recently from the road. “I was already doing it here and there, so my parents said let’s give it a shot. Even for an 8 year-old, I was so little, I’m still pretty small. But I was really doing it since the time I was growing up, it really helped me get comfortable on stage. And it let me just know that I really loved it.”

The bird stuff is cool but let’s cut to the chase. Arleigh Kincheloe took that musical foundation, fine tuned it a bit in the Catskills, and then moved to New York. She got her harmonica-playing bro to take flight with her (sorry, couldn’t resist), and in 2008 started Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, who since then have become one of the most talked-about soul-rock bands in the land. They’ve released three critically-acclaimed records and an EP, and most recently, an explosive live album Fowl Play (ya get that one?) that truly captures the essence of this sensational band at its most powerful. They play The Hamilton Thursday November 10th. 06-26-15-mountain-trout-1

But it is Sister Sparrow, and her otherworldly, soulful vocals and mesmerizing stage presence that drive the band’s dynamic. Kincheloe, who started writing songs around 18, adored tiny Halcottsville, but knew early on that she needed to fly south (darn it, sorry again) to the Big Apple and take a bite out of it to really make her mark.

“I loved where I grew up,” said the affable, red-headed dynamo, “but there were not alot of young musicians up there who wanted to really go for it. I wanted to — A — find other musicians I could play with — and B — sort of push myself to be motivated and driven and focused. It’s fine to be proud of where you grew up, I think that’s beautiful, if that’s where you’re happy. But I think I had to push myself off the edge, you know.”

The dimunitive Kincheloe has honed her voice mightily since finding her Dirty Birds, creating an onstage and studio vibe full of rock and roll soul that is both ferocious and finessed at the same time.

“It’s a hard thing for me to pin down,” Kincheloe said. “I’m just trying to be authentic to how I feel and what my voice does. People say, ‘You love Janis Joplin right?’ and I say I respect her, but I didn’t study her, I wasn’t trying to be her, it’s just that when I open my mouth, this is what comes out. So I think that’s where the soul comes from, I guess it’s just my soul, it’s just kind of what happens when I get to be free and express what’s going on inside my head, or my heart, or whatever.”


The live experience is the essence of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, and that’s why they’ve been playing 150-plus shows a year since the beginning; a tiring, exhilarating and very necessary aspect of making a successful rock and roll living. But when Kincheloe and her supremely talented band — harmonicist brother Jackson Kincheloe, guitarist Sasha Brown, bassist Josh Meyers, drummer Dan Boyden and horn men Brian Graham and Phil Rodriguez — get in the groove live, duck, because there are few bands out there right now that can compete with their towering, formidable live energy.

“The touring can get a little exhausting at times, but that’s why we’re at the place we’re at now,” Kincheloe said, “because we have done the touring for so many years straight. But it’s getting one fan at a time, that’s what we like to say. That work that we’ve put in surely has to pay off in some respect. I don’t like to think too much about what’s gonna happen in 6 weeks from now. I like to think about each day and each show, and trying to kinda maintain my sanity. And does the music still sound fresh and make us all happy when we’re on stage.”

Describing the band’s sound or putting them in a box genre-wise is not easy, they can come at you with a bevy of different sounds during their absolutely killer live shows. And that may be just the thing for them as they keep their flock flying high. Yes, I said it.

“People are always trying to compare us to people,” Kincheloe explained. “Moreso my voice than the actual sound of the band. I think there is something a little different going on, with all of us playing together. The arrangements and the style that we have sort of grown into. I always wanted it to be unique, and I was always striving for that. Because the last thing I wanna do is be the band that sounds like the other bands. It doesn’t feel like we’re reinventing the wheel, we’re playing sort of vintage stuff, even if it has it’s own little flavor to it.”

Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds with special guest Kolars perform Thursday November 10th at The Hamilton, 600 14th Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20005. For tickets, click here







Posted in Uncategorized on October 25, 2016 by midliferocker


A luminous folk/rock mainstay brings a lifelong project to its final stage.

By Steve Houk

She really wanted to be a dancer.

Lucky for all those who think Suzanne Vega is one of the most brilliant musical voices of our time that she realized hoofing it just wasn’t for her.

“I was going to be a dancer, all my training is in dance,” the soft spoken and eloquent Vega told me recently from her home in Manhattan. “And I decided at 18 that I wouldn’t be a good professional dancer because I would only work for the choreographer if I liked them, and if I liked their ideas. So, ha, that did not bode well for me in that world.”

