Artist Profiles, Concert Reviews, Music

Sara Niemietz in Twenty Twenty

Without any doubt, musician and singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz has made lemonade out of lemons during the year 2020. In a year where the COVID-19 pandemic reeked-havoc, music artists across America had to come up with new ways to make their music happen.

Obviously, Niemietz wasn’t the only person to have their world turn upside down, as all live concerts and performances ceased to occur. Despite the gloomy world outlook, Sara created new and different ways to bring music to her fans, with various online presentations.

So who is Sara Niemietz?  Born in Chicago Illinois, Niemietz started her career as a child actress, performing in theatre productions, television shows, film roles and multiple musical performances. To read more about Sara’s many non-musical accomplishments, please go to her official website:    https://www.saraniemietz.com/

Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz. Photo by Jeff Xander Photography

Now as an adult, Sara has focused exclusively on being a musician, singing and writing music. During the past decade, Niemietz has collaborated with W.G. Snuffy Walden, who is a musician and a composer. Walden has accompanied Sara on various music projects. Some are cover versions of songs, while other tunes are original compositions.

The other big activity for Niemietz is being involved with Scott Bradlee’s, Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) group. PMJ is known for taking popular 21st century contemporary songs and rearranging those songs into a different musical style. Many of the PMJ songs are performed in 1920’s jazz or swing format.

For anyone interested in reading more about Sara’s musical accomplishments prior to 2020, I had the opportunity to write her musical story on DJ Dave’s Musical Musings during April 2019.  You can view Sara Niemietz: Born For the Stage here:  https://woodsonrva.com/2019/04/12/sara-niemietz-born-for-the-stage/

Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography

With this latest music blog message on Niemietz, I communicated with Sara multiple times via email about her musical activities over the past 9 months.

At the start of 2020, things looked promising for Niemietz.  Plans to record a live album actually took place during February.  Sara also had scheduled concert tours to take place in the spring and summer.  However, Coronavirus changed all plans starting in mid-March.

 As Scottish Poet Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  All live concerts, shows and performances came to a screeching halt.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Julien Garros

I asked Sara about her quarantine and social/distancing engagements when lockdowns started happening in her home state of California. She outlined to me about the wide range of new ventures she participated in, which differed from normal musical activities prior to COVID-19 pandemic days.

Over the course of the next 9 months, Niemietz utilized many new functions to keep active with her music fans on social media.  Sara coped and survived during the Coronavirus crisis by implementing fresh alternatives to live concerts:

  •  Live virtual mini concerts

Although Niemietz regularly performed mini concerts virtually prior to COVID-19, she ramped up the number of these online interactions on social media platforms.  The vast majority of the mini concerts were in the comfort of her own home: With Sara playing a variety of instruments (guitar, bass, keyboard and kazoo).

  • Sixty Second Sara videos

Early on during the Coronavirus outbreak, Niemietz created short videos that lasted around 60 seconds.  Some of the videos Sara generated were original compositions while other performances utilized cover versions of popular existing songs.

  •  Saraband

With a computer, sound board, musical instruments and various other audio equipment, Niemietz “cloned” herself and created “Saraband.”  The  Saraband video for the Smokey Robinson cover song, “You’ve Really Got a Hold of Me” is absolutely brilliant.

  •  Weekly Wacky Wednesday

Like clockwork, every Wednesday afternoon during the COVID-19 pandemic, Niemietz holds a weekly virtual live stream on social media. With these Internet performances, Sara performs a wide variety of songs and she encourages major interaction with her fans during these weekly sessions.

  • Saranade Podcast

At the beginning of November 2020, Niemietz produced her first podcast called Saranade.  Her debut message featured the song, “Don’t Walk Me Home” which is the third song on Sara’s new, “twentytwenty” live album.  I personally enjoyed listening to the first podcast: Niemietz did an excellent job imparting information and mixing in her music, for a pleasing balance of verbal communication and musical harmony.

Saranade Podcast audio link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1455049/6151573-episode-1-don-t-walk-me-home-the-411-on-twentytwenty

Sound engineer during the recording sessions of Sara’s “Twentytwenty” album.

Another major project that Niemietz worked on during the summer months was putting together a new live album which came to be called “twentytwenty.”  Sara, Snuffy Walden and a group of hand-picked musicians, performed two Santa Monica, California concerts in front of live audiences, during late February. The plan was to release a live album from these two shows, around the beginning of the summer. 

Just a couple of weeks after recording the February concerts, COVID-19 pandemic raged in America.  Once again, Niemietz had to switch gears with music endeavors and postpone the release date of her new “twentytwenty” album until October. 

Sara, Snuffy, musicians and singers during “twentytwenty” album recording sessions.

Before I give my overview of the new “twentytwenty” album, I want to share some of my email conversations that I had with Niemietz and her responses to my questions on how she dealt with the Coronavirus shutdown as a musician.

