These posts will never happen if I don’t make it fuss free. So here is it! With little introduction or fanfare, the ‘stuff’ that made up my year. My favorite albums, live shows, apps, and ‘things’ of 2018.
Next up, live music!
The Telluride Bluegrass Festival
Hard to write about this one in few words but I promised myself this would be fuss free. My wife all but dragged me to this festival, affirming all year long that it would be worth the journey. My camping chops are a long way from my Eagle Scout years. Anyway, the memories outlast any annoyance I felt camping at a music festival.
Some of the highlights include:
Seeing Live From Here with Chris Thile recorded...well, live
Bela Fleck featuring Brooklyn Rider String Quartet (think Bartok meets late 20th century strings for string quarter and banjo)
Edgar Meyer and Christian McBride bass duet set
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Sturgil Simpson (always killer)
Edgar Meyer and his son, George Meyer on the small stage
Hawktail on the small stage
I'm With Her, Nightgrass set (You can enter a lottery to get tickets to see certain artists perform at the local opera house in town. I'm With Her sounds stunning around a single mic.)
Punch Brothers at The Telluride Bluegrass Festival
We saw them four times this year if you include three times at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. One of the most memorable of these performances was on the main stage where they debuted their new album, All Ashore, in its entirety. It is a beautiful record and my family will share really special memories of hearing it live with the crisp mountain breeze washing over us.
But perhaps one of the most memorable shows I have ever seen was later that night when Punch Brothers performed a Nightgrass set in town. The band member’s musicianship was on full display. And due to this intimate audience, (and a long weekend of performing tightly organized sets), they let loose a little. They were kicking back Manhattans, lengthening solo sections, and engaging in banter. Things that made their earlier performances memorable for me but that have since become less a part of their live show due to a lengthier song repertoire and wider audience to please.
Let me give you an example. During the solo section of a bluegrass standard, each member completely deconstructed the I-V progression. During the banjo player Noam Pikelne’s solo, he hinted at motif from a song on the new record (in an entirely different key and time signature), and Chris made a gesture to the band. Then somehow they morphed this small suggestion into the entire introduction of the other song, while the bass still wavered between I-V, ultimately transforming completely into a performance of of the entire song, back into a I-V progression, and into more solo’s. Chris Thile’s solo (equally ridiculous) somehow managed to transform into one of the Bach Violin Sonotas, which he performed in its entirety, followed by the band transforming that back into the head of the bluegrass tune they had originally started off with.
As an encore, Chris came out into the center of the audience with Sarah Jarosz, and they sang a few old folk songs together. Chris’s parents were in the balcony, seeing him perform at the festival for the first time together since he was a kid. At one point Chris called out to his father to sing one of the verses with him in harmony. I’m not crying, you’re crying. This was an easy top five-er for me, and a reminder of all the reasons I love Punch Brothers.
The Bad Plus at The Hamilton
I am cheating by including this show. It happened right around the new year, but technically in 2017. The Bad Plus is another artist that has been with me for a while. I learned about them in a formative time of musical discovery, and while their sound has not really evolved in recent records, it was nice to see them on their last tour with Ethan Iverson playing piano. The show was bittersweet. On the one hand, they played a lot of old favorites I had not heard in a while. On the other hand, they seemed kind of done with one another.
Gabriel Kahane at Jammin’ Java
See my tidbit on Gabriel Kahane’s record, ‘Book of Travelers,’ from my recent Favorite Albums of 2018 post. He played most of the album at this show. The venue, Jammin’ Java, was small and quiet. The upright piano was inconsistent and out of tune. I thought the beauty of Kahane’s songs might be disrupted, but this quirky and intimate situation made a perfect frame for the message of Kahane’s songs.
The Centennial High School Wind Ensemble - The Peabody Institute, Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall
The Centennial High School Wind Ensemble was invited to perform at The Midwest Clinic this year. This is a point of pride for my teaching community because it takes place in the Howard County Public School System, the district in which I teach. More directly, my school, Ellicott Mills Middle School, is a direct feeder of students into Centennial. Having had the opportunity to work with a small few past EMMS students, and by having a private student of mine in the group, I take serious pride in the accomplishments of Centennial High School’s band program and their director, David Matchim. It was unreal to hear a high school ensemble play an hour of music at the level they did, and in December of the school year! Check out their wind octet below...