Out & About: Bela Fleck, Richard Thompson in concert
August is winding down, and summer vacations will soon end for some kids. And Maine’s vibrant summer arts and entertainment schedule is slowly winding down, too.
But the slowdown has a measured pace, and there’s still a flurry of final summer activities over the next couple of weeks, including visits by two major musical touring acts. Both have a common thread of crossing artistic boundaries and jumping genres.
First up is this Saturday’s concert by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. A banjo virtuoso, Fleck is one of the world’s most innovative musicians. Fleck and his band have a flair for cross-genre styles. Catch them Aug. 27 in Portland.
Another top act for this coming week is Britain’s longtime troubadour, singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson. He got started in the folk scene of the 1960s, and some say Thompson’s still at the peak of his creative powers. You can check out those claims at Westbrook’s new performing arts center on Aug. 31.
Go for Baroque this weekend, when the White Mountain Bach Festival wraps up its 28th year with a trio of concerts in Fryeburg featuring mostly musicians from Maine.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Multiple Grammy Award-winning banjo picker who plays with classical symphony orchestras: That’s a highlight-reel summary of the career of Bela Fleck, a former Boston street busker who has blossomed into a crossover artist and redefined the meaning of banjo on today’s world music scene.
Fleck gained his first national exposure with New Grass Revival, a progressive bluegrass group that Fleck played with for nine years, and the title of his 1979 first solo album presaged things to come: “Crossing the Tracks.”
His long career has included artistic forays into pop, jazz, country, fusion, world music and occasional appearances with classical orchestras, most notably in a double concerto for banjo and bass that he co-wrote and plays with double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer and debuted with the Nashville Symphony. One of Fleck’s nine Grammy Awards came from another collaboration with Meyer and other classical musicians.
Nowadays he mostly tours with the Flecktones, a band he formed in 1988. Two of Fleck’s Grammys have come from recordings with this ensemble.
WCLZ presents Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at 8 p.m. Aug. 27 at the State Theatre, 609 Congress St. in Portland. Call 956-6000.
Richard Thompson may be close to the age when most people retire, but he’s still hard at work at three jobs he’s done so well for nearly 50 years: songwriting, singing and playing the guitar. And you can find him working those three jobs on Aug. 31 in Westbrook, when Dave McLaughlin’s Heptunes presents the British-born artist for his first Maine visit in three years.
Despite his 62 years, this decade may mark one of the most prolific periods of Thompson’s astonishing career. His recent CD, “Dream Attic,” was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Contemporary Folk Album, and he curated London’s prestigious 2010 Meltdown Festival at South Bank Centre. For his long service to music he found his name on the Queen’s 2011 New Year Honours List as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
You can also call him “Doctor,” for his honorary doctorate from an Australian university.
Thompson’s genre-defying mastery of both acoustic and electric guitar, along with his dizzying energy and onstage wit, continue to earn him generations of new fans and a place as one of the most distinctive and iconoclastic virtuosos in rock history. His ever-present black beret adds visual identity.
His personal professional history began in 1967 as a member of Fairport Convention, where his dazzling guitar stylings first impressed listeners. Soon audiences – and producers and promoters – started appreciating his songwriting talents, too. After leaving Fairport Convention’s regular lineup, he teamed up with wife Linda as a folk-rock duo for a decade. Since splitting with Linda Thompson, he been performing mostly as a solo act with small backing band for the past 30 years.
A brief listing of his discography numbers 20 releases in his own name, plus many dozens more as guitarist and collaborator; count dozens more recordings where another artist has covered a Thompson tune.
His song “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” from 1991’s “Rumor and Sigh” CD, is a personal favorite of mine and an obvious favorite with the myriad artists who have covered it.
The opening act will be Robin Lane, a fixture of the 1970s folk scene in Los Angeles, where she sang on Neil Young’s landmark album “After the Gold Rush.” In the late 1970s she formed a group called Robin Lane and the Chartbusters and became one of the first rock divas to achieve steady rotation on MTV. She and the Chartbusters are currently putting together a documentary chronicling the group’s history.
Heptunes presents Richard Thompson and Robin Lane at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center (471 Stroudwater St.) at 7 p.m. Aug. 31. Call 978-462-9630.
White Mountain Bach Festival
Although the White Mountain Bach Festival is entering its 28th season, the performers have mostly been Mainers in recent years. That’s because four years ago the festival named violinist/violist/conductor Rob Lehmann as music director, and he’s gathered many of his colleagues from the Portland area, where he teaches at the University of Southern Maine and directs several musical ensembles.
And starting last year the White Mountain Bach Festival’s main concerts have been held in Maine, in the new Leura Eastman Performing Arts Center on the Fryeburg Academy campus.
The finale of the festival will be three concerts Aug. 26-28. Performers will include pianist Frank Glazer, a remarkably active nonagenarian who lives in Topsham and still teaches at Bates College, and Ashley Emerson, Maine’s rising young operatic soprano who starred in this past summer’s PORTopera production of “Daughter of the Regiment.”
Other performers include members of the Portland Symphony Orchestra and the Southern Maine Symphony, the latter directed by Lehmann. The Bach Festival Chorus comprises singers from Maine and New Hampshire under the direction of Paul McGovern, who is also the chorus master for PORTopera.
The repertoire is worth the drive. Selections obviously focus on compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, but will also include other Baroque masters such as George Frideric Handel. No other music festival in the region includes so much Baroque.
White Mountain Bach Festival concerts are slated for Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon. For detailed information, call 603-356-5935 or visit mwvevents.com.