CEDAR RAPIDS — The Orchestra Iowa School’s Discovery Chorus will honor the memory of composer Allen Koepke by singing a program of his works at 3 p.m. Sunday (4/21/13) at First Presbyterian Church, 310 Fifth St. SE, Cedar Rapids. Admission is free, but organizers say seating is limited.
The auditioned chorus, featuring area singers in grades four through six, is directed by Koepke’s daughter, Amy Hanisch. The program includes “I Listened,” with music by Koepke and lyrics by his son, Scott Koepke; excerpts from his children’s musical, “Happily Ever After”; and Koepke’s final composition, “Dream It!” written last summer.
Koepke, 73, an award-winning composer of international renown, died Sept. 23 of complications of the pancreatic cancer he had battled for 16 years.
The concert opens with the Odyssey Chorus, an auditioned ensemble of second- and third-graders, directed by Jessica Muters. The choruses will unite to close the program with Koepke’s composition, “It’s Been Great!”
CEDAR RAPIDS — Tracy Grammer has been a frequent visitor to CSPS over the years, and has gathered a loyal following.
Her latest CD, “Little Blue Egg,” is doing well. Grammer has a strong alto voice and terrific way with a steel guitar. She is also a very generous performer, offering a 2 1/2 hour, 17-song concert Thursday night (3/14/13).
Her performance is abundantly full of stories of her life and the songs that have resulted from her relationship with singer-songwriter Dave Carter, who died in 2002.
Grammer describes her work as “post-modern, straight-ahead folk music.” And contemporary it is. In “Ordinary Town,” a Carter song from 2001, he writes of “common cool, he was a proud young fool in a kick-ass Wal-Mart tie/rippin down the main drag, tripping on the headlights rollin by.” Good stuff that at times is reminiscent of Bob Dylan.
Grammer describes Carter’s trip to Nashville to make it as a songwriter. He was admired by record producers but rejected for having “too many words,” some of them “polysyllabic.” Carter’s vision of the idyllic life — living in a double-wide trailer in the desert with a long driveway and a big mail box, to which the royalty checks would come every day — was dashed. But he kept on writing, developing his densely textured songs, and remains an acute observer of the American scene.
Tracy Grammer makes you want to listen to every word of every song, with her clear, strong, committed voice, and the intelligence which she brings to each song. There is a sense of integrity and caring about her work, not only with her late partner, but with those with whom she has worked, including Mary Chapen Carpenter and Joan Baez.
The audience’s attention was complete, aided by the attractive acoustics and the familial intimacy of the CSPS Hall. It had a nightclub feel to it, with tables and chairs down front, bottles of beer and glasses of red wine.
My favorite Carter song is is “Gun Metal Eyes,” which describes the fight for the land of a Seminole/Cherokee man: “man, there was some kind of righteous in his gun metal eyes.” The chorus really works: ” Run with the wolf/fly like the dove. Mother below/father above. Weep with the earth/sing to the sky. In the steel of your gun metal eyes.” Powerful, direct, melodic. Folkie Grammer could be a country or rock singer — she certainly has the voice for it.
The evening ended with “The Verdant Mile,” written by Grammer and her current musical partner, Jim Henry. It describes the “bliss of grief,” and how she been able to live with the absence of Dave Carter, as well as other loved ones: “I miss you like I love the sound of blackbirds in the trees … and so I walk this verdant mile of memory with you/the gentle arms of Eden and the mountain get me through.”
The connection with the earth and the honoring of its inhabitants, is all-pervasive for both Grammer and Carter. No wonder they are so celebrated in the folk music world.
CEDAR RAPIDS — Married as I am to a gifted rhythm tapper — a “hoofer” in the art form’s parlance — I fancy myself reasonably knowledgeable about the audible dance arts.
But when April Verch started dancing in the middle of the first number her band performed Wednesday night (3/13/13) at CSPS Hall, I found myself having trouble categorizing what she was up to. It wasn’t quite step dancing or clogging or tapping, but it had elements of all of those things. And it was appealing to see and to hear.