DJ Dave:    Please share anything related about the two concerts during late February that resulted in the “twentytwenty” album?

Sara:  It was a supreme joy to play with my friends, knowing this night would be captured forever! With that in mind, one could think the pressure would be high, but there was such a lovely, relaxed atmosphere in the room. The audience were close friends and select fans, so we could feel the love from the stage!

DJ Dave:   Can you tell me about the process of taking the live concert tapes and making them into the final product of a new album?

Sara:  It certainly helped keep us occupied during COVID lockdown! There was a lot of excel sheet making and note taking on my end, as Snuffy and I listened to the shows and decided which takes from which nights we’d use. It was like living the show all over again! Many times, in fact. A first for me, we could not all be in the room during the mixing process. Snuffy, George Landress (our mixing engineer for a decade), and I passed many files back and forth. Plenty of FaceTimes later, we got it all finished!

DJ Dave:   Do you have any comments about the recording of individual songs on the “twentytwenty” album?

Sara:  Our goal on this album was to capture a moment in time. Snuffy and I have been playing shows together for a decade and we wanted to capture the magic of a live show – really document this moment – and share it with listeners. I love studio recording and that environment is my second home, but there is something about playing live that is very hard to capture unless you’re there… in the room… with people… on a stage!

DJ Dave:  Describe being an independent musician/singer/songwriter without a major record label contract?

Sara:  Yes indeed! I am in it for the long haul. Nothing against all of the different paths musicians take to get their songs out there, but the indie path has been good to me. Miraculously, the album landed on the Top 100 Albums list on Billboard, which is very rare for an indie. It is really thanks to those that listen. I know everyone says “I have the best fans… yada yada…” but seriously – these friends of mine are the best and I am so grateful for their support. I feel weird saying “fans” because I just feel like we are all a bunch of wacky music lovers hanging out together.

Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz. Photo by Jeff Xander Photography

The day before “twentytwenty” was released on October 16, Sara and her musical partner Snuffy Walden, held a live stream virtual concert to promote her new album.  Joining Niemietz and Walden at this show were Jonathan Richards, Martin Diller, Andrew Kesler, Alex Nester, Mollie Weaver, Mihi Nihil, MWO and Kiya Schafer.

Most of the band members who played with Sara and Snuffy during the October 15th album premier concert, were also part of the two February shows, which culminated in Sara’s newest LP, “twentytwenty.”  The album was recorded live at Apogee Studio, Santa Monica, California, and all songs were produced by Niemietz and Walden.

From the “twentytwenty”  liner notes, here are the artists and musicians who performed on the live compilation album:

  • Guitar – W.G. Snuffy Walden
  • Guitar – Sara Niemietz
  • Piano – Andrew Kesler
  • Drums – Martin Diller
  • Bass – Jonathan Richards
  • Vocals- Sara Niemietz
  • Background Vocals – Alex Nester
  • Background Vocals – Mollie Weaver

There are 17 songs on the “twentytwenty” album.  Five of the selections are cover versions, while the other twelve songs on the live set are originals.   Niemietz is credited with writing or co-writing all 12 of the original songs:  Sara also shares co-writing credits with Snuffy Walden, along with a handful of other musical artists, on the outstanding compositions.

Here is the song order listing for the “twentytwenty” live recording:

  • Smile
  • I Smile
  • Don’t Walk Me Home
  • Made to Last
  • Monroe
  • Let Me Be
  • The Nearness of You
  • Go With the Flow
  • All Your Love
  • Feet Don’t Touch the Floor
  • Calling You
  • Hear Me Now
  • Out of Order
  • Shine
  • Waiting On the Day
  • On Ten
  • Stand By Me
My personal CD copy of “twentytwenty” autographed by Sara

Instrumentally, Sara and her band play a wide variety musical genres on the “twentytwenty.”    The musicians flow seamlessly combining pop, rock, jazz, blues, folk and country throughout the course of any given song. 

As I have listened repeatedly to the new live album, I have been impressed with the quality of musicianship with the band.  The live performances of existing songs from Sara’s musical catalog, brings new energy and freshness to many of the beloved tunes that Niemietz has recorded from past studio albums.

Of course, the main attraction of ‘twentytwenty” is the voice of Sara Niemietz.  Adjectives like exceptional, spectacular, incredible and impressive all come to my mind when I try to convey Sara’s accomplished vocal range. Niemietz expresses vocal excellence throughout her new live album set.

While there are many marvelous songs on Sara’s new album, I will be highlighting just a few of the sensational tunes with my review. I would encourage you to purchase a copy of “twentytwenty” so that you can discover and enjoy the full range of songs that Niemietz released last month.

Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography

When I survey the setlist of Sara’s new album, I am struck by a possibly unintentional foreshadowing of dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic.  The first two songs that Niemietz and her band played in late February, just a few weeks before COVID-19 consumed America, were “Smile” and “I Smile.”

  • Smile: Written by Charlie Chaplin, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons (1936/1954)

“Smile, though your heart is aching, Smile, even though it’s breaking,

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by

If you smile through your fear and sorrow, Smile and maybe tomorrow,

You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”

  • I Smile: Written by Kirk Franklin, James Harris, Terry Lewis and Frederick Tackett (2011)

“Today’s a new day, but there is no sunshine, Nothing but clouds, and it’s dark in my heart,

And it feels like a cold night, Today’s a new day, where are my blue skies

Where is the love and the joy that you promised me, Tell me it’s alright,

I almost gave up, but a power that I can’t explain, Fell from heaven like a shower

I smile, even though I hurt see I smile,  I know God is working so I smile, Even though I’ve been here for a while, I smile, smile.”

There is an overriding theme with the above two songs and with many other tunes that Niemietz recorded for the new album:  When times are bad and bleak, don’t give up.  Smile.  Things will get better. This affirming message from Sara is powerful and is encouraging for me as I navigate through these final troubled months of 2020.

  • Monroe

Perhaps the most melodic song on the new live album is “Monroe.”  This tender ballad features Sara on acoustic guitar and outstanding standup bass playing from Jonathan Richards.  Niemietz provides superb emotional outpouring with her heavenly vocals on this wonderful tune. This selection is my current favorite on “twentytwenty.”

  • Made To Last

Snuffy Walden is an excellent guitarist and his guitar presentation on “Made to Last” is absolutely transcendent.  I appreciate Walden’s world-class guitar licks and the interplay of the other musicians with Sara’s stellar vocal range.  The tune has an infectious rhythmic section and is a hot rocking, flame throwing masterpiece.

  • On Ten

One of the encore songs for Sara during her February concerts is the lively, “On Ten.”  Musically, the song is a crown jewel:  A combination of rock, pop, jazz, blues and old school funk.  The band is in hyper-drive as they lay down fast-paced, up tempo grooves on this unforgettable musical treat.  Sara and the musicians are joyful performing this celebratory delight.

I highly recommend Sara’s live set compilation. For those who do not yet own a copy of the new album, here is the link to order this outstanding performance from Niemietz and her band.  Available in different formats:  Vinyl, DVD, CD and Digital Download:   https://www.saraniemietz.com/music

With anyone who is new to Sara’s music, her “twentytwenty” album is an excellent introduction and overview of the music Niemietz has recorded over the past 10 years.  No matter if you have been a fan for years or just learning about Sara’s music for the first time:  The “twentytwenty”  live set should be considered a priority, for adding to all personal music libraries.

Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography

The year of 2020 has been extremely hard, unpredictable and sometimes down right depressing for those around the world.  This is especially true for music artists.  With live concerts not being an option during COVID-19 pandemic, performers like Sara has turned negative situations into positive outcomes.

I imagine that Sara will be singing a cover of Wet Willie’s 1974 hit, “Keep on Smilin” into the year 2021.

“Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain

Rollin with the changes til the sun comes out again

Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain

Rollin with the changes, singin’ this refrain”

Turning lemons into lemonade is what Sara Niemietz has done throughout the year of 2020.  I am confident that she will continue the same course of action until Coronavirus has subsided in our world.  Keep on smiling, Sara!  Rock on!

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Concert Reviews, Music, Retro Rock

Ringo Starr: With a Little Help From My Friends

 

What would you think if I sang out of tune?

Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song

And I’ll try not to sing out of key

 

Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,

Yes I get by with a little help from my friends,

With a little help from my friends

 

Imagine being 79 years old, headlining a rock concert tour and playing songs that were popular last century: Would you need a little help from your friends to pull off a successful concert tour? Most folks would probably say “yes” in answering that question.

Richard Starkey, professionally known as Ringo Starr, wasn’t afraid to ask for some help on his latest concert tour. In fact, Ringo’s All Starr Band provided a great deal of help to the drummer who first rose to superstardom as a member of the Beatles.

On Tuesday August 13th, Ringo and His All Starr Band came to Roanoke, Virginia, performing at the Berglund Center. For those who attended the show, Ringo and his band put on an excellent performance.

