Out & About: Cosby at Merrill, big weekend at One Longfellow Square

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A multiple Grammy- and multiple Emmy-winning comedian and several award-winning musicians are the top acts in Portland this weekend.

Portland Ovations hosts comedian Bill Cosby, the much-loved star of television and concert halls, for two shows on Saturday.

It’s a big musical weekend at One Longfellow Square, with three appealing acts slated in a span of three days.

First up on Friday is the Duke Robillard Band. Robillard is recognized as one of the master blues artists of our time, having copped the Blues Music Awards honors for Best Blues Guitarist four times in the past decade.

Saturday and Sunday feature Celtic and Celtic-inspired artists. Irish-born Susan McKeown, a Grammy Award-winning vocalist, will perform on Saturday. She’s got a new CD coming out at the end of this month.

Then on Sunday, harpist-vocalist Maeve Gilchrist is the star of her own CD release party. In addition to Gilchrist’s own performance, she’s invited a host of others to make music with her. These include Darol Anger, a local fiddling phenom, and Naia, a Maine-based Celtic harp-flute duo.

Bill Cosby

Comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician and social activist: Those are some of the occuptional titles sported by Bill Cosby.

He’s also been described as an American treasure, and his trove of good humor will open for all this Saturday with two performances under the aegis of Portland Ovations.

Cosby’s been a show business star for more than 40 years. I remember his first big TV hit series of the 1960s, “I Spy,” a fantasy sci-fi series that co-starred the late Robert Culp. That show earned him three Emmy Awards. His own shows, dating from the 1970s into the 1980s, made him an icon of American culture, supported by movie appearances, records – which copped an incredible total of seven Grammy Awards – plus countless national and international tours as a standup comic.

Portland Ovations presents Bill Cosby at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 16 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Duke Robillard

He goes by many titles: guitarist, bandleader, songwriter, singer, producer and session player. Plus he’s a one-man cheering section for the blues, in all its myriad forms and permutations.

Duke Robillard, the many-faceted bluesman, will be visiting One Longfellow Square in Portland this Friday with his eponymous band.

With a career that spans more than four decades, you might be tempted to think that the 62-year-old Robillard might be slowing down a bit and resting on his many laurels.

Hardly. He recorded and released three new CDs last year, and launched an entirely new project that recalls and honors the memory of Billie Holiday. He’s on the road much of the time, playing as many as 250 dates per year.

Born in Rhode Island, Robillard broke into the national spotlight in 1967 by co-founding the seminal band, Roomful of Blues. He’s also been the guitarist with the Fabulous Thunderbirds as well as a sideman and session player for dozens upon dozens of artists and recording projects, including Jimmy Witherspoon, Pinetop Perkins and Bob Dylan.

The Blues Music Awards – formerly the W.C. Handy Awards – named Robillard as Best Blues Guitarist four years out of five (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004), making him the second most honored guitarist for that category. He was also nominated in 2005, 2007 and 2008.

Similar honors were accorded by the Canadian Blues Association and the French Blues Association. He’s been nominated for two Grammy Awards, most recently for one of last year’s recordings.

One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State) in Portland presents the Duke Robillard Band at 8 p.m. Oct. 15. Call 761-1757.

Susan McKeown

Susan McKeown began singing on the streets of her native Dublin as a teenager before moving across the Atlantic to New York on a couple of music scholarships. This month marks her 20th year in this country, and in that time span she’s recorded 10 CDs, including a Grammy Award-winner, gaining a reputation as singer-songwriter who focuses on hard-edged topics: artists struggling with depression, drugs and self-destruction.

With her latest album, McKeown is turning away from those grim subjects and turning to classical poetry for inspiration. Creativity, suffering and passion are the stated themes for “Singing in the Dark,” due for release at the end of this month. McKeown’s rich contralto voice and powerfully inventive lyrics will be showcased at One Longfellow Square at 8 p.m. Oct. 16. Call 761-1757.

Maeve Gilchrist and friends

Born in Scotland to an Irish mother and Scottish father, Maeve Gilchrist grew up immersed in traditional Celtic music. At the age of 17 she was awarded a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she studied voice and harp, quickly becoming an in-demand member of the Boston jazz and world music scenes.

Currently based in New York City, Gilchrist continues to blend together her roots with jazz and Latin music, gaining international acclaim for her fresh, multicultural sound.

She’s throwing a CD release party for her newest CD, “Reaching Me,” at One Longfellow Square, inviting a number of local musicians to perform with her. These include fiddler Darol Anger and Naia, a Celtic-inspired duo comprising harpist Danielle Langord and flutist Nicole Rabata. Time is 7:30 p.m. Call 761-1757.

Portland music scene

Last week my girlfriend and I were leaving a concert at One Longfellow Square, walking east on Congress Street. A few doors down we heard happy strains of Celtic fiddle music filtering out of Blue, an ultra-cozy cafe that hosts nightly musical performances from Wednesdays to Saturday.

Ducking into Blue for a few minutes, we noticed quite a lively scene: Half a dozen fiddlers and a couple of guitarists – plus a banjo picker for good measure. We had bumped into the weekly Wednesday “Irish night,” and the turnout for this impromptu gathering was full of high spirits and bursting with energy.

Both of us had mourned the recent passing of the North Star Music Cafe, which had been one of our favorite haunts. But the scene at Blue reminded us that Portland’s music scene is still very vibrant, especially along the Congress Street corridor.

And two of the most interesting lie within a span of a few dozen yards. One Longfellow Square is Portland’s best small showcase for national and regional acts, while tiny Blue is the city’s top spot for truly intimate entertainment.

Sidebar Elements

Naia is harpist Danielle Langord and flutist Nicole Rabata, who specialize in Celtic music.