The Buffalo Theatre Ensemble brings a very thought provoking play to the stage. David Lindsay-Abaire penned this two-act performance and the small theatre was perfect for the story.
Finely directed by Connie Canaday Howard, Good People highlights a strong ensemble that exhibits a magical chemistry onstage. The story line was very well thought out and while I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, the theme, as one might guess from the title, was really about people. We are reminded in this story set mostly in the south end of Boston, that some are not as good as they appear and some are good without the appearance.
The lead character Margaret is played by Amelia Barrett. She is a working class single mother with a child who lives in a cheap apartment, living paycheck to paycheck. Margaret and her friends love to play Bingo. They help each other out. That’s what friends are for. Her friends include her landlady Dottie, played by Annie Slavinski. Benedict L. Slabik II plays her former boss, who is also a friend. Jean played by Kelli Walker rounds out the Bingo crew.
They call themselves “Southies”, referring to the south end of Boston. Their accents are much different than the stereotypical Boston accent you might think of when thinking of that area. It is almost like comparing different English accents. They also call the upper-class people “Lace Curtains”, which I thought was funny.
Margaret runs into an old flame, Mike, played by Bryan Burke. He has done rather well for himself. Now an endocrinologist, he lives in a nicer area. He has joined the “Lace Curtains”, but he, like most people, never escapes his roots. His wife Kate is played by Raina Lynn. There is some controversy over the color of her skin. The play isn’t about racial tension but the topic exists in a sub-plot. In some ways, this underlying theme drives the story as much as its main plot.
The first act is light-hearted and funny. It is served more as an introduction to the characters, all of which appear in the first few minutes apart from Mike’s wife Kate. You see the world they live in and how they think.
Act II is another story, mostly set in the house of Mike and Kate. Good People shows us that things are not always as they appear and that class to which one is associated has nothing to do with that of being a good person. That’s the moral of the story and the message is there without looking too hard.
The play is well-acted and thought out. The audience is never bored waiting for the plot to grow. It takes off from the start. Each acting performance is highly enjoyable as is the story and the message meaningful. I know a few “Good People” who could benefit from watching this performance. Art is a great teaching tool, even if the audience doesn’t always realize when it is happening. If you feel like you need a well-conceived night’s entertainment, this could be just the ticket. There are a few foul words in there, but clearly not meant to be offensive. This is a production that might just open your eyes a bit, while at the same time providing a few good laughs.
Good People is being performed at Playhouse Theatre in the McIninch Art Center in Glen Ellyn, IL through March 5th. For more show information click here.
Expectations for what you might see in a concert are not always what turn out to be the reality of the situation. On my way to Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, I knew I was going to see two legendary guitar players in their respective fields. Let’s just say any preconceived notions I may have had regarding a strong showing by Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck were dismissed several times throughout this fine Sunday evening.
First, I assumed Buddy Guy would be opening for Jeff Beck. However, Beck took the stage first, opening with a track from his latest release Loud Hail. The song starts, vocals are heard, but no one on stage is singing. Then a woman dressed in what could be described as some kind of military uniform singing through a megaphone appears as she strolls down the aisle. She eventually gets on stage and joins the band. Now, this really wasn’t that strange for a Jeff Beck show. He has been dabbling in different genres most of his career.
Beck alternated between new album cuts and some of his classics like Freeway Jam. Somewhere around the fifth or sixth song a different vocalist appears and to the crowd’s approval, it was veteran Jimmy Hall who has worked with Jeff many times. Their performance of “Morning Dew” was highly inspiring and raised some goose bumps on Beck’s avid fans in attendance. “Morning Dew” was written during the turbulent 1960’s with a post apocalyptic theme. There seemed to be a bit of a theme during the show. I have always considered Jeff Beck to be a man of peace, and he conveyed this subtle message in his selections.