Founded 30 years ago, Ringo’s All Starr Band is actually a rock supergroup. Its members are all renowned musicians and instrumentalists who played in other prominent bands prior to joining Ringo’s rock group. Here are the current members of the All Starr Band and the former bands and artists associated with each member:

Ringo Starr – vocals, drums, piano (Beatles)

Colin Hay – guitar, vocals (Men at Work)

Hamish Stuart – bass, guitar, vocals (Average White Band, Paul McCartney)

Gregg Bissonette – drums, backing vocals (David Lee Roth)

Steve Lukather – guitars, vocals (Toto)

Gregg Rolie – organ, vocals (Santana, Journey)

Warren Ham – saxophone, keyboards, percussion, vocals (Kansas, AD, Toto)

Ringo Starr at Roanoke Concert 8/13/19 Photo by Sammy Oakey

The setlist for Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band consisted of 24 songs. Ringo performed 12 songs, while Gregg Rolie, Steve Lukather, Hamish Stuart and Colin Hay performed three songs each.

Ringo’s Setlist

  1. Matchbox (Beatles)
  2. It Don’t Come Easy (Solo)
  3. What Goes On (Beatles)
  4. Boys (Beatles)
  5. Don’t Pass Me By (Beatles)
  6. Yellow Submarine (Beatles)
  7. You’re Sixteen (Solo)
  8. Anthem (Solo)
  9. I Wanna be Your Man (Beatles)
  10. Photograph (Solo)
  11. Act Naturally (Beatles)
  12. With a Little Help From My Friends (Beatles)

(Give Peace a Chance: Chorus)

Gregg Rollie’s Setlist

  1. Evil Ways (Santana)
  2. Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen (Santana)
  3. Oye Como Va (Santana)

Steve Lukather’s Setlist

  1. Rosanna (Toto)
  2. Africa (Toto)
  3. Hold the Line (Toto)

Hamish Stuart’s Setlist

  1. Pick Up the Pieces (Average White Band)
  2. Cut the Cake (Average White Band)
  3. Work to Do (Isley Brothers/Average White band)

Colin Hay’s Setlist

  1. Down Under (Men at Work)
  2. Overkill (Men at Work)
  3. Who Can It Be Now (Men at Work)

Although Ringo had played at other venues in Virginia, this was the first time the Beatles’ drummer performed a show in Roanoke. It was also the first time that my wife Priscilla and I had ever attended a show with Ringo and His All Starr Band.

Just after Priscilla and I parked our car at the Berglund Center lot, we ran into my friend Dave Delaney, and then Dave introduced me to his friend Randy Lohr.

As the four of us waited in line to gain entry into the concert venue, I asked Delaney and Lohr if they could submit their comments to me after the show. Both agreed to share their thoughts with me and I am going to be sharing their comments below. I will also be sharing comments from some other friends and acquaintances that also attended the concert.

Priscilla and David Woodson before Ringo concert. Photo by Alice Webber

Before I share the comments on Ringo’s show, I am going to reveal the most common thread among every single person submitting their thoughts to me: Everyone said they were extremely disappointed and could not understand why there was no encore at the end of the concert.

The last song of the evening was “With a Little Help from My Friends,” along with the chorus of “Give Peace a Chance.” There was no encore and fans were not happy. Surely, Ringo and His All Starr Band could have performed songs like, “Back Off Boogaloo,” “The No No Song,” or “Goodnight Vienna” for encore songs? The lack of an encore was a major letdown for the crowd at the end of the evening.

Here now are thoughts and comments about Ringo’s show from those who attended the concert.

Dave Delaney (Roanoke, Virginia):

“The whole All-Starr Band was great as always, with Colin Hay from Men at Work as the surprise standout, such a distinctive voice! Even if he is a little bit stiff on stage. Steve Lukather on guitar is as impressive as ever. If there were any disappointments, it was that Ringo didn’t make any mention of being in “The Star City of the South” – how could you not say something about that?

“The Average White Band songs were fun to hear, but kind of fell flat in terms of featuring Hamish Stuart (which is the point of doing the “All Starr” songs). It could have been any cover band or this band covering any song. Other big surprise: apparently low attendance! I saw large sections of seats with no one in them. Based on the enthusiasm we get for “1964 The Tribute” every year, I would have thought there were a lot more Beatle/Ringo fans in Roanoke and the surrounding area.”

Randy Lohr (Richmond, Virginia):

“Ringo, in this setting, was the gracious host who was willing to give up the chance to play more of his songs so that his fellow artists could perform their big hits and entertain the crowd with them. It was like a great mix-tape of curated classic rock from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s, ranging from the jam rock of Santana to the Brit funk of Average White Band, from the pop rock of Toto to the quirky new wave of Men At Work. Each of the “All Starrs” – Greg Rolie, Hamish Stuart, Steve Lukather, and Colin Hay – had an obvious blast playing back-up roles for each other, I think in deference to the ultimate back-up player in the house, Ringo himself!

“The concert started promptly at 7:30 (fitting for a musician whose job is to set the time!) and ended almost exactly two hours later at 9:30, with a rousing rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends” (got a little goose-bumpy again as Ringo sang those first lines – so perfect) and then a pseudo-encore of “Give Peace A Chance,” for which Ringo ran back on stage to help finish, flashing his signature peace sign, and wishing us all well.”