During the second set, Verch clued the mid-sized crowd into the origins of her dance style. She hails from Canada’s Ottawa Valley, a place where the musicians and dancers have, in her words, “stolen a little bit from a lot of people.” The hybrid dancing I was struggling to label arose from this melting pot of cultures and traditions.
“Hybrid” is a good description of her music, as well. It’s a blend of many different influences and styles, sourced from the trio’s own traditions, travels, education and research. It is deeply respectful of a whole range of musical idioms while still sounding fresh and forward-looking. Most of all, like Verch’s dancing — it is as appealing as can be.
Joined by longtime collaborator Cody Walters on bass and banjo and recent addition Hayes Griffin on guitar, Verch fiddled and sang and danced, charming the audience with her performance and her patter (and her vintage personal style).
Her fiddling is top-notch whether she’s tearing it up or stretching it out. Her voice, reedy and sweet, caresses lyrics (whether her own, her father’s or those of other writers) invitingly. Her dancing is energetic, textured and musical.
Walters and Griffin are splendid musicians themselves, and seem perfectly matched with Verch. The trio has a comfortable, casual onstage rapport that extends to the audience, giving a sense that we’re all in a big living room enjoying some conspicuously high-quality music-making together.
The concert featured quite a bit of music from the band’s forthcoming record, “Bright Like Gold,” including a wonderful original titled “Sorry” (the pronunciation of which is something the men rib their Canadian leader about). The song called to mind Patsy Cline, although Verch said she channeled her inner Loretta Lynn for the classic country number.
Other highlights included the atmospheric “The Raven in the Hemlock,” composed by Walters and complete with a musical nod to the popular television series “The Walking Dead,” and “Foolish Heart,” a western swing number written and sung by Hayes. The band also performed a song Verch’s father wrote to woo her mother. “No Other Would Do,” which is also on the new record, is a lovely song and it was easy to understand how it might underpin a marriage that has lasted nearly five decades.
During the encore, Verch danced and fiddled simultaneously. It’s an impressive bit and it was perfect for the encore. Verch is savvy to save it for the end. She doesn’t need any gimmicks at all to win over an audience.
None of The Midtown Men lived through the ’60s, but the ’60s live through them.
“There was something about the music of the ’60s and that generation of writers … it was an inspired time in songwriting,” Daniel Reichard, 34, says by phone from his home in Greenwich Village.
“These hooks are incredible. The melodies and the combination of melodies and lyrics with the kind of rock ‘n’ roll sensibility — it’s so specific to the ’60s. How one amazing song after another was being released has a lot to do with enduring appeal of the ’60s.”
Reichard and the rest of The Midtown Men — a foursome who starred in the original 2005 Tony Award-winning, Broadway blockbuster cast of “Jersey Boys” — will bring those timeless sounds to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Friday night. (1/4/13)
Reichard sings tenor; Tony-winner Christian Hoff carries the baritone; Michael Longoria, who originally played Joe Pesci in “Jersey Boys,” before soaring into the stratosphere as Frankie Valli, hits the highest notes; and J. Robert Spencer, a Tony- nominee for “Next to Normal,” is the versatile bass whom Reichard says also can pop up into a high rock sound.
The Midtown Men, coming to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Friday, are (from left) Daniel Reichard, Christian Hoff, J. Robert Spencer and Michael Longoria.
They made their mark with the music of The Four Seasons, went on to other pursuits and reunited occasionally to sing together. At the urging of their mentor, they became The Midtown Men in 2007 – the only independent singing group formed from the principal cast of a hit Broadway musical. They’ve expanded their scope, singing the music of The Beatles, The Drifters, The Turtles, The Mamas and the Papas, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Four Seasons.
Their name is an homage to their “rocket ride” to success on Broadway.
“We’re all New York City boys. Truly, even though none of us really came from New York, we hugely identify with the life here,” Reichard says, “because so many of the important things that have happened to us have happened to us in New York, specifically in Midtown Manhattan.”
They’re all in their 30s and 40s, but find their bliss in the slicked-back sounds and smooth moves of an earlier generation. So do their standing-room-only audiences. (Fewer than 90 tickets are left for the Paramount show.)