As for Beck’s guitar playing? Well, a musician in his league never disappoints in that department. Some people have claimed JB to be the best guitar player out there. Even though that I find that an impossible title to hold, he is certainly high on the list. Now here is a guy known for flashy guitar playing yet he doesn’t waste a note. We have had so many technically gifted guitar players come and go through the years, so what makes a guy like him so appealing? One word, melody. If someone claimed Jeff was the most melodic guitar player, I just might have to agree. Some say brilliant instrumentalists are often frustrated singers and when Beck plays, it is akin to a human voice. He doesn’t even use a pick anymore. This man’s music is what happens when you give someone an amazing ear uniquely interpreting each melody on a Stratocaster. Beck’s encore was his take on The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” to which he played the vocal lines on the guitar just like a singer. His voice is the guitar.
After Beck’s stirring set, I was sitting there thinking, “How is Buddy Guy gonna top that?” Buddy is Buddy, that’s what he is. He has been quoted as saying that’s all he can do is be himself. That’s just fine in my book. A true artist’s personality comes out in their art, no matter what the area. Guy is often manic but just so down to earth that you end up falling in love with the man before the show is over. He celebrated his 80th birthday just the day before. That’s correct, 80 years old! But Guy didn’t show his age and displayed the energy of a much younger man.
Guy’s attitude on stage is incredible. I have never met Buddy myself but have heard that off the stage he is a pretty shy guy. He’s just one of those artists whose true self only comes out when performing. Look out and be prepared as Guy’s shows are basically unscripted for the most part. He admitted he had no set list though his band was obviously prepared for what he was doing. His performance is almost like Buddy thinking out loud. He jumps from one thing to another.
I consider Buddy to be one of the last real showmen of the Blues. His roots go back to Muddy Waters. Those old Blues cats always know how to entertain. Buddy used to do a trick back in the old club days where he would use a super long guitar cord and go out into the audience while playing. Now a wireless system makes things so much easier. Guy walked off the stage and kept going though a good portion of the pavilion at Ravinia, twice passing my way.
Guy was joined by Beck on one song and another featured two of his kids, one on vocals the other on guitar. The last portion of his show was Buddy teasing the audience playing just bits of a bunch of old Blues songs that weighed heavily as his musical influences. A true entertainer leaves the audience satisfied but wanting more. This was definitely the case.
Did Buddy Guy top Jeff Beck? Well, maybe not by his guitar playing alone. The performance actually made you forget the opening act while he was on stage. Like the title of his opening number, Buddy was “Born to Play the Guitar”. Jeff Beck was too, but Buddy was also born to entertain. At 80-years-old, won’t be performing forever, my advice being to see him while you still can. He is really one of the only living links to the old Blues cats left. After him, it’s mostly the English Blues players like Clapton. And who is Eric Clapton’s favorite guitar player? Buddy Guy. On July 31, 2016, Buddy Guy was mine was too.
I have been a fan of Chick Corea ever since I picked up a Return to Forever album sometime around 1983. Twenty-three years or so later, I was finally able to see him perform – the venue being Ravinia Festival. Corea has been involved in the Jazz scene for fifty years or more and at seventy-five-years-young, he can keep up with someone half his age.
Starting off the triple bill on the evening of July Fourth was Ms. Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton. Theirs was a Jazz on the mellower side though some interesting cover material was chosen to perform. I have never heard Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” played in such a manner before. They also covered two different Rolling Stones songs, “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Gimme Shelter”. Arrangements on these particular songs were quite different than the originals as you might imagine. I must say Fischer’s voice was quite good. Her intonation was amazing. She and her band seemed to drop the word love in every song, very refreshing. After watching her performance, I can only conclude that Ms. Fischer appears to be a peaceful spirit in human form.