Ringo Starr Roanoke Concert 8/13/19 Photo by Sammy Oakey

Sammy Oakey (Roanoke, Virginia):

“Any 79 year old who ends their two-hour concert by doing jumping jacks on stage has my respect, not that Richard Starkey lacked that before his recent Roanoke concert on August 13th. The current collection of All Starr Band members truly complement Ringo’s style and music, and the entire concert was enjoyable for the many generations that attended.

“While I love the songs that Ringo selected to sing, they’re the same numbers that he has been performing for several decades now, and I yearn for a few of his more obscure nuggets. “Only You”, “Octopus’ Garden”, and “”Goodnight Vienna” would surely be great additions to his show.

“Ringo looked and sounded great! While it was a blast to see him front and center at the microphone, it was equally exciting to see him climb up on his drum kit and play along to the other band members’ songs. He looked SO at ease on drums, and the years melted away with each beat of his drums. Having Greg Bissonette on the other drum kit was a great idea, as his stellar percussion and superb stage presence make him a true unsung hero.

“Instrumentalist Warren Ham also added a great deal to the show, with his various instrumental skills as well as some high vocals during “Africa”. While I enjoyed Steve Luthaker, Greg Rawley, and Colin Hay, I’d say my favorite band member (after Sir Ringo, of course!) was Hamish Stuart. The former Average White Band (and Paul McCartney band) member was more than stellar on his numbers, showing that he has lost none of his funk from the 70’s. “

Anne Fox (Roanoke, Virginia):

“I’ve loved Ringo since elementary school and would have gone to see him even if he just stood on stage and smiled. I found him funny and engaging and enjoyed all of his songs, esp. “Yellow Submarine” and “A Little Help From My Friends”. But the best treats of the evening came from his All Star Band, my favorites were from Santana and Toto. “Hold the Line” was great! From where we were sitting, the dialogue was difficult to understand. All in all, I had a delightful time and LOVED seeing Ringo!”

Ringo Starr Roanoke Concert 8/13/19 Photo By David Woodson

Alice Webber (Salem, Virginia):

“I was super excited about seeing Ringo. Probably my last chance to see a Beatle. I wish he had sung a few more Beatles songs. “Octopus’s Garden” would have been nice instead of “You’re 16” (which makes me cringe every time I hear it.) But overall it was really special to see him, he was a great showman, great with the audience, and you could tell he enjoyed the men he shared the stage with. What I didn’t expect (because I did no research) was the caliber of his All Starr band! Hearing “Africa,” “Down Under,” “Evil Ways” and the others was a wonderful surprise. The whole night was GREAT! Loved it!”

Stevie Holcomb (Roanoke, Virginia)

“Great concert, of course he has a way to let his All Stars have their moment without making you wish there were more Beatles songs. Having seen him before, I knew what to expect. It is nice to hear Santana and Average White Band song’s sprinkled through. Still, he did a few favorites and thankfully, didn’t do Liverpool 8 (even though he DID do Anthem, which may be just as bad, Ringo is not a great lyricist) which is plumb awful.”

Michelle Lionberger (Roanoke, Virginia):

“As an elder statesmen in the world of rock, Ringo still has it. Not only did he give a fantastic performance himself, he also put together a truly all star band featuring some outstanding musicians.”

Chuck Lionberger (Roanoke, Virginia):

“This was a fun concert. Ringo was awesome, of course and I equally enjoyed singing-a-long with Men At Work, Toto and Santana songs. It was like being transported back to high school. Not only was there incredible vocal talent but also amazing musical performances. These guys can play and sing along.”

Ringo Starr Roanoke Concert 8/13/19 Photo by Sammy Oakey

Nancy Helms Childress (Vinton, Virginia):

“I thought the concert was very well organized; letting Ringo sing with the other musicians taking turns singing their big hits. That was a great format. I was truly mesmerized watching the dual drummers, perfectly in sync! Amazing! Sometimes when Ringo was on the drums, I imagined John, Paul and George being on the stage with him. What a thrill that would have been! I have seen Paul McCartney in concert and now I have seen Ringo and I feel I am truly one of the lucky ones! I would go again to either or both if the opportunity ever comes up!”

Gayle Deel (Roanoke, Virginia):

“Ringo was in great form both physically and vocally, singing several of his signature songs, along with Yellow Submarine, which enthused all the Beatle fans.

This was special for me as I took my two sons, both drummers, to see him for the first time. Although they did note Ringo’s drum was not miked, only a true musician would notice that detail. The music of Santana, Average White Band. Toto and Men at Work brought back so many memories and was spot on.

