Out & About: Top Americana acts visit One Longfellow Square

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This weekend, as the halfway point of winter approaches, two top-notch Americana acts are heading into Portland’s One Longfellow Square.

On Friday, the Farewell Drifters will appear in support of their newest album, “Tomorrow Forever,” which is being released this week.

Dar Williams, a fixture of the modern Americana music scene, is currently touring in support of a very innovative CD. Titled “In the Time of Gods,” it is a showcase of Williams’ songwriting prowess. Two concerts are slated for this Saturday.

Fritz Kreisler was one of the most famous classical violinists and composers of the 20th century. Born in Vienna, he spent much of his creative life in New York. He will be featured in the Portland String Quartet’s Feb. 2 concert.

On Feb. 6, Portland Ovations will present Green Day’s “American Idiot,” an energetic Broadway rock musical that’s built around songs by the top-selling punk band.

Farewell Drifters

One of the hottest bands in Americana-land is headed for Portland this Friday. Farewell Drifters, an 8-year-old Nashville-based quartet boasting multifarious influences and interests, has been doing well on Billboard’s national bluegrass charts. Their 2010 debut album, “Yellow Tag Mondays,” broke into the Top 10 and 2011’s “Echo Boom” peaked at No. 6.

Their third effort, “Tomorrow Forever,” was scheduled for release Jan. 28 and the band will motor into One Longfellow Square for a Jan. 31 concert in support of the 10-song CD.

These guys are good. The songwriting is melodic, and the lyrics abound with pop hooks. The band is characterized by crisp, sophisticated arrangements combined with instrumental prowess.

They’re not entirely original, either. I really like their cover of “California Stars,” which combines contemporary Wilco songwriting with a decades-old Woody Guthrie lyric.

Zach Bevill, the group’s rhythm guitarist and lead singer, likes to place the Drifters somewhere on the musical spectrum between the Beach Boys – citing “Pet Sounds” especially – and bluegrass. Listening to “We Go Together,” one of the new album’s cuts, I also detect a distinct 1950s-era rockabilly sound pleasantly creeping in around the artistic edges.

Catch Farewell Drifters at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Dar Williams

Contemporary social and cultural issues are viewed through an ancient lens in Dar Williams’ most recent album of original songs. “In the Time of Gods” was released nearly two years ago, and Williams, a highly regarded singer-songwriter and Americana exponent, is continuing a long international tour which stops in Portland this Saturday.

The central concept of the album is to re-cast contemporary topics in the form of myths and parables from ancient Greece, drawing parallels and stressing the universal nature of the issues that faced people then and now.

The album’s 10 tracks – four co-written with Ron Hynman – display all of Williams’ many talents, from inventive lyrics and compelling vocal delivery to alluring melodies and propulsive rhythms. I’ve got it spinning on my CD player as I write this, and I’m very impressed with its scope and intriguing viewpoint.

“There really is an epic setting for the album,” explained Williams, who emerged from the Boston coffeehouse scene two decades ago. “I’m at a point in my life where I feel like people are flying higher and falling harder. There is a grown-up fairy-tale feeling to ‘In the Time of Gods.’ It sparkles with simple and beautiful layers, and it’s muscular in places and very lyrical in others.”

Catch Dar Williams on Saturday, Feb. 1, at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Two shows are scheduled: 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Call 761-1757.

Portland String Quartet

In addition to Groundhog Day, Feb. 2 is honored in classical musical circles as the birthday of Fritz Kreisler, an Austrian-born violin prodigy and composer who was prominent in the first half of the 20th century. One of Kreisler’s peculiarities was that many of his compositions were written as pastiches in much older styles, which he presented as newly discovered works by long-dead composers.

One of these will be played this Sunday when the Portland String Quartet – comprising violinists Dean Stein and Ron Lantz, plus violist Julia Adams and cellist Paul Ross – present the second of their 2013-2014 subscription concerts.

“This is going to be a fine Romantic concert,” said Adams.

In 1921, Kreisler attributed his only string quartet to an obscure Italian composer, according to Adams. Despite the musical subterfuge, she insists that Kreisler’s “String Quartet in A Minor” is a thoroughly delightful and Romantic piece that makes a fitting centerpiece of Sunday’s concert.

Johannes Brahms’ “String Quartet No. 2” will co-anchor the program, which will also include Laszlo Weiner’s “Duo for Violin and Viola,” to be performed by Stein and Adams. Weiner was a Hungarian Jewish composer who perished in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

Catch the Portland String Quartet at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.

‘American Idiot’

Disaffected and disengaged youths turn to drugs and sex to find relief from the boredom of suburbia and the excesses of electronic media. That’s the basic concept of “American Idiot,” the 2010 Broadway musical that was based on Green Day’s earlier rock opera of the same name.

Much of the music and libretto was written by Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day’s co-founder, lead singer, guitarist and principal writer. Green Day – the name was inspired by marijuana – is a punk rock band that has been extraordinarily successful, selling 75 million records worldwide since its 1989 start in California. Included in that total are 15 million copies of “American Idiot,” the album and its title song.

The Broadway show, which includes all of the numbers from the rock opera plus a few additional Green Day songs, boasts enormous musical energy and vitality. But the theater critics weren’t overly impressed with “American Idiot”; the Tony Awards Committee passed over it for the big honors and the show closed after a run of only a year.

It did win Tonys for Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting, plus it copped the Grammy Award for Best Original Cast Recording of a Musical. Several national and international touring productions have been quite successful.

Portland Ovations presents a national touring production of Green Day’s “American Idiot” at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

Dar Williams is a top-notch Americana artist who will perform two concerts at One Longfellow Square in Portland this Saturday.