This past year has been a banner one for live music. I thought what better way to kick off all the year-end reviews than with the folks who most likely attend more performances than almost anyone else -- photographers.
Even though I knew it was an impossible task, I asked each of ND's regular photographers to select one concert that stood out, for whatever reason, write a couple of paragraphs on them and post some photos from those shows.
They have chosen some well-known performers, some newer ones, and a couple you might not be familiar with. I know I wasn't.
Here, then, in the order in which they were received, are some of the highlights of the past year in the words and photos of your reliable and insightful ND photographers.
case/lang/veirs, Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon
Choosing just one best concert of 2016 is beyond hard. There have been so many outstanding ones, from bands and venues small to large. The Mavericks, Lucinda Williams, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Patti Smith, Bonnie Raitt, and the Brandi Carlile/Old Crow Medicine Shows came close to the top. However, I'm going to have to say, for me, the best concert of 2016 was the amazing case/lang/veirs concert at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon.
Separately, these three women have had successful solo careers and have put out over 30 albums. As a bonded power trio, they performed songs from their collaborative album case/lang/veirs and they also included solo material. While no one dominated the show, Lang seemed to have the largest stage presence and biggest fan base, with Neko coming in close.
Throughout the entire show the on-stage banter between Case (who is known for her on-stage banter) and Lang was witty, intelligent and clearly reflected their quirks & personalities as well as how relaxed and how much fun they were having that evening. If these self named "sister-wives" ever tour together again, I'm going to be first in line to buy tickets.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Neumos, Seattle, May 23
When I take a look back at this year, after so many great concerts and performances, it’s hard to narrow it down to one that stood out amongst them all. That being said, the performance by Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaries at Neumos in Seattle on May 23 was exceptional.
Having released his newest album Changes in April, Charles Bradley kicked off a US tour in May that made its way to Seattle. The venue was the intimate Neumos located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle. It was also my wife’s birthday and she had never seen him live before, so I knew she was in for a memorable night.
Opening the evening was Grace Love & The True Loves (who have since broken up) with their funky soul grooves. Guitarist Jimmy James led the True Loves into one of their best performances of the year with Miss Grace Love, who is a powerhouse singer, putting it all out, reeling the crowd in with her impactful performance.
Now, if you’ve never seen Charles Bradley before in person, the show begins with His Extraordinaires coming on stage for an upbeat and rousing intro set to get everyone ready. Then, as Bradley comes on stage, he greets the fans with his arms spread out to take in the love, and LOVE is an ongoing theme in his music and persona.
As Bradley sang songs from his three albums, the man exuded a heartfelt emotion like no other singer. The man sings with power and grace. He connects with his audience in such an intimate way like I’ve never seen. At times, I catch people crying tears of joy from his music, truly an amazing experience.
Also throughout his performances, Bradley moves and grooves, dancing the robot to getting down on his knees with classic showmanship. As a photographer, being able to capture his entire set is truly an honor and I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph him several times at festivals like Treefort Music Fest, Bumbershoot, Timber and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. But having this opportunity of photographing him in this small venue made it extraordinary!
But in October we learned that Bradley is battling stomach cancer and has been in treatment and recovery. So I am even more grateful for having been able to cover this show and appreciating the impact of his music. As we head into 2017, it is my hope that Charles Bradley will once again be gracing a stage and shares his love with us all like no one else can.
"Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us," Downtown Church, Nashville, AmericanaFest
At the AMAs in Nashville this year, I had desperately wanted see John Prine at the Station Inn along with several thousand other AmericanaFest attendees. Having missed the RSVP list, and given the small size of the venue, I had visions of queueing all night with a high risk of not seeing any of the show. So I made a last minute decision to go elsewhere – a wise choice as my alternative choice turned out to be my most memorable concert of the year.
Phil Madeira is a Nashville-based, multi-talented musician, songwriter and producer – and the force behind Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us, first launched in 2012. The Kickstarter-funded second volume of Mercyland was released earlier this year and was the basis for a very special concert at Nashville's Downtown Church.
The venue provided a glorious backdrop for an all-star line-up which included Emmylou Harris, The McCrary Sisters, John Paul White, The Wood Brothers, Will Kimbrough, Sarah Potenza, Amy Stroup, Trent Dabbs, Matthew Perryman Jones, Angel Snow – and the wonderful Phil Madeira himself. Due to the competing performance at the Station Inn, the church was blissfully peaceful – busy but not overly so, and providing a beautiful spiritual atmosphere for the gospel-inspired music.