“Ringo spoke and performed to the audience like he was playing in our living rooms. At one point he mentioned his “first” band: I know we all thought he was going to say The Beatles, but he gave a shout out to his original band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Starr also mentioned his Beatle mates and ended his show with John’s “Give Peace a Chance,” with Ringo’s signature line, “peace and love” with the two finger V. I left in chills.”

 

Steve Lukather Roanoke Concert 8/13/19. Photo by Sammy Oakey

Thanks to everyone who submitted their comments for this Ringo Starr concert review.

Before I end this message, I will be sharing my favorite song by each of the four singing members of the All Starr Band and on the “Starr” of the concert, Ringo!

Gregg Rolie: “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”

Although I loved “Evil Ways,” a song that Rollie sang at Woodstock 50 years ago as lead singer of Santana, it was actually “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” that was musically pleasing to me. Rollie’s organ, Steve Lukather’s guitar and the rest of the All Starr Band bought out one of the best overall musical performances of the entire evening.

Steve Lukather: “Africa”

The All Starr Band played one of the greatest Yacht Rock songs of all time: Toto’s biggest hit “Africa.” Their version extended Colin Hay’s guitar and Warren Ham’s saxophone, which complimented Lukather’s guitar and vocals in an excellent way. The crowd seemed to resonate with the tune during this performance.

Hamish Stuart: “Pick Up the Pieces”

This song has always been a favorite tune for me. I had the opportunity to meet Stuart when the Average White Band played a concert in Roanoke in 1975, while I worked for radio station WROV. Every member of the All Starr Band contributed to the success of this tune, with superb musicianship on the stage. It was a true meshing of instrumental talent on this selection.

Colin Hay: “Overkill”

With terrific songs like “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now,” it was extremely hard for me to pick “Overkill” as my favorite song. I loved all three of the Men at Work songs, but Hay’s best vocals of the night came when he performed “Overkill.” Collectively, the All Starr Band had wonderful blending of guitars, keyboards and saxophone. I maintain it was the best overall performance that evening by the band.

Ringo Starr: “It Don’t Come Easy”

Easily my favorite Ringo song of the night was “It Don’t Come Easy,” which was co-written by George Harrison and became Ringo’s first solo hit single during the summer of 1971. I enjoyed hearing Warren Ham’s saxophone and Steve Lukather’s guitar on one of the most musically demanding Ringo tunes. I appreciated the All Starr Band’s playing on this timeless classic.

Ringo Starr Roanoke Concert 8/13/19 Photo by Sammy Oakey

It may sound like a cliché but Ringo has paid his dues. As the Roanoke Times music writer Tad Dickens stated in his review of Starr’s concert, “The Beatles drummer, who turned 79 last month, is an energetic and groove-oriented onstage presence, 30 years removed from rehab, and 30 years into leading his own All Starr Band.”

Ringo has paid his dues and he can now sing the blues. He did so with His All Starr Band in Roanoke on August 13th, 2019. Rock on, Ringo Starr!

It don’t come easy,

You know it don’t come easy.

 

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,

And you know it don’t come easy.

 

You don’t have to shout or leap about,

You can even play them easy.

 

Forget about the past and all your sorrows,

The future won’t last,

It will soon be over tomorrow.

 

I don’t ask for much, I only want your trust,

And you know it don’t come easy.

 

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Artist Profiles, Concert Reviews, Music

Oshima Brothers: A Maine Treasure

The state of Maine is known for its rocky coastline, lighthouses, lobster, moose, blueberries, Acadia National Park and LL Bean.

Rarely does anyone outside of the Pine Tree State ever think about Maine’s music scene. I predict that will be changing when those outside of New England learn about the Oshima Brothers.

The Oshima Brothers are a musical duo composed of two siblings, older brother Sean, 24, and Jaime, 21. The brothers were born and raised in a rural area near the Maine state capital of Augusta, and now call the mid-coast town of Belfast, Maine their home.

Sean and Jamie have been playing music together as siblings since they were young boys. Their parents are also musicians.

Mom Toki and Dad John regularly played music during contra dances across the state of Maine and gave their sons an appreciation for music by playing multiple instruments. Music has always been the focus for the entire Oshima family.

So you may be wondering: What type of music do the brothers Oshima play? Here is a quote from the Oshima Brothers official website:

“…[T]he brothers have honed a harmony-rich blend of contemporary folk and acoustic pop. On stage, Sean and Jamie create a surprisingly full sound with dynamic vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, octave bass, loops, and percussion.”

Brothers Jamie and Sean both have distinct roles within their band and harmoniously blend individual strengths together to create the unique sound of their musical partnership.

Sean Oshima

Sean is the chief songwriter, business manager, and public relations director and handles all communications for the duo. He plays rhythm guitar, harmonica, and cajón at shows, along with vocal duties. Sean has an exceptional falsetto vocal range.