Through her teens, Vega had already written a bank of songs when she made that life-altering decision, and by the time she decided to take singing lessons, she’d already sold a million copies of her debut record.

“My teachers were like, alright, just forget about (the lessons), do whatever you wanna do. So I guess I’m still playing around with how to express one’s self…well, my task in life is to figure out to express myself, and I have not really committed yet to how I want to be defined, I guess.”

However she wants to be defined, the world can comfortably define Suzanne Vega as one of the most special musical artists of our time, and 7 million records sold and a Grammy during an almost 40-year career speak loudly to that definition. From her superb early records like the career-making Solitude Standing (1987) with breakout songs “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner,” to other exceptional albums she’s released over the years, to her various collaborations with the likes of David Lynch, Danger Mouse, Joe Jackson and others, Vega has been lauded as a leading figure of the folk revival that started in the 1980’s.

Yet over the last four decades, she has continued to break the mold and push herself into new and even groundbreaking areas of expression, including her ongoing writing and poetry (“I’ve got more than 50 notebooks I’ve kept over the years”), being the first recording artist to perform in an internet-based virtual reality world, and something she enjoyed immensely, hosting an NPR series, American Mavericks, which introduced her listeners, and often herself, to modern composers like Bartok and Shostakovich.


And then there’s her most recent project, a stunning album of songs based on the life and writings of noted Southern author Carson McCullers, an undertaking Vega has been intertwined with almost her entire life. It began years ago with a college thesis, morphed into a 2011 Broadway play she worked on with singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik, and then came the album, Lover, Beloved: Songs From An Evening With Carson McCullers, released this year. Vega will be playing songs from the new record as well as her whole career at The Birchmere on November 1st.

“The songs were written over time,” Vega said, “not just for the 2011 show. I discovered (McCullers) in college and did my thesis on her, it was a one act play with songs back then. So this has been brewing over many years. The first ‘version’ of the play came out in 1981, before I had my career or anything. And then I put it away for thirty years or whatever the math is. Then I sat next to a woman at a gala dinner in New York, she said, ‘Oh I’m a director’ and I said, ‘Oh I have a script.’ And so she took a look at my script and took it on. And we decided to redo it, and in 2011 it was kind of an experimental version of it. So I ripped up that and this is the third ‘version’ of the play. But I did put it away for nearly thirty years, so I sat there every day, working on it through the rest of my career, and I always felt that I wanted to finish it to my satisfaction. So that’s what’s going on here.”

And why McCullers? What was the draw to her that made Vega spend time on and off throughout her life writing songs about her and her works?

“I used to love reading short stories as a teenager,” Vega described. “It’s just a great way of getting a big chunk of something literary that you don’t have to devote yourself to, and so I had a collection of short stories and one of those short stories was one called ‘Sucker’ by Carson McCullers. And I loved everything about it, I loved the toughness of the language, I thought Carson was a male writer. I just thought, wow, this is so cool, whoever wrote this really speaks in this truthful way. Her feel, her language, especially the language of teenagers and kids, I just loved it. And sometime shortly after that, her biography came out, and I read her biography, and then after her biography, I read all her stuff.”


(photo courtesy Laura Fedele)

Way back when, after deciding dancing wasn’t her thing and music was to be her path, Vega hit Greenwich Village to test her wares. It was a period that really defined the trajectory of one of music’s most memorable talents.

“I had avoided Folk City for years because I was afraid to go in, because it was where Bob Dylan had started,” Vega said candidly, “so I thought I wasn’t worthy and I wasn’t good enough to cross the threshold of the club, you know. So I tried getting a gig at The Bitter End, and finally it occurred to me, just forget about that, and just go around the corner and try out at Folk City, and to my surprise I found myself embraced, and it was a great, tumultuous, funny five years of, you know, hanging out, watching everybody who played Folk City, people on the rise, people on their way down, we saw all kinds of musicians there. Rick Danko from The Band, Mose Allison, Odetta, all these people. And back then, you could buy a drink in the bar and hang out all night. So, it was wonderful, and then my first album kind of plucked me out of that scene, and then I started to travel and do it more as a profession.”

And when she’s told that her music has become a part of people’s lives, and a staple for many, she is appreciative and pleased, since music was her main company back when she was young and finding her own self.