As an additional bonus, I was the only photographer present for much of the evening. The evening’s highlight with a truly magical finale performance of "The Pearl," with Emmylou Harris leading the whole cast of amazing musicians. An absolute highlight of AmericanaFest, and so memorable and unique that it counts as my best performance of 2016.
Mark J. Smith
Anderson East, Philadelphia Folk Festival
One of the many reasons that I love photographing The Philadelphia Folk Festival is that I can count on experiencing an act that's new to me and absolutely blows me away. I may have heard of them and was looking forward to seeing them, but many I actually never heard of until BAM! front and center right in my lens and of course my ears. Wonderfulness.
This year that explosion was Anderson East. Michael Anderson, who plays professionally as Anderson East, came out of Nashville just to knock my socks off. His talent, enhanced by his energy and stage presence, just made my festival. His set was great but then he brought out The Lone Bellow and they played together to, dare I say it again, blow me away.
Bluegrass Situation Superjam, Bonnaroo
While I saw a lot of great shows in 2016, the standout was the Bluegrass Situation Superjam at Bonnaroo, which I wrote about for No Depression during the summer. Not only were Ed Helms and Amy Reitnouer great hosts for a day of Bonnaroo roots music, they invited the Watkins siblings along to help co-curate. The highlights in this round robin show were too many to name. From Helms and Amanda Shires taking on John Prine's “In Spite of Ourselves” to Sara and Sean Watkins being joined by Lee Ann Womack for some Fleetwood Mac love on “Lies” to Sam Bush being Sam Bush with a mandolin cover of Jerry Lee Lewis' “Great Balls of Fire.” It was spontaneous, full of surprises, and you could sense everyone on stage was having a blast.
Angie Aparo, Eddie's Attic, Atlanta
As I take photos of any one musical artist, I do not so much listen as I watch. I watch what the players are thinking. I watch their body language, their interaction with both the audience and the other players on stage – if there is any. I love to get the “rock shot” or see the emotion guard go down but most of all, I like to show others "this is what happens when one art form meets another." I am creating photos off the music that is being played at the same time. It’s almost the only time when two different mediums collide.
Angie Aparo is a musical gem. He is devoted to his craft and art form. He’s a musical vice that squeezes everything out while he performs. He starts out at his show wearing a hat and or sunglasses but about halfway through he lets his guard down; exposing his bald head and bare face. His eyebrow will roll up, his devilish smile appears, his hands explain letting his voice explore the universe. There is only one Angie Aparo in this world.
I have seen Aparo three times in the past year – all at Eddie’s Attic – a place where everyone has to be quiet while the song is being played. I don’t know if Aparo likes that. Why? He likes to talk, chat, and take orders from his green bullet mic as if he’s working at a McDonald’s drive-thru. Which is quite funny but he always has a point to it.
The first time, I saw AA at EA – that’s what my photo file is named for this bearded, bald-headed man – was at Eddie’s Attic October 2015. The second time was in January 2016, and the third time was this past summer. And something had changed. Something was different.
It didn’t take too long for Aparo to let the cat out of the bag. He had suffered a stroke.
The air didn’t go out of the room; instead it collectively traveled back to him to give him more life so he could perform. This is the energy that musicians and stage actors will tell you about in interviews, or right after the show backstage or even days later. The energy between the audience and them is unexplainable. It’s a secret code for the night … a code that leaves everyone there feeling complete.
So as Aparo explained the physical oddities of experiencing a stroke, he added humor to it, for we all know laughter is the best medicine. He had to relearn language, take medicine, and go see many doctors to allow him finally return to his favorite place, music – where he had to relearn words, melodies, and chords.
Music doesn’t only heal, it catapults us into another realm of being – being at peace or love and even, sometimes, unsettled anger. But what Aparo taught us is that you shouldn't let anything stand in your way of being yourself.
Aparo opens up with his shows a lot with “Welcome To The World Unknown,” a song that includes this lyric: “Pleased to meet you my name is Angie.”
Yes sir, you are.
The Tedeschi-Trucks Band Wheels of Soul Tour
When asked to pick a noteworthy show from the year, I had a hard time, there were so many good ones. But thinking back on 2016, with some of my other top shows having already been chronicled here in ND (Mike Farris, Hard Working Americans, The Mavericks), I had to go with the Tedeschi-Trucks Band’s Wheels of Soul Tour.