Jamie Oshima

Jamie is the music maestro, producer, recording/audio engineer and filmmaker for the band. He plays multiple instruments including the electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle while also recording songs and videos at the Oshima Brothers home studio. Jamie also shares vocal responsibilities with his brother.

I first came to be familiar with the Oshima Brothers band the day before they came to Roanoke, Virginia for a concert. My sister, Kathryn Larson, who lives in New Gloucester, Maine, has actually known Jamie and Sean since they were young boys.

Kathryn is a contra dance caller throughout the state of Maine and the Oshima Brothers, along with their parents John and Toki, have played at many contra dances over the years where Kathryn is the caller.

With Kathryn’s connection, I met Sean and Jamie three hours before their concert at The Spot on Kirk in downtown Roanoke on Monday January 14th. The Oshima Brothers were the opening band for singer-songwriter Caitlin Canty, as both were part of a 13-stop tour that was sponsored by the Americana Music Association.

During my interview with Jamie and Sean, I found out that they formed their band in 2015 and released the self-titled, “Oshima Brothers” album during 2016. They also have a 5-song EP called, “Under the Same Stars” that is currently not released to buy online but was available for purchase for those who attended their concert in Roanoke that evening.

Sean and Jamie Oshima

To get to know the Oshima Brothers better, here are some of the questions I asked Sean and Jaime about their band:

What artists influenced you when you were growing up?

Sean: We have been obsessed with The Beatles forever. We also listened to Jackson 5, Gillian Welch, Jack Johnson. Funk, reggae, traditional fiddle tunes, old country duets.

What type of artists do you listen to in 2019?

Sean: We love all types of music from groovy pop to smooth jazz. We listen to Ray Charles, John Mayer, Tom Misch, The Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and on and on and on forever.

What is the one thing you most admire about your brother?

Sean: His clear focus. He’s obsessed with all things music. I admire the eagerness with which he dives into musical projects, new recordings, new videos. Jamie’s patience and relentlessness is amazing.

Jamie: I admire Sean’s ability to match his sock color to the occasion, mood, and atmosphere of an event, and his outfit. I don’t know, but he might have 100 pairs of socks. I also like his poetry. It’s pretty good.

Describe the type of music you play?

Sean: It’s sort of like indie-folk-pop. A little mix of everything. It can be groovy and dreamy and smooth and chill and acoustic and electric all at the same time. Rich with harmonies and bass and big drums then stark and sweet with acoustic guitar.

Oshima Brothers equipment

For their Roanoke concert, the Oshima Brothers performed 8 songs. Here is the setlist:

Nine Mile Kite

Ellie

Letter

Hearts As Full As The Moon

Broken

How Deep Is Your Love

These Cold Nights

Calling Your Name

Before Sean and Jamie opened their show, I gave each brother a bottle of Poland Spring water as a welcome to Roanoke and to help them have a pleasant reminder of their beloved home state of Maine.

The opening selection of “Nine Mile Kite” started out with Jaime and Sean wonderfully singing a capella before finishing their song with playing of instruments. An excellent tune to begin their show.

Wonderful harmonies were part of every Oshima Brothers song that was played at the Roanoke show. The concert was a good mix of up-tempo tunes and pleasing slow ballad grooves.

One of the highlights of the evening was the performance of a brand new single, “Ellie” which Sean said that Portland Maine Triple A radio station, WCLZ 98.9 FM is now playing and how it was thrilling hearing their song receiving air play in their home state. With the right radio exposure, I believe “Ellie” could become a hit with a wider audience.

Halfway through the set, Jamie broke out his fiddle for the toe-tapping song, “Broken” which was a crowd favorite. Two other songs that were highlights for the band were “These Cold Nights” and “Hearts as Full as the Moon.” There is a freshness with the Oshima Brothers’ music, with no two songs sounding alike.

Seven of the eight songs performed that evening were original tunes by the brothers. The one cover song they played, “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bees Gees was superb. The falsetto vocal range and harmony of Sean and Jamie equally matched the singing by the Brothers Gibbs on their number 1 song from 1977.

Jamie and Sean’s songs are well crafted. Their harmonies are smooth and flow together beautifully, no matter which song they are performing. I especially enjoy the chord progressions on many of the tunes played by the brothers.

After the Oshima Brothers performed, Caitlin Canty took the stage with her acoustic guitar, laying down excellent tunes with folk, country and introspective storytelling. Accompanying Canty at this concert was Miss Tess, who did an outstanding job playing her upright bass.

Caitlin Canty and Miss Tess. Photo by Jamie Oshima

Since Caitlin toured with the Oshima Brothers on this 13-day January journey, I asked her if she could share some comments about the brothers and their music. Here are Caitlin’s thoughts to me via email at Caitlin Canty’s official website:

“The post-show chatter from the audience was always positive about OB [Oshima Brothers] – my favorite eavesdropped comment was, ‘they are a breath of fresh air.’ They are sweet and hardworking people and I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more good music from them in the years to come.”