“I always hoped that it would be (appreciated), music meant so much to me as a kid.  I was one of those kids just constantly listening to music, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and Laura Nyro were like, my friends. They were like my lifeline to the world…as was Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, all of that, it just meant so much to me. So I had always hoped to join that group of people whose music really meant something, and that people would think about, and live with. So I’m happy about that, it makes me feel like, yeah OK, I’ve done the right thing with my time here.”

Suzanne Vega performs Tuesday November 1st at The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. For tickets, click here


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 17, 2016 by midliferocker

The Krickets lurkin’ in the swamp (L-R: Katrina Kolb, Melissa Bowman, Emily Stuckey Sellers and Lauren Spring)

Sheer talent, a love of home and some Muscle Shoals magic make beautiful music for The Krickets.

By Steve Houk

During just about any evening down on the Florida panhandle, if you listen closely, along with the sounds of lapping waves or a distant boat horn…you can hear it.

Amidst the Gulf Coast’s swaying cypress trees and blowing palms, amidst the ambling gators, skittering lizards and floating pelicans, amidst the thick marshes and moonlit beaches, there is…music. Oh boy, is there ever. Singers and songwriters are plentiful and plenty talented down here, with many often writing musical homages to, and evoking the legendary lore of, this truly breathtaking part of the world.

No group of artists is more happily steeped in the innate beauty and fascination of their homeland than The Krickets, one of the Gulf Coast region’s musical treasures. A quartet of supremely talented women who recently found brilliance as a powerful folk/Americana quartet, there’s is a tale of four individual talents who became one big one. And no one is more appreciative of where they live, and what they write about, than they are.

“You cannot live here and not be touched by the beauty in what God put out there in front of you,” said Lauren Spring, one of the four multi-talented ladies who make up The Krickets. “It’s absolutely stunning. Every day, in some different way, it doesn’t matter if you’re staring at the water, or you’re staring at an eagle, you’re staring at something pretty awesome every single day. You can’t help being inspired, you can’t help writing songs about it. And to find a group of people who want to do that with you, and they’re like, pretty phenomenal? I’m gonna do it every day.”


That “group of people” are Spring’s beloved Krickets’ bandmates Melissa Bowman, Emily Stuckey Sellers and Katrina Kolb, and these four forces of nature, their beautiful harmonies wrapped around the sounds of mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo and stand-up bass, are like one of those majestic osprey that you see soaring and then diving into the Gulf after fish: they’re flying high and on a mission. With their indigenous panhandle-bluegrass-meets-Americana sound —  “swamp folk” as it’s been coined — they’re gigging consistently on the Gulf Coast and beyond to adoring crowds, were just named Best Folk Artist at the International Music and Entertainment Association’s (IMEA) Awards, and recently released their first record, Spanish Moss Sirens, which has not only garnered a slew of positive reviews, but was just nominated for three Independent Music Awards for Best Alt-Country Album, Concept Album, and won for Best Folk Song (Cool Cool Water). Seems they’ve caught that fish.

The Krickets’ personal connections run deep and wide, sorta like the long strips of Gulf sand bar these ladies have spent time wading along. Sellers and Bowman played with each other years ago in their native Alabama, and after Bowman moved to Port St Joe on the eastern panhandle, she hooked up with Spring amidst some poignant circumstances surrounding a fund raiser for The Cricket Fund (thus the band’s name although with a “K”), which supplies free mammograms to local residents in memory of 22 year-old Port St Joe resident Kristina “Cricket” Russell, who died of breast cancer.

“Lauren was asked to play this Cricket Fund event because they wanted a female musician, and she wanted to have somebody play with her, and knew that I played,” Bowman said. “So we practiced I think one time, and then got together for the event, and we had so much fun practicing and playing that we decided that we wanted to do it as a weekly thing just so that we could get together and see each other and keep playing music. We had a connection on a couple of different levels.”

Sellers eventually moved to the Coast and joined up with Spring and old pal Bowman, and things clicked from minute one. “We knew it was magical,” said Spring. “The first time we heard our three part harmony, I looked around at the audience just to see if anyone else is like, hearing this, I mean, I was thinking, is anybody else picking up on this?” Then Sellers recruited her friend Kolb, and last fall, the Krickets were born. “I was like, you wanna come jam with us and (Katrina) was like, yeah!” Sellers said. “So we all got together, and that was another big explosion of awesomeness.”