The second set was the headlining act, the Chick Corea Trio. Always surrounding himself with talented musicians, Christian McBride was on bass and Brian Blade on drums. Both complimented Chick’s piano playing very well. McBride was a very fluent soloist on upright bass and was somewhat reminiscent of Stanley Clarke in terms of chops, while maintaining his own identity. Brain Blade was equally astounding to say the least. Chick seems to have a knack for finding some of the best players around. I’m sure his reputation attracts the attention of some fine players who line up at the chance to share the stage with such a musical legend. Throughout the entire set Corea played a grand piano. Corea’s chops were so fluid, it’s hard to believe a man of that age still has the hands to pull that off. Fans were in awe during the whole set.
Then it was big band time. It was interesting to see Corea in the two different settings. Bass, drums and twelve horns accompanied Chick on the final set of the holiday evening. Corea called out the names of every song and gave credit to the person who did each particular arrangement. If you love horns, it was Heaven. He even touched on a Return to Forever song, making it sound like a fresh new song. Each of the horn players had at least one featured solo, as well. Trumpets, trombones, saxophones and even flute solos were of the highest caliber. Corea didn’t hold back on the last set either. I felt he got better as the night went along, almost as though he may have just been warming up.
Jazz is almost a lost art form. I have said that before. It is so nice to see music still being performed by real musicians. The only issue I sometimes have with Jazz audiences is that they applaud after every solo. I guess this is a tradition but I would prefer they would wait until the end of the song. Still, they are usually deserving of the recognition it’s just that sometimes you miss the start of the next solo because of the applause.
Take the opportunity to go see some live Jazz before all the great ones are gone. Ravinia is still to host some amazing Jazz acts this season. The tradition continues, but the real guys are all getting up there in age. At seventy-five, Chick Corea is at the younger end of the age spectrum.
It was a triple bill of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Indigo Girls and Shawn Mullins a cool Friday night in June, the perfect atmosphere for some hot music. And though the showed started early at, 6:30 PM, there was already a surprisingly good-sized crowd on hand well before the activities were to begin. For those of you who have not experienced Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, the park contains a massive picnic area that surrounds the pavilion where the stage is held. Some stay in the lawn area until the headliner hits the stage, others remain in the picnic area and just enjoy the ambience while listening to the concert to the speakers set up throughout. This show was no different.
The first thing I noticed when I first heard the Indigo Girls over twenty years ago was their vocal harmonies, an interesting blend. Amy Ray has a very deep voice for a female singer and Emily Saliers has the higher and much more versatile voice. This makes for an interesting vocal blend. My only issue with this is the repetition of this formula on every song though I am not that familiar with their catalog of work in its entirety. I found that even though their sound is quite unique, after a couple songs their sound could get a bit predictable. Having said that, the crowd certainly approved of what they heard, many of them singing along and dancing in place.
The Indigo Girls were backed up by three other performers, a multi instrumentalist, a violinist/vocalist and a singer/guitarist. Even with the augmentation of the line up, I still found a lot of their songs have few variables to the band’s overall sound. The tempo and harmonies were just extremely similar from song to song.
Shawn Mullins opened up the night with an acoustic guitar, his own voice and an accordion player. This exceptional baritone singer had a really folky vibe that was a great warm up for the crowd. The pavilion had a lot of empty seats still at that point as concert goers milled about the grounds, but the people that were watching his act really appeared to enjoy his music. Mullins’ sense of humor was also very refreshing.
The act of the night in my opinion was the one in the middle, Mary Chapin Carpenter. She had a typical five-piece band line up, drums, bass, keys and guitar. Backing vocals were provided by the bass and keys players. Now, I don’t know why, but Carpenter is a performer I can honestly say slipped under my radar. A real veteran, her performance was amazing, as Carpenter played a great variety of material - and played it to perfection. If I were to label her music I would say folk….no, country….no, Rock and Roll….all of the above. I hate categories because of their limiting definitions anyway. I like variety and her portion of the show was a great example of that. I really thought Mary should have been the headliner after watching her, but the Girls have a very strong following. It’s not right to say a certain performer is better than another, so I won’t go there. Rather, I simply found Carpenter the performer of the night.