“Musically, I think it was a groundbreaking time for men and women expressing themselves more freely,” Reichard says. “I think that men were wearing their hearts on their sleeves more than ever during the ’60s, so it wasn’t these sort of vague romantic notions about living, that are beautiful in the music of the ’40s and the ’50s and before.
“It became a little grittier in the ’60s, and I think people really appreciated and continue to appreciate that sincerity. For many people growing up there, we are singing the soundtrack of their lives. They’re living these songs in a few different ways. They’re getting flashbacks of various adventures, but we are more focused in our show on reliving the music for today. People really should be enjoying these songs in the context of their 2012 lives, no matter what age you are.
- The Midtown Men, coming to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Friday, are (from left) Michael Longoria, Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard, and J. Robert Spencer.
“We’re trying, with music, to remind people that whether you’re a young teenager or you’re in your 20s and 30s or you’re in your 60s or 70s, you should play these songs loud, play them in your car and have fun with this music, and use this music as an emotional outlet. I think that sometimes people feel they are past the point of having fun with music,” he says.
“We see first-hand from their reaction to our show that people really have tons of energy and life going on inside of them, that it almost surprises them when it comes out. Talk about a beautiful perk of the job — to stand up on stage and look out on the audience and see people’s spirits transform.”
Dianne Reevesa will perform at Hancher in Riverside on Dec. 7
After spending her fall touring Europe and Turkey, Dianne Reeves is happy to be home for the holidays — even if she won’t be home for long.
After a short hop around the United States for three Christmas concerts — including a Hancher stop in Riverside on Dec. 7 — she’ll head into the recording studio in Boston. Then it’s off to Australia for three shows in January before heading back to the States, then off to Switzerland and back for another U.S. tour.
No wonder she relishes her down time amid all that zigzagging.
“I enjoy it, but I always feel it when I come home,” Reeves, 56, says by phone from her home in Denver, surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. “I live in the city, but I see them every single day when I get up. I love them. People always ask me, ‘Where do you go on vacation?’ I travel so much, I come home.
“Denver is a very beautiful city,” she says. “I like to walk and I like to go up to the mountains. I like to cook — I’m really good — and there’s a very organic culture here for food. I’ve been working with a couple of friends who are chefs, to learn really good, organic cooking.”
But caroling season is upon us, and the jazz diva will be doing what she does best — dishing up her great, organic takes on familiar holiday songs. A liberal sprinkling of scat singing turns up the heat on “Let It Snow,” syncopation moves “The Little Drummer Boy” to a very hip beat and sparkling piano weaves nostalgia through the title track of her 2004 album, “Christmas Time is Here.”
She’ll share plenty of those tunes with her Hancher audience, but also add in some of her new music, some of her favorite vintage tunes and “lots of stories,” she says.
The four-time Grammy winner has performed several Hancher concerts before the Floods of 2008, and is eager to return to Eastern Iowa. She remembers those concert experiences as being “really cool.”
“There’s a lot of jazz people and lovers of the music right here in the middle of the United States. I love that,” she says.
She’ll be bringing her band along for the ride, with piano, bass, drums and guitar, ready for anything. That’s what she likes best about performing live.
“It’s the interaction with the people and the edge that it puts me and my band on,” she says. “While we’ve played this music from night to night, it’s always different, and I love that. Every day inspires what will be played that evening.
“We get out there, and it’s an intimate exchange with the members, and we invite the audience to be part of that — and when that happens, my goodness, you can sing all night.”
Born in Detroit and raised in Denver, Reeves has been singing all her days. It’s in her DNA. Her father, who died when she was just 2, was a singer. Her uncle, Charles Burrell, played bass with the Denver Symphony and turned her onto jazz. Other relatives work in the music industry, as well, and helped guide her through her early days in Los Angeles.
Long before that, she knew music would be her profession.
It happened in junior high.
“I thought, this is what I want to do. I like it, I like it,” she says. “I like how it feels. Having had the opportunity to work with my uncle, who was really, really instrumental in helping me get out there, working with him was really great. And I loved it. I loved the feeling. I liked jazz because it was a kind of freedom. I couldn’t say that then, but that’s what attracted me to the music.”
Today, music is her sanctuary.