After raising nearly $25,000 from fans and friends via Kickstarter to record Spanish Moss Sirens, The Krickets felt obligated to deliver a worthy product. “It makes you feel responsible to them, you’re accountable to give them something worth what they gave,” Spring said. The band first tried to book sessions at revered Muscle Shoals Sound, not just because of the studio’s legendary reputation, but also because of something deeper and even more meaningful. Bowman’s father had been close with the Swampers, Muscle Shoals’ storied group of session musicians, and after his passing a year before the Krickets’ sessions, she and her family had scattered his ashes in Muscle Shoals. Unfortunately, Muscle Shoals Sound was closed for renovations so they recorded at Sun Drop Sound in nearby Florence. But when The Krickets arrived, they had a special welcoming committee, in both body and soul.

“When we showed up in town to record,” Spring recalled, “his people were there that he used to run with, the Swampers crew, they were there waiting for us with open arms. We felt his presence there too, it’s just magic, it’s all holy, and you couldn’t not feel him there. When we were frustrated or it got harder during the sessions, you could just feel it.”

“I was incredibly nervous because these people, the Swampers, were our heroes,” said Bowman, whose musical lore also includes being babysat for by Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood when she was a kid. “When we were ready to record, I knew we were just standing on the precipice of something great. And the studio itself was really laid back and cool and quirky, and the engineer and the assistant engineer were hilarious. And we could be ourselves, we could make inappropriate jokes and have fun, and also make great music.”

As if the Daddy and the Swampers legend plus recording at a top studio wasn’t enough, the group also had Alabama Shakes‘ touring keyboardist Ben Tanner as their producer, seems he had asked to record the band once he heard some of their demos. It was his ability to let The Krickets’ music remain their own while also making his presence known just enough that made the sessions so successful and fulfilling.

“(Ben) was really encouraging us to stick with our authentic sound and not try to make it sound too perfect and too commercialized,” Bowman elaborated. “He wanted to make sure that we kept the ‘it’ that we have, that thing that we have. So alot of it we did live, alot of the vocals we all sang at the same time in the same room, alot of the instrumentation is done at the same time in the same room. So it was all very real, and he would push us to make the right take, and then would be a wizard on things that just really had to be twerked….wait, is that the right word? Ha! Tweaked.


All of the Krickets also have solo or side projects, Spring with her husband Bo in his excellent (and also local) Bo Spring Band, and the others with their own enriching endeavors. But when they get onstage in Kricket mode, it’s all for one and one for all, for sure.

“As far as personalities go, we are actually really good in kind of specializing in different things,” Bowman said. “So it makes it run pretty smoothly when we’re onstage, we have alot of fun and it’s really a joy to be able to share the spotlight and not worry about stepping on people’s toes. This is the least diva-ish group of musicians I’ve ever worked with before, which is hilarious ‘cuz it’s an all-female band.”

And as far as their beautiful, memorable music, it is the spirit of the Gulf Coast that drives them, and fills their music with evocative images of home.

“There’s something healing and sacred about those waters, and I don’t know exactly what it is,” Bowman said. “It was important to us to kind of contribute to the mythology of this area, the panhandle area. I was inspired to write the songs that I did because of Lauren’s song ‘To And Fro’ where she talks about cypress trees, and that was really kind of the song that inspired the whole mood of the album. Kind of like that, ethereal, dark, talking about the water, talking about the area, it really kind of inspired the whole thing.”

“The history of Port St Joe is a folk story that you could not make up if you tried,” Spring added. “I thought it was the coolest story I’d ever heard in my life. Bringing the stories and the traditions and these weird quirky things that are old Florida kind of out into the limelight, it’s just incredible to me.”


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 16, 2016 by midliferocker


Three recent Rock & Roll HOF inductees bring their rockin’ A-game to a sizzling summer triple bill.

By Steve Houk

If there was anything to come away with from last weekend’s Heart/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/Cheap Trick triple bill out at Jiffy Lube Live (other than they raised the damn beer prices again), it’s that the heart of rock and roll is still alive and well and beating hard in three bands who were all FM radio darlings of the 70’s and 80’s. One thing that connects them is they were all recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (Heart in 2013, and the other two last year), thus the cute “Rock Hall Three For All” label on the tour.

