im with her

Favorites of 2018 - Live Music

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!

Live Shows

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...

Favorites of 2018 - Albums

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.

First up, albums!

Favorite Albums of 2018

Johann Sebastian Bach - Vinkingur Ólafsson

Ólafsson breathes new life into the essentials.


Time - Louis Cole

What a way to close the summer! Addictive, savvy, electro pop from a master technician (both instrumentally and as a producer.)


All Ashore - Punch Brothers

For reasons that will be detailed in a Favorite Live Music of 2018 post, this album will forever be associated with an amazing summer of travel with my wife, including seeing Punch Brothers debut this album in its entirety at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. This is an album made for the political landscape of our current time but that can be enjoyed for the beauty of its timbre, texture, and harmony alone.

Hawktail - Unless

My favorite bluegrass album in a while and my favorite bluegrass band discovery of the year. We have seen these guys a few times live this year and appreciate the relationships we have developed with the band members. If I were doing a favorite songs of 2018, the title track ‘Unless’ would be on it.


Book of Travelers - Gabriele Kahane

Around the time of the 2016 election, Gabriele Kahane took a trip all over the country by train on a search for empathy. This album features the songs inspired by this journey.


Heaven and Earth - Kamasi Washington

It would be easy to characterize this album as excessive but I see it differently. Even though many of the tracks have a similar contour, each one of them is its own epic. In combination, I am never exhausted by the result as I might expect to be, but instead rightly satisfied.


EP - The Fearless Flyers

Members of Vulpeck team up with Nate Smith on drums to create the “too-short-est” record I have ever heard. The dry texture of all three varieties of electric guitar on this record leave nothing to be desired. And Nate Smith can do more with a snare drum, bass drum, and hi hat than most drummers can do with a nine piece kit and plethora of cymbals.


Kids See Ghosts - Kanye West and Kid Cudi

I’d like to file this one under “listen to this if you don’t think hip hop is interesting.”


Dirty Computer - Janelle Monáe

If anyone wanted to argue that this is the most profound (and catchy) album of the year, I would hand it to them immediately.


See You Around - I’m With Her

Try to not enjoy listening to these sounds, even if you don’t like folk music.


Sampha - Process

Cerebral, groove centered, and colorful. One of my favorites of the favorites.