Out & About: 2 music festivals, 2 singer-songwriters

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With the passing of the solstice on Wednesday, the performing arts calendar certainly swings into summer mode. This first “Out & About” of summer looks at two music festivals plus a pair of singer-songwriters.

The Maine Festival of American Music wraps up this weekend with a pair of concerts at the Shaker Village in New Gloucester. Then on Monday the Bowdoin International Music Festival begins its six-week run in Brunswick.

Richard Thompson is the dean of singer-songwriters from the British Isles. This year he’s celebrating his 50th anniversary as a professional artist, and you can catch him in Westbrook on Friday.

BJ Barham comes from a tiny town in North Carolina, and his debut solo album reflects his upbringing. He visits Portland this Sunday.

Maine Festival of American Music

Two concerts representing contrasting approaches to string instruments wrap up the 12th annual Maine Festival of American Music this weekend.

Hosted by the Portland String Quartet at the world’s only active Shaker community, this festival celebrates American music as well as its European influences and antecedents. Concerts take place in the 1794 Shaker meetinghouse, one of the oldest buildings in Maine.

Franco-American fiddling is featured this Friday, when the Don Roy Trio takes the floor. Comprising Roy, his wife Cindy and bassist Jay Young, this Gorham-based threesome has roots deep in Canada’s Maritime Provinces and Quebec. Another Maine ensemble, Rossby and Elsie Arnott, a brother-sister fiddling duo from Otisfield, will also perform on Friday.

On Saturday the PSQ will take the floor. The featured work will be the late Elliott Schwartz’s String Quartet No. 3, subtitled, “A Portrait for Deedee.” From 1964 until his death late last year, Schwartz was Maine’s leading classical composer and frequent collaborator with the PSQ. Two other composers on Saturday’s program, Franz Joseph Haydn and Antonin Dvorak, represent the European Classical and Romantic styles.

Both concerts are slated for 7 p.m. at the Shaker Meetinghouse, Shaker Road (Old Route 26) in New Gloucester. Call 926-4597 or visit MaineShakers.com.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

Since 1965, some of the world’s most accomplished classical musicians have been joined by a couple of hundred of the world’s most promising future artists for six weeks of concertizing and teaching on the Bowdoin College campus.

The Bowdoin International Music Festival is by far Maine’s biggest classical music event of the summer, boasting more than 50 public performances nearly every day between late June and early August. For its first 50 years it was directed by co-founder Lewis Kaplan, who remains involved as a pedagogue and performing artist.

Succeeding Kaplan are co-directors David and Phillip Ying, cellist and violist with the Ying Quartet. This year’s faculty numbers 61; they hail from top conservatories in America and Europe. Each summer about 240 students, ranging from pre-conservatory to post-graduate, study at Bowdoin.

Three subscription concert series are offered. The Monday Showcase series entirely comprises internationally notable string quartets, beginning June 26 with the Yings. Festival Wednesdays and Festival Fridays are the other two series. The latter sometimes includes a full orchestra. The Friday concerts are held at Brunswick High School; most others are held on the Bowdoin College campus.

Artists of Tomorrow concerts, featuring top festival students, are held most other evenings, plus there’s an extensive calendar of afternoon Community Concerts held in various towns along the Midcoast.

The Charles E. Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music is held during the main festival’s fifth week. It mostly showcases living composers, including each summer’s composer-in-residence plus works by festival composition students.

I’ve been a regular attendee at the Bowdoin festival for about 15 years, and I plan to go a number of evenings this summer.

For more information, call 725-3895 or visit BowdoinFestival.org.

Richard Thompson

One of Britain’s most-honored musicians is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a professional this year.

In late summer of 1967, 18-year-old guitar wiz Richard Thompson was a founding member of Fairport Convention, a seminal folk-rock ensemble that defined that musical movement in the British Isles at the time.

A few years later Thompson struck out on his own as a solo singer-songwriter-guitarist, and that’s how he’ll be appearing this Friday in Westbrook.

With 25 major albums to his name, the most recent dating from 2015, Thompson has accumulated some serious cred in the music business. My personal favorite song of his is “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” a tragic ballad about James, a petty criminal with a penchant for trouble who owns the iconic motorcycle, and his girlfriend, Red Molly.

As Thompson wryly explains: “It’s a simple boy-meets-girl story, complicated somewhat by the presence of a motorcycle.”

Thompson has accumulated many awards and honors over the years. Among the most recent is Officer of the Order of the British Empire, bestowed by Queen Elizabeth six years ago to recognize Thompson’s unique and longstanding position at the top of England’s folk-rock movement.

Although most of his many awards cite his songwriting talents, Rolling Stone has also recognized Thompson’s instrumental wizardry, naming him one of the top 20 guitarists of all time.

Dave McLaughlin’s Heptunes presents Richard Thompson at 8 p.m. June 23 at Westbrook Performing Arts Center, 471 Stroudwater St. Visit HeptunesConcerts.com.

BJ Barham

Singer-songwriter-guitarist BJ Barham is best known for his work with American Aquarium, the alt-country band that he’s fronted for more than a decade. But Barham released his debut solo album last summer and is currently touring the America’s “Lower 48” states in support. Portland will be the approximate halfway point on the tour when he passes through this Sunday evening.

“Rockingham” is the title, and its eight songs, all penned by Barham in a matter of a few days on a 2015 European tour, reflect his North Carolina hometown, a once-thriving small city with an economy supported by the twin pillars of tobacco and textiles. With both industries now in decline, Barham explores different perspectives on his boyhood home and looks at some of its current and former denizens.

“It’s a stripped-down record about small town life,” says Barham. “I think those kind of records resonate with people because there’s way more small town people.”

Here’s a sample of the lyric from the title cut: “Won’t you take me back to where I’m from/Where the air’s as thick as tobacco gum?/Where I was born, where I was raised/On broken promises and glory days.”

Catch BJ Barham at 8 p.m. June 25 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Richard Thompson is the dean of England’s singer-songwriters. This year Thompson is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a professional musician, and his international tour visits Westbrook on Friday.

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