“It’s like a prayer,” she says. “It’s not from my mind, it’s from my heart. It just comes right from there, out of my mouth. You feel lifted. I always tell people the stage is my sacred place. I’m totally different on stage than I am walking around in my life. I feel a kind of connection to something greater than myself.”
After a year at the University of Colorado, she left for California to embark on her career, finding work as a studio and sessions singer.
“I love that I was 19 years old and I had a plan,” she says. “I felt good. Didn’t know what I ultimately wanted to do, but knew what I didn’t want to do. It was a good start.
“I just wanted to be able to be respected for the music that I was singing. I was very selective,” she says. “I understood even then the power of words, so I was very selective in the lyrics that I would sing, and the kind of music that I wanted to sing. I loved the sophistication of jazz music at that time.
“I love all kinds of music, but there’s something about being able to be in an environment where people have these intimate conversations through music that are soulful and intellectual. I knew that’s what I wanted. I knew that the people that were a part of the music, no matter how old they were, always felt young and that they had been able to do their heart’s desire for as long as they lived.”
Touring with Harry Belafonte in the ‘80s changed her life.
“Up to that point, it was strictly jazz music,” she says. “The music was becoming extremely complex, and when I worked with Harry Belafonte, he sings folk songs from all over the world. He is very much part of the struggle of people, and it was through him that I really learned how to deliver a lyric, that simple ‘less is really more.’ I started to enjoy playing the space of music way beyond the notes that I was caught in before. Then I learned how to place the notes and I realized you have more notes to place if you take the time, at any given time.
“It was through that experience that I really learned how to deliver lyrics and even more so, the importance of words.”
CEDAR RAPIDS — B.B. King last took the stage at the Paramount Theatre during his 80th birthday tour in 2005. The legendary blues man has celebrated seven more birthdays since then, while the Paramount has been reclaimed from the muddy flood waters of 2008 and returned to its former splendor.
It was a thrill to see them both again on Sunday night (11/18/12).
The meticulously restored theater served as a magnificent backdrop for the King of the Blues and his seven-piece, tuxedo-clad band. While some in the full house may have been disappointed to see the luster has faded from his crown since King’s last appearance in Cedar Rapids, most appreciated the night for what it was: a chance to pay homage to a living legend in the twilight of an exceptional career.
Everyone was feeling the love from the minute Riley B. King first made his appearance. (“B.B.” is short for “Beale Street Blues Boy,” King’s old Memphis nickname.) After a couple of blues revue-style instrumental numbers by his ever-tight backing band, King ambled on stage to a prolonged standing ovation, tossing guitar picks to the crowd as he settled into a chair.
With a voice still as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, he introduced the band, teasing that bandleader and horn player James “Boogaloo” Bolden almost made him lose his job because “he can dance and I can’t.”
King then picked up his trademark Gibson guitar named Lucille (after a woman who was the cause of a long-ago Arkansas bar fight) and started the show with “I Need You So,” which he dedicated to all the lovers in the house. During that and the next two numbers, “Rock Me Baby,” and “Key to the Highway,” King demonstrated he can still make Lucille sing, although the three-piece horn section drowned out his vocals at times.
It was during the second half of his 80-minute, 10-song set that King seemed to lose focus. Apparently distracted by scattered outbursts from the audience – including one woman who loudly proclaimed her love for him, to which he responded, “I’m glad I can’t hear sometimes” – King spent more time talking and cracking jokes than singing or playing guitar. An audience member actually prompted him to finish an audience sing-along version of Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine” after King went off on a ramble about women in the middle of the song.
King brought the audience back when he launched into the familiar strains of his classic “The Thrill Is Gone,” but never really found the groove during a somewhat abbreviated version of the song. The final three numbers of the set, “Someone Really Loves You,” “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother” and “Why I Sing the Blues,” also seemed unsatisfyingly incomplete. But King remains a beguiling showman, and his broad grin throughout the night revealed his genuine love of performing for a crowd.
Finally, after cautioning the audience not to “wear yourselves out for when I come back next year,” King signaled the show was over. He remained on stage for several more minutes, shaking hands with those in the front rows, signing autographs and distributing even more guitar picks and other trinkets while the band played on behind him.
