LIVE: The Eighth Step’s 50th Anniversary Concert @ Proctors’ GE Theatre, 11/4/17
Review and photographs by Prof. Teddy Clements, Ret.
Anyone unaware of the Eighth Step’s half-century of dedication to egalitarian principle expressed in homemade music got the message immediately as Reggie Harris started the Step’s 50th anniversary show Saturday in Proctors’ GE Theatre by crooning Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Then came his own heartfelt Woody tribute, a new tune whose frame and foundation showed in some roughness. Both superbly showed the folk process: hear or feel something meaningful, sing it your own way.
Sing it we all did; an audience that nearly filled the seats and was joined at the heart with an all-star cast onstage. Holly Near sang after Harris; biggest marquee name on the celebration, she brought Gospel-deep pianist Tammy Hall (best hairdo of the night) and jazz-thumping bassist Jan Martinelli in support. Near braved recent California fires, just as she has fought for civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, gay rights – everybody’s rights. A veteran of Albany’s Occupy camp, she declared “I’m Willing” for more and noted how these struggles don’t end; they pause in victory or setback for “gentle angry people, singing for our lives.”
Annie & the Hedonists’ brief set scored with deep blues and country, Annie Rosen’s voice filling the room over well-knit riffs. Then the terrific trio Brother Sun sang and played like hippie angels – like Crosby, Stills & Nash used-to-could. Modest, mighty talents toiling in the same struggles that Near had celebrated, they stirred up righteous sermon songs plus a modern tragic sea chantey. They also celebrated love in proud, powerful terms: Their own “In the Name of Love” segued perfectly into U2’s anthem of the same title, to thrilling, voices-soaring effect. Amazing!
The all-hands finale was ragged but right: Phil Ochs’ “When I’m Gone” (or “While I’m Here,” Near pointed out its alternate title, and discretely read the lyrics when her verses came around). It worked both ways – gone and here – honoring Ochs’ memory and continuing his fight in nimble hands playing and beautiful voices singing.
UPCOMING: The Eighth Step has been located at Proctors in Schenectady since 2007, but the veteran coffeehouse first began hosting fab folk music 50 years ago at the First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Washington Park in Albany. So it seems only fitting that the Step’s golden anniversary celebration should also include a return to its original home for a special reunion concert at 7pm on Saturday, November 18. Performers will include John Kirk & Trish Miller, Glenn Weiser & Greg Schaaf, Annie & the Hedonists (original line-up), Laurie Siegel, Cathy Winter, Ruth Pelham, Wanda Fischer (of WAMC-FM’s “Hudson River Sampler”) and Clearwater performers Betty Boomer & Steve Stanne, Dan Einbender and Rick Nestler. Tickets are $25 & $50.