Sean and Jamie Oshima

I absolutely agree with Caitlin’s assessment on the Oshima Brothers: I am confident that Sean and Jamie’s music will become popular to a wider audience and we will be blessed to hear much more new music from the brothers in the future. The Oshima Brothers are a Maine Treasure!

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Concert Reviews

James Taylor Concert Review: Greensboro, NC (May 18th)

James Taylor performing in Greensboro, NC. Photo credit Kaye Ferrell.

In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina

Can’t you see the sunshine

Can’t you just feel the moonshine

Maybe just like a friend of mine

It hit me from behind

Yes I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

These, of course, are the beginning lyrics to “Carolina on My Mind” by James Taylor. The North Carolina raised singer appropriately opened with this song during his concert in Greensboro on Friday May 18th. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer performed a total of 25 songs and was backed by a 10-piece band and vocal performers.

Promotional signs in the venue. Photo credit Kaye Ferrell.

Originally the legendary singer-songwriter and musician Bonnie Raitt had been slated to open up for Taylor but she could not attend the concert due to a medical condition. Right before intermission Taylor sent Ms. Raitt a video message of the crowd shouting “We love you Bonnie.” It was an extremely touching moment for those of us in the crowd.

Taylor, known for laid-back ballads during his career, played many of those types of songs but he wasn’t limited to just that kind of tune. The first few songs tended to drag a bit as the tempos to those songs were slow, ballad-style.

However, all was not lost as Taylor’s band brightened up the consecutive slow songs with outstanding musicianship during the beginning stage of the concert. I was most impressed by these excellent musicians and back up vocalists. Some of the stand outs from the band include Jimmy Johnson on bass, Lou Marini with saxophone, flute and clarinet, Michito Sanchez on percussion and Steve Gadd on drums. On the vocal side, Arnold McCuller and Kate Markowitz were exceptional, providing wonderful harmonies alongside Taylor.

James Taylor performing in Greensboro, NC. Photo credit Kaye Ferrell.

Being 70 years old, Taylor still has an outstanding voice and can carry his songs just like he did when he was a hit maker on Top 40 radio. He also has a wry sense of humor and was extremely nostalgic in between various songs. I came to appreciate these attributes as the concert proceeded.

The set list included all of the big hits but Taylor also selected some lesser-known favorites that struck a balance with his music selection. He performed “Something in the Way She Moves” which became one the first songs he recorded for Apple Records in 1968 with Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Another song from his debut album, “Carolina on My Mind,” was a crowd favorite as Taylor spent his childhood growing up in North Carolina.

The 70-year old singer kept the hits coming: During the first set, crowd favorites included “Country Road”, “Cooperline”, “Handy Man” and “Mexico.” His Junior Walker and the All Stars cover of “(I’m a) Road Runner” was also a satisfying up-tempo tune in the beginning portion of the show.

The second half brought more crowd favorites such as “Up on the Roof”, “Steamroller”, “Sweet Baby James”, “Showing The People” and “Your Smiling Face.” My favorite performance of the night was Taylor’s signature song, “Fire and Rain.” The song received a standing ovation and was a highlight for me at the concert. He then finished the 2nd set with “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). That had the crowd clapping hard with enthusiasm.

For the encore, Taylor performed a Wilson Picket cover “In the Midnight Hour” and his first number 1 hit from 1971, his cover of Carole King’s “You’re Got a Friend.” Then Taylor ended his concert the same way he opened up the show: singing “Carolina on My Mind.” It was no mind game: Taylor was actually in North Carolina as he closed out his time with us in Greensboro.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience to have the opportunity to see James Taylor in concert. Taylor‘s tour is continuing through the summer, so if he comes somewhere in your part of the country, I would highly recommend buying tickets to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in concert.

If you were at the Greensboro concert like me, or any of Taylor’s other May shows, I would love for you to share your thoughts on the concert you attended.

Setlist for Greensboro, NC – May 18, 2018 

Set 1

  1. Carolina in My Mind
  2. Country Road
  3. Jump Up Behind Me
  4. Never Die Young
  5. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
  6. (I’m a) Road Runner
  7. Nothing Like a Hundred Miles
  8. First Day of May
  9. Copperline
  10. Handy Man
  11. Mexico

Set 2

  1. Something in the Way She Moves
  2. Sunny Skies
  3. Walking Man
  4. Up On the Roof
  5. Steamroller Blues
  6. Sweet Baby James
  7. Fire and Rain
  8. Your Smiling Face
  9. Shower the People
  10. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)

Encore

  1. Shed a Little Light
  2. In the Midnight Hour
  3. You’re Got a Friend
  4. Carolina In My Mind
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