But the more deep-seeded connection is that when all is said and done, when these bands are long gone, they’ll say that all three always delivered damn good rock and roll music. They may have different modes of delivery for said R & R, but this common thread was never more evident on this balmy yet comfortable late summer evening. From the first chords of Cheap Trick’s opening song “Hello There” (“Hello there ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rock?“) to the last notes of Heart’s epic cover of the rock-anthem-to-beat-all-rock anthems, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” good ol’ rock and roll was the name of the game on this night, and all three bands came, saw and conquered because they fell right into the rock and roll wheelhouse that has kept each of them going for decades.

If anyone has a standard rock and roll type repertoire, it’s opener Cheap Trick, and their set was rife with classic rock riffs, lyrics and postures. Amidst a couple of their 80’s power ballads like “Tonight It’s You” and “The Flame” and a cool Velvet Underground cover, the Illinois-bred band steamed through a short set comprised mostly of true hard rockers, from the short “Hello There” opener to “Baby Loves To Rock” to their live Budokan staple “I Want You To Want Me” to their ode to teen survival, “Surrender.” Between the textbook rock posing (complete with top hat) from lead singer Robin Zander, to the wild guitar God persona of Rick Nielsen, Cheap Trick reminded us why legendary Beatles’ producer George Martin produced one of their early 80’s records: because he knows what good old fashioned rock and roll sounds like. And when these guys really get down to it, even decades in, they can still hang with alot of great rock and roll bands.

As for Joan Jett, she has proudly carried the tattered rock and roll flag ever since her early days with groundbreaking all-girl band The Runaways, and so many shows later, she and her Blackhearts haven’t really missed a beat. Her strong set would have been just as good, or maybe better, in a dark, beer-soaked basement rock club, but it was still cool to see her still get down and dirty even with high-tech screens and high-end lighting blaring around her four-piece rock and roll steam engine. And rock she did, through a swath of her biggest hits, pounding through pump-your-fist tunes like (what else) “I Love Rock and Roll,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” “Do You Wanna Touch” and her popular cover of Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover.”  The pinnacle was the Bruce Springsteen-penned “Light Of Day” which roared good and loud amidst clips of the film of the same name that Jett and Michael J. Fox starred in 1987. Jett finally got her just due with her recent HOF induction, but to see her play such a formidable and solid set 40-plus years after her Runaways blasted into the picture was a testimony to her status as a true rocker.

Headlining the night was Heart, and after a long and sometimes meandering career since their heyday, the Wilson sisters and company showed up and delivered an excellent rock and roll power punch to close the night. In a set that also featured 80’s power ditties (“These Dreams”, “Alone” and “What About Love” had women throughout singing aloud), Heart churned more than admirably through some of their biggest radio rockers like “Barracuda,” “Even It Up,” “Magic Man,” and an especially good “Crazy On You” preceded by Nancy’s stellar acoustic intro. Ann’s vocals were even stronger than expected and she impressed throughout the set, and Nancy looked and played as delicious as ever handling her various axes.  But their lasting rock and roll brand was never more evident than in the encore, when the world’s greatest Zeppelin cover band rolled an impressive finishing double shot of “Immigrant Song” and “Stairway to Heaven.” Not a bad twofer to end with.

Those Zep tunes were the cherry on top of a highly satisfying hot fudge sundae of classic rock, as these three legendary bands supplied a packed crowd with rock and roll music that even decades later still rattles your teeth and makes you shake your tail feather. And isn’t that exactly what rock and roll is supposed to do?



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 6, 2016 by midliferocker


A gifted songwriter sees her unexpected career take yet another positive and surprising turn. 

By Steve Houk


Who knew?

I mean, who knew that Mary Gauthier, whose early life reads like a bad luck hardship tale — left in an orphanage shortly after birth, foster family, addiction, DWI, jail and so on — and who didn’t even write a song until she was 35, would not only become revered worldwide as one of Americana-folk music’s most powerful and talented singer/songwriters, but that she would also be asked to write a book on songwriting this year.

Well, of all people, even Gauthier herself didn’t expect it to happen. In fact, in many ways, she didn’t see this last dozen or so years of success coming either.

“(Writing the book) is right up there will all the other things that I never saw coming. For them to come to me and give me an opportunity, it came out of nowhere, and I’m thrilled and honored. It just seems like I’ve been blessed with opportunities to keep going. Good thing is I don’t have to push so hard anymore, it just keeps coming.”