Unfortunately, many in the audience already had filed out by the time King was assisted out of his seat, into his overcoat and off the stage. Those who remained rewarded him with another rapturous ovation in sincere appreciation for the man who has been sharing his music and talents with fans for nearly 70 years.
While some may have grumbled, most understood. It was a privilege and a thrill to see that man, in that venue, one more time.
Canadian blues and rock guitarist Anthony Gomes and his band opened the show. During an exuberant 40-minute set of searing guitar and soaring vocals featuring a number of songs from his latest album, “Up 2 Zero,” Gomes proved worthy of his recent Maple Blues Awards nomination for Canada’s Electric Act of the Year.
Sara Evans performed Friday at the FRY fest concert in Coralville
CORALVILLE — Sara Evans wasn’t going to let cool temperatures, a soggy and muddy field or a Presidential visit a few miles away keep her from what she came to do Friday night (9/7/12).
Evans was in Iowa to give fans a party, and she more than delivered.
Country music star Evans, along with opener Lee Brice, put the finishing touches on FRY Fest 2012, the annual celebration kicking off the Iowa Hawkeyes’ football home opener.
Although the crowd was smaller than expected – organizers said earlier in the week they suspected an early evening address by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would keep some people away – there were still a few hundred fans scattered in the staging area. Fans jumped through soggy grass and muddy areas left by the previous night’s storms to get closer to the stage.
Walking onstage and immediately breaking in to her 2003 hit, “Perfect,” Evans kept on with hit after hit, subtly reminding fans just how big her cache of top 10 songs really is: “When You Were Cheating,” “Born to Fly,” “Anywhere,” “Coalmine,” “Suds in the Bucket” and the title song of her 2011 album, “Stronger,” all played well to the audience before she broke from her own titles and showed off her vocal strength with songs from the past, such as Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”
Between songs she let her fans know she loved their state and was aware of the football rivalry ready to play out at Kinnick Stadium the next day.
“Iowa is the most beautiful state in America, I really mean that,” she said. Growing up on a farm near Boonville, Mo., Evans said she had a first-hand knowledge of how beautiful the Midwest really is. She said she also knows how much Iowans love their football.
“I live in Alabama now and they really love football there,” she said, “probably about as much as you do here.”
Relative newcomer Lee Brice, who topped the country charts in 2010 with “Love Like Crazy,” a song off his debut album, opened for Evans, playfully changing up chords and getting the fans to sing along.
Musician and actor Hugh Laurie, best known for his starring role on the hit television series House, made his musical debut at the Englert backed by the Copper Bottom Band as part of the world tour in support of his new album, "Let Them Talk."(Justin Torner/Freelance)
IOWA CITY — Hugh Laurie’s joy is infectious, but don’t call him by his alter egomaniac, Dr. House. The 725 cheering fans filling the Englert Theatre on Friday night (8/17) didn’t want to be cured.
Not only is the dashing Brit a great actor, he’s a great blues pianist and an even better singer in person than on his new CD, “Let Them Talk.” It’s the visual that punches up the vocals.
He strolled onstage precisely at 8 p.m., looking rather Edwardian punk in his formal black longcoat, pants and pinkish ruffled tux shirt. Kneeling very properly, he hoisted a shot and saluted his cheering fans. Then he got down to business. The business of performing, which he knows so well.
“Until very recently, I was an actor,” he said to another round of cheers. “Imagine if a pilot said, ‘Until a couple weeks ago I was a dental hygienist,’ ” and then his voice trailed off amid the laughter.
Instantly, he proved he’s a great pianist who knows how to set a scene. He surrounds himself with the fantastic Copper Bottom Band — five musicians covering everything from accordion and electronic keyboards to a full range of guitars, saxes and other “blowy” things, double bass and drums — as well as some fine, wailing soul from Sister Jean McClain on background and solo vocals.
Their New Orleans shabby chic environment includes a soft glow from a chandelier and six lamps — several sporting beaded fringe — and touches of whimsy with a hatrack, a pheasant, a framed photo on a table behind Laurie’s gleaming black grand piano and mic stands wrapped in heavy drapery tassels.
Hugh Laurie performed at the Englert in Iowa City.