The Indigo Girls is still an act worth seeing. I think maybe branching out a bit may be in their best interest. Their fans would probably disagree, that’s okay. Their following is very loyal, and this could be partly due to their social position…just a couple girls doing it on their own for the most part. I should probably listen a little more clearly to the lyrics, that is probably where the variety of their material lies. I’m sure it is also somewhat difficult to provide a lot of different tempos and rhythmic variations when you play without a live drummer. Heading into the show, I wasn’t sure what their lineup was going to be since I have mostly seen Amy and Emily play as a duet.
The Indigo Girls closed the show with “Closer to Fine”, the song that really put them on the map. The crowd was probably louder than the Girls were at times during that song. That’s what it’s all about really anyway, communication. If you can get an audience to respond like that, mission accomplished. So, to sum it up my criticism of the lack of variety was clearly only in my eyes. Their audience didn’t view it like that. I guess for me Bob Dylan is the same way. To the average listener, many of his songs sound the same. Am I comparing The Indigo Girls to Bob Dylan? I guess in a way, their appeal is in the same vein. Just simple songs played with their own particular flavor. Folk music is what it says it is, music of the people. The people responded, that’s all that really matters, not the opinion of one critic.
Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis can take the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and turn it into a work of art. After watching and listening to him, I am sure of this. Eighty-years-old, he has the musical energy of a much younger man. He also brought to MacIninch Art Center a very talented group of musicians.
First up was Henry Johnson on guitar. The first thing I thought of was Wes Montgomery. For those of you not familiar with Montgomery’s style, Wes mostly played with just his thumb on his right hand. Henry switched between that and a pick which he must have held in his palm while using his thumb. Johnson’s other influences include Kenny Burrell and George Benson. As a fledgling jazz guitar player myself, I found him to be a tasty player and learned a lot watching him play.
Joshua Ramos was on bass. He switched between upright bass and a five string electric through the set. Ramos got some serious applause from his solos. He played with the fluency most lead guitar players might envy. Having said that, he stayed in the pocket when he needed to do so.
On drums was Charles Heath. Heath is an amazing jazz drummer, switching from sticks to brushes depending on the song. I found out he started playing drums at an early age and I am not surprised. He started working as a musician at the age of fourteen and earned a degree in music at Shaw University. His list of playing credits is quite long.
Then, of course you have Mr. Lewis, “the great performer”. Ramsey certainly lives up to the title. Though understandably a bit slow walking across the stage, it did not reflect his musical energy. He took Pop melodies to new heights. The Beatles’ “Here There and Everywhere” was my personal favorite. Another Beatles song he did amazing things to was “Hard Day’s Night”. Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” was very nice as well. I didn’t hear too many songs that one would consider jazz standards, except possibly his own compositions. Lewis did have a few hits in his heyday, most jazz musicians cannot claim that. The ability to take a familiar melody and turn it into something greater is truly an art. I overheard someone say how he never played one of the songs the same way twice. The jazz musical mind just seems to work like that. Lewis did not give you a heavily rehearsed, boring performance. It showed the listener how music can be spontaneous and structured at the same time.
The art of jazz is not as popular as it once was in America. You could tell this from the crowd. The average age was at least sixty, if I had to estimate. Personally, I find it so refreshing to see great musicians actually perform without the use of gimmicks. The raw energy of the performance was the key on this particular Saturday night.
If you have any interest in seeing real music played the way it was supposed to be played, go see it now before all the classic players are all gone. At eighty-years-old, Ramsey won’t be around forever. The music will live forever, but the performers will not. I don’t want to sound like a cynic, but I think a lot of this is lost in music today. Go support music being played by real musicians like The Ramsey Lewis Quartet. Good music elevates you mind, body and soul to new heights.
In the end, I found the performance inspirational and highly rewarding. The reward was an emotional sense of elevation. Music is the ultimate escape. For one hour and forty-five minutes I had no problems in my life. Even after coming back to reality, I felt better. I wish to thank “the great performer” for this. Ramsey Lewis is simply amazing and it was great to see and of course hear him.