Gauthier (pronounced Go-Shay) is one of those rare songwriters whose music gets inside you, it just does. Whether or not you can understand the place from where she writes some of her very affecting and very personal songs, the depth of emotion, the words, the mood, grabs you and won’t let go, often for a long time. That has been her trademark since springing onto the scene 14 years ago, all the way up to her most recent effort, the magnificent Trouble and Love (2014) which propelled her to new fame and a solid reputation. And on a current swing that stops at D.C’s Hamilton on Thursday September 8th, she’s upped the ante even higher by bringing along some very talented buddies, Americana-folk cohorts and two-time Grammy nominees Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson, in a show labeled Three Women and the Truth, guaranteeing it to be a one-of-a-kind experience.

“The show came together as an opportunity to spend time with my friends really, I so love Eliza and Gretchen as people, and their work is fantastic as well,” Gauthier, 54, said on a brief tour break recently. “I just asked them if they thought it’d be a good idea to team up and do some stuff together, so that we’re not out there on our own the whole year. It just came together in such a way that it was easy, and that’s a sign that it might be the right thing. The three of us are out there kinda solo’ing it, and it’s just been working. It’s a great show and we have a great time. Putting strong women on stage together and swapping songs, it’s pretty bad ass.”

As far as the book, her reputation had grown so wide not only due to her music but her renowned songwriting seminars and sessions including one for veterans returning from overseas, that Yale University Press tapped her last year to write a book on…what else…songwriting. She’d had some of her short stories published before, but a book on her craft? She jumped at the chance.

“In my heart of hearts, I always wanted to write a book, always wanted to be an author,” said the genuine and affable Gauthier. “But I never would take the time out of songwriting to pursue that. So they came to me and wanted me to write one on songwriting for them, and yeah, I’m closing in on it, I think I should have a first draft in the next two weeks. All my writing energy this year and been poured into writing this book, but I think it’s just about there. And there’s alot of songs piled up in my brain, so when I turn this book in, I’m going to return to songs.”

And judging by Gauthier’s vibe, it’s got to be a book about the process of real songwriting, not the churn-out-a-song-one-hit-wonder style of writing songs that seems so prevalent today, right?

“Exactly,” said Gauthier emphatically. “Exactly. It’s about approaching songwriting as a troubadour, as an art. As opposed to commerce and hitmaking. Articulating the distinction between approaching songwriting as an art, or approaching it as a Chicken McNugget. And articulating what it means to be connected to some form of truth in your work. And what the meaning of integrity is for the artist, for the individual.”

Three Women and the Truth, featuring Mary Gauthier, Eliza Gilkyson and Gretchen Peters, perform at the Hamilton, 600 14th Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20005. For tickets, click here.









Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 21, 2016 by midliferocker

Barbra - The Music... The Mem'ries... The Magic! Tour - Washington DC

One of music’s most legendary artists brings along power and poise and a room full of memories.

By Steve Houk

If you flip through the record album synapses of your life, a rare few of them spark and then spring out at you as unforgettable early moments in your growth, both as a person, and a music fan.

For me, a 55 year-old on the edge of the boomers, it’s The Beatles, it’s Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, Herb Alpert…and yes, Barbra Streisand…that shine the brightest as artists whose music was most deeply woven into the fabric of life growing up on Millstone Road in the 60’s and 70’s. For me and millions of others, this kind of music acts as a blanket of comfort, a familiar sound, mindful of a time when life was full of love, wonder and possibility. But the same music also acts as a chronicler of history, of time passing, of things and events and moments, both personal, and as a society, that have built the framework of our lives.

So when Barbra Streisand gracefully took the stage last week in Washington, she took her thrilled and devoted audience’s hand and led them down a path full of both personal retrospection and emotional recollection as well as a stunning look at how the world has changed over the decades since she first graced mankind with those pipes. In strong voice with just a hint of rasp, and also brimming with an onstage poise and confidence tinged with humor and wistfulness, she gave the sellout DC crowd a very rare moment in time: a couple of hours in the same room with one of music’s most brilliant and enduring voices, inviting them along on a sentimental journey for the ages.