What really lights up the stage, however, is Laurie’s megawatt smile, framed by his to-die-for dimples. He just exudes joy from his entire being, fingertips to smile to stomping feet to goofy dance moves and silly walks from piano to center stage microphone, where he occasionally picked up an acoustic guitar and sang in the spotlight.
His concert runs the gamut of blues, focusing largely on a New Orleans tradition that teeters into Dixieland and taps into jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and gospel.
Every song has a little back story, some of them poignant, but most of them hilarious, with a comic timing honed in the early days of his career.
He came out stomping with “Mellow Down Easy,” before launching into a technically dazzling classical prelude to “St. James Infirmary,” which he calls “a very old song with a venerable history.” It’s the first track on his new CD. Seeing it live however, blows the recorded version right out of the water.
The Copper Bottom Band matches his virtuosity and powers up the drama with haunting clarinet, crashing cymbals, walking bass, amazing guitar and growly tenor sax. Followed by a story from Laurie about how the building that once treated leprosy and venereal diseases is now St. James Palace in London, ”where the Queen does whatever queens do — play Twister?”
It’s so hard to narrow down the highlights from more than two hours of nonstop music and laughter.
What makes Laurie unique is the way he takes songs we all know and totally reinvents them, breathing new life and surprises at every turn.
An eerie aura perfectly captures “Battle of Jericho,” but Laurie and company take the battle to new heights. I don’t know how he did it, but sax man extraordinaire Vincent Henry actually played tenor and soprano saxes simultaneously, with McClain adding her best gospel wail. The effect was simply stunning.
Another standout is “Swanee River,” sounding like nothing you’ve ever heard before, with mysterious clarinet and French accordion laying the groundwork before Laurie tears loose with boogie-woogie piano. Stephen Foster must surely be smiling and clapping with the rest of us.
Laurie’s favorite song, “Tipitina,” became our favorite song, because of his fervor. His first encore, with new lyrics set to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” even drew an “amen” from the audience.
And everybody jumped to their feet, clapping and dancing to a Dixieland ode to the British gin, Tanqueray, to close out the evening with plenty of cheer.
IOWA CITY — All you need is a little humor to dance the Bamba — and Los Lobos to provide the beat.
The throng of thousands moved to the universal language of music on June 2, crammed into every nook and cranny around the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street for the Iowa Arts Festival main stage concert. Perfect weather surrounded the free event, and when it got a little chilly toward the end, some wild Tex-Mex salsa sounds cranked up the heat.
Los Lobos evolved from the East Los Angeles music scene nearly 40 years ago to blaze a trail in American Chicano music, with Latin rhythms firmly rooted in rock ‘n’ roll and R&B traditions. Sometimes the band sings in Spanish, other times in English. Either way, the lyrics were pretty hard to catch in Saturday’s outdoor concert, where they were buried by overamplified instrumentals.
Since I couldn’t catch the hooks and my Spanish is beyond rusty, I can’t toss out a bunch of titles from the show, but I can definitely say the band ignited a party. I’m pretty sure a particular crowd favorite was the straightforward rock ‘n’ roll of “I Walk Alone,” fueled by Cesar Rosas’ gritty vocals and blazing guitar.
I’m absolutely positive about the roar that went up when the band launched into its biggest hit, “La Bamba,” to close out the two-hour show. Everyone jumped to their feet and danced to a full-out version that tucked some “Good Lovin’” in the middle. Our singalong was a little pitiful, but spirited.
Everything about the concert got your blood pumping, from Steve Berlin’s funky baritone sax to all the red-hot guitar riffs and wild bass rides. All six musicians took turns tearing up the spotlight, proving just how masterful they are on whatever instrument they’re wrapped around. In a fun and gracious nod, the bandmates invited opening musicians Carrie Rodriguez and Luke Jacobs to add their fiddle and pedal steel guitar flair.
With every song being an extended version of what we’ve heard on the radio or Los Lobos albums, the entire concert felt spontaneous and free. And very, very special.
Rosas, who shares lead vocals with David Hidalgo, told the masses the band hasn’t played Iowa City since 1992, and drew lots of reminiscent aahs when he said he remembered playing at the Crow’s Nest the very first time they came to town. Let’s hope they don’t wait another 20 years to return.