For the second year in a row, Derek and Susan hit the road with friends; this year it was the North Mississippi Allstars and Los Lobos. While each band is great on their own, what made this tour special is that the artists would all sit in with each other in various combinations during the sets; these are the moments that, as a fan, you have to be there for.
North Mississippi Allstars got things started with a 40-minute set that midway through featured an appearance from TTB vocalists Alecia Chakour, Mark Rivers, and Mike Mattison. Their brand of downhome blues got the night off to a great start.
Next up was Los Lobos, who continued collaborations by inviting Luther Dickinson on stage for “Georgia Slop.” They then brought out Susan Tedeschi for “What’s Going On,” and closed out their set with Derek Trucks and the TTB horns adding to a raucous take on “Mas y Mas.”
The Tedeschi Trucks Band then took the stage and by halfway through their 90-minute set the sit-ins started. First came Dickinson to join them on the George Harrison classic, “Isn’t It a Pity.” He stayed on stage for the blues of “Get Out My Life Woman,” sung by Mattison.
Alecia Chakour then joined Mike and Susan up front to sing George Jones’ “Color of the Blues.” Next up was David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin from Los Lobos for the Derek and The Dominoes classic “Keep On Growin',” followed by “The Sky Is Crying,” with Susan taking her turn to throw down a mean guitar solo.
The night closed out with Dickinson and Berlin joining the band on Ray Charles’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” Here’s hoping Derek and Susan continue the tradition of soulful musical collaboration in 2017 and beyond.
Peter Wolf, the Triple Door, Seattle, August 8
The year was filled with some wonderful concerts by Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Boz Scaggs, The Mavericks, Bonnie Raitt, and many other fantastic performances. The show that stands out this year was Peter Wolf in Seattle at the Triple Door, August 8. In a year with so many of our music heroes passing, it was a pleasure to see Wolf (who is 70 years old) take the stage like a hurricane. He opened with "Wastin’ Time" from his 2016 album A Cure for Loneliness, and the rest of the evening was a tour-de-force in different genres of music and music history.
Wolf is a walkin’, talkin’ encyclopedia of music knowledge. His performance was packed with high energy as he paced back and forth across the stage and sometimes down on his knees singing some very sweet ballads. His stories were a true delight that took us down many musical highways and byways. Wolf’s backing band, The Midnight Travelers, are talented and accomplished musicians.
Wolf and the band gave the J. Geils Band song “Love Stinks” a new life by performing it in a bluegrass style. He moved from upbeat songs like “I Don’t Wanna Know” from his 2010 album Midnight Souvenirs to the sublime “Rolling On,” the lead track from the new album, with wonderful piano by co-producer Kenny White.
Woofa Goofa (Wolf’s nickname) connected in so many ways with his audience and demonstrated the hallmarks of a seasoned entertainer. It was a much anticipated experience to see Peter Wolf since he seldom performs on the West Coast. Loved it when Wolf sang “Out there in the world…can’t you feel the changing times…people are there grabbing…every nickel every dime…you and me…tell me baby what is gonna be…all I try to find is just a little peace of mind.”
In a world of changing times that are happening at lightning speed, Peter Wolf gave us a little peace of mind with his exceptional show.
Fruition, Springfest in Live Oak, Florida
One of the most talented groups of artists to grace the stages in 2016 was Fruition. Crisscrossing the country in support of their release Labor of Love, I was fortunate to see them at Suwannee Springfest in Live Oak, Florida, and the Duck Creek Log Jam (Logan, Ohio) festivals in the spring/summer, their Fall Tour kickoff at The Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio, and finally at The Festy in Arrington, Virginia. Crowd reaction was predictably the same at each end every show: amazed (and appreciative) smiles as they worked through an ever expanding catalog that showcases their writing, vocals and over the top musicianship. Easily one of my top 5 favorite live bands for 2016.
My photos are a compilation of various shows from 2016. I looking forward to seeing/hearing what they bring to the stage in 2017.
Many thanks to our photographers who have shared with us so many great photos during the year, and a special thanks for them going the extra mile and sharing with ND readers their thoughts and perceptions on their favorite live performances of the year.
Now, scroll through their photographic memories and try to catch these folks in 2017.