Any concert that starts with “The Way We Were” is going to have some deep emotion, it’s just a no-brainer. And after telling the audience, “This is what the evening is about,” Streisand launched into the throat-lumping, mist-inducing title track from the movie of the same name — a song that cemented her legend status when it came out in 1973 — and never looked back. The 74 year-old icon, looking a good ten years younger, guided the adoring crowd —  which poignantly included many wheelchair-bound elderly fans who no doubt braved much effort to get to their idol’s show — through the many fascinating pages of her long career story, most notably with other tear-inducers like “Evergreen,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” and her signature song “People.” Not only were you moved to recall her when she sang these songs so many years ago, but where you were in your life when she sang them. It’s that kind of music, creating swirling memories of long ago.

In looking back at her almost unparalleled cluster of achievements — as singer, songwriter, director, actress on both on stage and screen — Streisand fondly recalled a number of pivotal and personal moments. They included summing up her most famous film role as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and Funny Lady with a wistful yet defiant and energetic “Rain On My Parade,” conveying the pride in her experience as director and star in Yentl with a heartbreaking “Papa Can You Hear Me” and paying homage to dear friend Anthony Newley (another synapse) in a moving on-the-Jumbotron “duet” with the late star on “Who Can I Turn To.” She also admitted to wearing “musk only” in a “rebellious period” when she danced on the edge of rock and soul, illustrated by a buoyant version of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End,” and amidst steamy pictures of her and her A Star Is Born co-star Kris Kristofferson, she crooned beautifully through “One More Look At You.”

But Streisand, who is on this mini-tour to precede the release of “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” also used this rare live opportunity to remind her audience of what has happened, and what may happen, in the world around us during her six decades as an entertainer, and in a different way than the emotional reminiscence that dominated the evening, it was a powerful series of messages. She wondered aloud why she always seems to tour during an election — “and this one is a doozy” — and couldn’t help a few Hillary Clinton high fives and Trump jabs given her long standing as a close friend of Hill and Bill, saying she “passed the White House where Hillary is going to live” on the way to the show. But more profoundly, her stunning rendering of Carole King’s “Being At War With With Each Other” accompanied by stirring video and photos of civil and societal strife from the 60’s to today, and her beautiful version of the Willy Wonka film tune “Pure Imagination” embellished by HD footage of the beauty and also climate change-induced destruction of the natural world, took the night away from simple nostalgia and injected it with an impactful sense of realism. It also no doubt caused everyone in attendance to remember how long Streisand has been a part of their lives, and how much has changed, or hasn’t, during that time.

For an artist who has not only performed for three sitting Presidents — Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton — but also won ten Grammys, two Oscars, five Emmys, a Tony and the Presidential Medal of Freedom over a career that has spanned almost 60 years, you have to be someone very special, a rare talent that really comes along once in a millenium. And from the first note to the last song, Barbra Streisand put an exclamation point on her legend status by not only giving a powerful and meaningful performance, but by reminding us all how closely we have been connected to her, in one way or another, all these years, and how we need to stay connected in order to make the world a better place. And for most in the packed arena, that made them feel like the luckiest people in the world.

(Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage for BSB Touring) 


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 26, 2016 by midliferocker
Marah (photo by Marko Korkeokoski)

Marah (photo by Marko Korkeokoski)

A beloved and extraordinary rock band finds that a second life can be even better than the first.

By Steve Houk

You know that old saying, “you never know what you got until its gone”? Or something like that?

Well, whatever that saying is could easily refer to the exceptional Pennsylvania-borne band Marah who, after 20-plus years of grinding it out, recording great music and playing epically euphoric shows to adoring fans all over the place, called it quits, and for a host of pretty common reasons lots of bands break up: people grow up and want another life, or they just grow apart, or it’s just time.

For Marah co-founder/singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Bielanko, there was really no other life, no other choice. Music was him, and he was music. The end of the band hit him hard, real hard, but he did what lifetime musicians do, he survived, playing music even without his beloved band.

But five years later, a sort of miracle happened, well, a miracle as far as already broken-up rock bands go.

“It’s all kind of a little bit surprising ‘cuz we weren’t planning to bring ourselves back together,” Bielanko told me recently as the band readied for its upcoming tour. “It just started in 2015 with reissuing (2000’s Kids In Philly) for its fifteenth anniversary which was something that we had really wanted to do. And then one thing led to another, and we had a party to celebrate it, and it felt good to play. Everybody was at a kinda different place in their life, and the music kinda meant something different.”