Ramsey Lewis Quartet
March 12, 2016-7:30 PM
MacIninch Art Center
College Of DuPage
Glen Ellyn, IL
Five time Grammy Award winner Robert Cray brought his band into Glen Ellyn, IL to play some Blues. Roberts’s career spans forty years. The Robert Cray Band made its debut in 1980 and some of his members has lasted almost since the band began. Richard Cousins on bass has been with him as long as I can remember. Dover Weinberg is on Hammond Organ and keys and Les Falconer completes the line up on drums.
Cray is just as amazing at the age of 62 as he ever was. Such a sweet, yet powerful voice. His guitar playing is nothing short of spectacular. No gimmicks from this Master of the Stratocaster. Cray goes straight into the amp (with a wireless system) and plays The Blues the way they are meant to be played. However, he is a bit more sophisticated than his predecessors.
He opened up strong and finished strong, leaving you wanting more. Part of this may be that it was a very short set. An hour and fifteen minutes was great but I would have liked a little more. That seemed to be the general consensus from the crowd, although they were more than satisfied with the performance.
Cray’s band was so tight and in the pocket. The kind of groove this band lays down only comes from experience…no other way. You couldn’t help clapping or tapping your foot the whole time. Cray really has his own voice musically to the point it is not very easy to compare him directly with other Blues artists. A few people yelled out “Muddy Waters” and “Howlin’ Wolf” which I didn’t really understand but Robert took it just fine. Great to have a sense of humor about things like that. The man is constantly smiling. He really seemed relaxed and at peace, not an artist chasing demons.
The Robert Cray Band proves you can play the Blues and keep it sounding fresh. They groove without playing a bunch of twelve bar shuffles with one sounding like another. Cray was relaxed, the band was relaxed and the audience was relaxed. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He had the attention of everyone in the room. Once again, my only real complaint would be the length of the show. He was the epitome of leaving you wanting more. Satisfied, yet still hungry. The show was over in ten minutes. At least that’s how it felt to me. My hands hurt from clapping along. There should have been a dance floor.
Robert Cray Band
Belushi Performance Hall
McAninch Arts Center
College Of DuPage
Jackson Browne is a veteran singer/songwriter who has a very impressive resume. He is also known for always having some amazing musicians in his corral. In the musician department, last Saturday night’s show at Ravinia was up to par and then some.
First up is guitarist/vocalist Larry Campbell. Campbell has played with everyone from Levon Helm and Bob Dylan to Sheryl Crow just to name a few. A true country picker from New York, believe it or not, Larry really dug in and played some tasty country licks. He and his wife Teresa Campbell opened the show fronting Jackson’s band. Teresa is a straight up country singer. Together they had and old school hippie country vibe that really got the crowd in the mood.
The rest of the band included Bob Glaub on bass, Mauricio Lewak on drums, Jeff Young on keys and vocals, Althea Mills on backing vocals and Greg Leisz on lap and pedal steel guitar and mandolin.
The opening set was short and sweet. Campbell and Williams did a killer duet version of Samson and Delilah, an old Rev. Gary Davis song. I really wish their set was longer. Williams has one of those voices that makes you want to hear more and more.
After a brief intermission, Browne took the stage fronting the band. I can honestly say the band carried the show for the most part. Jackson looked tired and road worn. I don’t know of his performance was reflective of his 66 years or just an off night. I could feel a lack of energy from the crowd as well. The best response was for the players in the band rather than Browne himself.
I also think material choice could have been better. A casual JB fan would have only recognized three songs at the end of the night. After a still somewhat entertaining performance, “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty” concluded the set with “Take It Easy” as the encore. Jackson also went off on a tangent in the middle of the set. He was very passionate about environmental issues but, unfortunately, he lost the crowd for a while.
