Best of 2019: Laura’s Favorite Nights of Music
I’m a bit of homebody, so getting me out of the house to an event means it has to be pretty amazing. And to be fair, there are so many amazing concerts and events throughout the capital region. Jim only has to remind me of a few that I was skeptical of before this year, and now have made a solemn promise never to miss!
These are my top ten concerts from 2019 (in no particular order). If these bands come through town again, don’t miss your chance to see them – even if it means a late night on a school night!
Favorite National Headliner: Dave Matthews Band at SPAC
Okay, I’d never been to a Dave Matthews Band concert at SPAC. And no, I’m not kidding. Even though I love DMB and will listen to him on Spotify almost daily, I never really considered his concert scene because — well, I suppose I was a bit afraid I’d be overwhelmed by it. And I was completely overwhelmed by it! There was the kindness of the fans, the musical talent represented on the stage, and Dave’s charming faces that completely shifted my perspective. And then there was the music! The performance was mind blowing in how the band used the audience to fill in the chorus and build on a rhythmic round. I will NEVER miss a DMB concert again! Anyone who tells you it the same on the radio is just lying to you.
Favorite Outdoor Concert: Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe at Music Haven
Music Haven is one of my favorite venues. It is outside, my dogs can come, and I connect with so many friends in the community that it makes going there more like a giant party than attending a concert. This year, the brilliant Mona Golub invited local restaurants to sell food that matched the culture represented on stage. Food is always a plus, and sells me on leaving the house more easily than most things. But on top of this, Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe blew my mind by combining a sense of rock and traditional Indian music. Best moment of the concert? Sitting behind an excited 8 or 9 year old girl of Indian descent whose face lit up as she turned to her parents and said, “They are Indian?!” Watching this child see her own culture represented on stage with high quality talent made the entire night for me. (Plus the music and food were delish.)
Best Night of Weeping & Dancing: Patty Griffin at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Patty Griffin only has written one love song in her life, and it was for her dog. “Oh Heavenly Day” is written for a dog. That might summarize my epiphany into why I’ve always loved Patty Griffin. She loves her dog enough to write a love song to him. Add in her sultry, sexy voice and crazy guitar skills, Griffin brought me to tears and also to my feet to celebrate her talent. The hall’s acoustics made the night even more special, allowing Griffin to really showcase her flexibility in pitch and tone.
Best Original Folk Writing and Guitar Performance: Jeffrey Foucault at The Cock ‘n Bull
I could read Foucault’s lyrics and be held captive by his use of language. Added to his guitar playing, and its sublime. I melted as I listened to him sing about his wife in language that was so honest and raw that it made even the most common day experiences (like washing dishes) sexy. I found myself holding my breath waiting for his next lines. His velvety voice matched the messages, and I instantly had a new favorite folk singer in Jeffrey Foucault.
Best Concert to Get Soaked: Brandi Carlisle at Shelburne Museum
Amid rain and hail and wild wind, Brandi Carlile took the stage at Vermont’s Shelburne Museum to remind listeners “You can dance in a hurricane / But only if you’re standing in the eye.” The concert was cut way too short due to the storms, and I was soaked. Brandi Carlile is worth enduring that rainstorm any day.
Best Concert in the Round: Mumford and Sons at Times Union Center
We went to this concert within the month of seeing Elton John at The TU, and I was planned to be underwhelmed by it in comparison. Instead, I was on my feet singing along, dancing, and entertained by the visuals as well as the high energy of the performance overall. Mark Mumford doesn’t let moss grow under his feet; he moved around the stage and into the seats for a “B Stage” performance with fans that was acoustically pleasing as well as emotionally revealing. This was one of the concerts that could’ve last an extra hour and I still wouldn’t have been ready to go home yet.
Most Lush Sound of the Year: Darlingside at The Egg in January
Darlingside performed at The Egg with a local youth orchestra, and with their usual grace, musicianship, and unique humility, the group once again transported my imagination with their dreamy and smooth sound. If you haven’t listened to Darlingside, you are really missing an exceptional experience. The music has a way of moving listeners into their own dreams and subconscious with free flowing narratives that often satisfy with lush harmonies on strings. I missed their second performance of the year this month, but won’t make that mistake again.
Best Heartthrob Concert: John Mayer at Times Union
We actually covered John Mayer twice this year: once with Dead & Co., and once on his own at the TU. The concerts could not be more different in style. Mayer is a phenomenal guitarist, as the world knows and acknowledges. He also is a great storyteller and entertainer. He shared his music and how it was influenced by different chapters in his own life, and was able to acknowledge both growth and on going need for more growth. But most of all, he was FUN. He changed up his setlist to please a fan holding up song requests on a sign, he played visuals that were silly and not relevant (and yet wildly entertaining), and he smiled throughout the night, sharing the joy. The man can sing, and he sure can play guitar. But he also can connect through vulnerability. He is a must see performer.
Best Way to Get Jim to Church: Gospel Brunch at Caffe Lena
Aren’t a gospel fan? That’s because you haven’t tried this event. Paired with Hattie’s soul food fried chicken and greens, Gospel Brunch invites you to stand and sing along with the sermon of both traditional gospel tunes and some more pop culture songs performed through the lens of loving God. If you aren’t a believer at the start of the service, you will be by the end!
Best Powerhouse Vocals: Girl Blue at The Hollow (with Dark Honey)
My prediction: Girl Blue is the local artist that will someday explode on the national scene with an intensity and power reminiscent of Alanis Morissette. Performing with local band Dark Honey, who on their own demonstrate a power and capacity to hold a crowd with powerful percussion, bass, and vocals, Girl Blue’s combination of sultry and heavier vocals betrayed a dynamism unique in the industry. She can pull off sweet, cute love songs and also painful, soul breakers. She writes her own lyrics, and clearly knows of what she writes. Ringing true and not stereotypical, Arielle O’Keefe isn’t afraid to ask questions about being alone, owning her own spirit, and greedily wanting all she can take in life. I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she was on stage, and I didn’t want to. She’s a powerhouse, and I can’t wait to see her perform again in 2020.