Thankfully for both the reunited band and their rabid fan base, it looks like Marah — a band writer Stephen King once called “the best rock band in America nobody knows” — may be in for an extended second wind. They’re playing a few reunion shows on the East Coast this summer, including the first place they played after reuniting in 2015, Vienna’s Jammin Java on July 29th, followed by the Bowery Ballroom in NYC and a closer to home gig in Sellersville PA, all before they head over to Spain for a number of shows in October. And rumblings are that a new record isn’t far away. Marah is back…something not fathomed a few years back.

Bielanko speaks rather eloquently, especially for a weathered, seasoned rocker, when he talks about the wonder of Marah’s rebirth, and how a second chance can be even sweeter than the first, given you’ve already been down a long road together.

“Pretty much the second we stepped back onstage together, we were laughing and smiling,” Bielanko said effusively. “And it was like, wow, all of that experience exists somewhere within you, and it doesn’t go anywhere. That was kind of one of the big motivators, that stepping back into it when we’re 150 yards down the field already. Being in a band suddenly meant something that it didn’t mean when we were going through it six nights a week just because that’s what you did from the time you were 15 years old.  I think it might have been the same with anybody who had been in a good band or worked as hard as we did, playing six nights a week in bullshit night clubs or whatever, you develop something, and we had that. It wasn’t alot of work coming back because we’d done all that work. It felt really good. I think it’s a pretty cool and slightly righteous reason to play music.”

Did Bielanko ever think the band would get back together after their 2010 split?

“Hell no. The only thing that’s making it quite as special as it might be right now is the fact that it did go away and it went away for all the people that it meant something to. It was completely gone, no one had thought it was gonna come back. My brother (and bandmate Serge Bielanko) had children, and wasn’t available to me anymore. So I kept growing in the way that I could, and to all of a sudden have it come back, it’s more valuable.”


Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith (photo courtesy Tim Yarrington)

After their breakup, Bielanko looked at any way to make music, and much-needed relief came in a most unlikely but astounding way, the stunning collection Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, a unique project based on the songs and writings of Henry Shoemaker that came about when he and bandmate Christine Smith took on a project that surprised even them.

“At that point in time, I didn’t have a rock and roll band, I couldn’t think of anything to do. I had a big tape recorder and someone offered us this church in this tiny little town, and we said wouldn’t it be cool if we made a band out of these local people and we wrote these old songs. It kind of worked but it was such a rewarding and cool thing to do. We mad a couple thousand records and sold them all and that’s it. Closed up the shop. As far as Henry Shoemaker, we were drinking in some cabin one night and this guy brought down a book from his attic, and I couldn’t even believe it existed. I was looking through it and the romantic notion of it hit me pretty and I kept doubling back to it and looking at those songs and realizing no one knew anything about any of that music. You couldn’t even tell if it was true or if it was fabricated after the fact. That’s the cool thing about art, you know, you grab what you can at the moment, and that’s where it ended up.

Bielanko doesn’t hold back when talking about what the future could hold as a result of the band’s serendipitous reunion. He wants he and his band family to complete the story, and that means hitting the studio.

“We have to. There’s this bottomless hole in people like us, you can’t fake it. It was cool to get back together once and play in front of people, and then maybe do that five times, but then it’s like, where is it going? It has to be headed somewhere in order for us to feel validated. So the next obvious place it points to is to start to think about, what would we say? What would happen next if we were to make another record, and then that starts the wheel turning. It’s all lined up in a pretty cool way. I can’t tell you for sure that’s gonna go down that way, but I would really like to see that happen.”

Part of Marah’s legend, and part of what makes their return so exciting to their fans across the world, is their exulting live experience, and Bielanko and his Marah bandmates – brother Serge, Smith, Adam Garbinski, Dave Petersen and Mark Sosnoskie are elated that both band and crowd are feeling like the magic is back when they hit the boards.

“The coolest thing that’s happening is the looks on our faces when we walk on stage. And people are smart, they get alot out of it as long as you’re putting alot out. People are walking away from these shows like they really saw something. And I reckon that they really did. And that’s what we value more than anything right now. There’s not too too many people who can really do that, and that’s cool. We’re lucky to have it in our corner. But we did it the hard way, and didn’t really realize we were doing that back then, maybe. To have it is a kind of gift now in 2016. It’s something great.”

Marah performs Friday July 29th at Jammin’ Java, 227 Maple Ave E Vienna, VA 22180. For tickets, click here