Overall, the band was great and was filled with some incredible musicians. I think better song choices and a little more energy from the front man would have gone a long way to better the show. I will say I walked away a fan of Campbell and Williams. Their set really knocked me out.
Sunday’s show at Ravinia in Highland Park was a triple bill. First up was Doyle Bramhall II. Bramhall’s father is known for his association with Stevie Ray Vaughan. That said, his music is very much in the vein of Vaughan and Hendrix. His outfit was a hot four piece band - two guitars, bass and drums with Bramhall handling the vocals. The set was short and sweet - about 30 minutes - though they we’re the perfect warm up for the acts to follow.
Next up was Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. We’re talking old school R&B at its finest with two guitars, three horns, drums, bass, percussion and the amazing voice of Sharon Jones. To say Jones was “amazing” doesn’t even do her justice. She is truly an astounding performer. A 59-year-old cancer survivor, she displayed the energy of a hyperactive child. The band also shared this energy. Jones’ voice was still very strong and I simply cannot believe she is not more well-known than she is.
Headlining the show was the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The band is led by husband and wife team Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Trucks is possibly one of the finest slide guitar players on the planet. Derek started playing at a very young age. This 36-year-old already has quite a resume. In his years as a musician, this young man has shared the stage with many music legends. His tenure with the Allman Brothers Band alone commands respect.
Susan Tedeschi is a well-respected blue guitar player and singer. Her speaking voice is no comparison to the power that comes out when she sings. Tedeschi and Trucks perform as a twelve piece band, including two drummers, bass, three horns, three backup vocals, and keys/flute.
Their set was a bit too short for my taste so I guess they do their job in leaving the fans wanting more. For the encore, Bramhall and a few members of the Dap Kings joined in. The band’s closing number for the night was Sly Stone’s “I Wanna Take You Higher”. It was almost like a religious experience with Susan and Sharon Jones preaching the gospel of funk.
“Boom Shakka Lakka Lakka”
“Boom Shakka Lakka Lakka”
Truly spiritual in the purest sense of the word. To me, Sharon Jones stole the show. One of the best concerts I have ever attended and the prefect venue for such a show at Ravinia. If the Wheels of Soul Tour passes by in your area, get yourself a ticket. You might want to pack your dancing shoes.
"I was so much younger then - I'm younger than that now." This is from the chorus of the opening song, "My Back Pages" by Bob Dylan. Those words were pretty much the theme of the evening during the solo performance by Roger McGuinn, the founder of The Byrds, at the Elgin Community College Arts Center.
To begin, picture this - room is dark just before hearing McGuinn's classic twelve-string Rickenbacker begin to hum. The spotlight soon after hits a man stage left who looks much younger than most 72-year-olds, as youthfulness has graced the legendary performer over the years. McGuinn kicks into a jam and we are off. After the opening number, McGuinn relocates to center stage where he sits for story time. Each story was as fascinating as the last as he shares his life freely with the audience. McGuinn played and sang throughout the night, introducing each number with an associated memory.
And what a history this man has had! The music naturally helped move each story along in a way that led us to a whole new experience. Alternating between guitars, his arsenal included both seven and twelve-string accoustics. He also played his Rickenbacker and performed one song on the banjo. He played two sets with a brief intermission sandwiched in between, making fans eager to see how McGuinn would top the first act. He did. The second set opened the same as the first and we were off to more magic from a true contributor to our pop culture as we know it.
It was nice to see a musician who has held up so well over the decades, both physically and on an entertainment level. Seeing him perform live really gave me an aprreciation as to what an outstanding guitar player he truly is. The Byrds are often thought of as an electric folk band, but Roger is clearly a bit deeper than that. McGuinn also showed his sense of humor in between one song after another. One thing for sure, McGuinn is still a highly entertaining performer.
The story goes on for this man of many talents. McGuinn has accomplished a lot in his lifetime and from the looks of it, plans to keep going. And I think that his fans hope that will be the case.
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