The good life returns to Prowse Farm

By Scott McLennan   |   Thursday, September 20, 2012
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Michael Franti (photo by Rich Gaswirt.)

September 20, 2012

The Life is good Festival just doesn’t make sense. Or more correctly, the success of the Life is good Festival just doesn’t make sense.

For starters, the two-day music festival created by the Life is good clothing company and staged at Prowse Farm in Canton defies easy genre categorization. This year, jam-band dynamic duo Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, soul queen Sharon Jones, funketeer Trombone Shorty, contemporary pop songstress Sara Bareilles, and hip-hop rooted singer Michael Franti are part of the mix. But festival’s biggest buzz-generator is the Fresh Beat Band from its namesake children’s television show.

Yup, Life is good presents the best in kids and family music alongside marquee names in pop and rock.

Tim Reynolds and Dave Matthews (photo by Danny Clinch.)

The Life is good Festival started as a kids music fest held on Boston Common. When festival organizers began plotting something bigger two years ago, they visited other successful fests around the country.

“We went to Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits, and they told us. ‘You guys have a good thing with the kids festival, stick to that.’ But we believed we could have a mixed audience,” recalls James Macdonald, Life is good’s director of good vibes (really, that’s his job). “But you know, in our first year when you had Ziggy Marley playing and you saw 20-something hippies side-by-side with button-down parents who drove in with their kids, we knew you could mix the audiences. I mean everyone loves when a little kid is rocking out, and that’s what you saw.”

Linking the festival’s three stages of music are a variety of kid-friendly games and activities ranging from beanbag tosses to this year’s addition of disc golf.

The other pleasant surprise the Life is good Festival organizers discovered was just how much money it could raise for kids in need by switching from a free event to a paid, ticketed event.

“When something is free, I think people try and make it as free as possible,” Macdonald says.

Last year, the festival generated more than $1 million for Playmakers, which works with kids facing various hardships. Macdonald says the fundraising has become so successful because rather than treat the festival as a benefit concert, Life is good models itself after events such as the Pan-Mass Challenge and the Avon Walk, encouraging a more participatory form of fundraising.

Anyone can embark on a fundraising campaign for Playmakers, and the more money someone raises, the more benefits he or she can enjoy at the show. The backstage hospitality tents at Life is good, for example, are full of people who raised lots of money for the charity and find themselves mingling with likeminded fans and festival artists.

Life is good also does a good job presenting breakout artists, and this year people should be on the lookout for Sarah Jarosz, the fiery mandolin, guitar, and banjo player who earned a Grammy nomination in 2009, the same year she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music, where she recently returned for the fall semester.

Sarah Jarosz (photo source:

Even though the NEC is not that far from Life is good’s offices in the Back Bay, the festival team didn’t know about Jarosz until seeing her perform this year in Tennessee at Bonnaroo.

Like others encountering Jarosz for the first time, the Life is gooders were knocked off base by her crafty blend of traditional and contemporary influences.

“At this point, I don’t even consider my songs to be bluegrass anymore,” she says.

Raised near Austin in Wimberley, Texas, Jarosz got her first mandolin when she was 10 years old. She learned from old-timers, as young people just weren’t that involved in traditional music

Jarosz has since become part of an acoustic renaissance that involves a variety of young talent from the Carolina Chocolate Drops to Old Crow Medicine Show. There’s an especially vibrant scene around Boston, as seen when Jarosz was among those who hopped on stage with Crooked Still when that acoustic band celebrated its 10th anniversary at Somerville Theater last year.

“People don’t always think of Boston as a place with a big traditional or acoustic scene, but I’d put it near the top of the list,” Jarosz says.

Sort of like nobody thinking that a multi-generational music festival would be such a hit.

The Life is good Festival runs 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 22 and 23 at Prowse Farm in Canton, MA. For tickets and performance schedules, go online to

Preview: Jamaica Plain Music Festival

By Scott McLennan   |   Wednesday, September 5, 2012
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Amelia Emmet in 2011 peforming under the name Mr. Sister. This year the band
is called Thick Wild. (Photo credit: Adam Wells)

September 6, 2012

Scott Thompson says that about once a month he’s sure to hear, “Hey, I saw you at the JP Music Fest,” while riding to work on the Orange Line.

“I guess that makes me a minor local celebrity,” says Thompson, guitarist for the band Tallahassee. And he had better get used to the attention as Tallahassee will be back at the Jamaica Plain Music Festival this year.

The JP Music Fest popped up last year after a few plugged-in residents of this musically rich Boston neighborhood decided it was time to show off the talent making its home in Jamaica Plain.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the inaugural JP Music Fest, and organizers are expecting even more this year when the event returns to Pinebank baseball field on September 8th . To perform, a band must have at least one member who works or lives in Jamaica Plain. And bands must play original music in their sets. The festival runs noon to 7 p.m. and involves 25 performances, culled from 150 applications.

“The festival is eclectic enough that you end up meeting people you’ve maybe heard about but never met,” says Lenny Lashley, another returning performer. “We’re all traveling the same circles, playing the different clubs and different bills. This is throwing it all together.”

This year’s mash-up includes the rustic rock of Tallahassee and Lashley’s Gang of One; Mariachi Mexamerica; Irish singer Eamonn Bonner; members of the Jamaica Plain Symphony Orchestra and the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra; and esteemed songwriter Dennis Brennan.

Musician Rick Berlin and Midway Café owner Shamus Moynihan triggered the fest after a chance meeting in a laundromat where they posed the musical question: “Why isn’t there a music festival showcasing JP artists?”

Rick Berlin performs in 2011. (Photo credit: Adam Wells)

They pulled together a committee with community members who had expertise in navigating city permitting, marketing, setting up a sustainable not-for-profit business model, and handling technical logistics, (not to mention possessing a general enthusiasm for making the festival a success). Even the bands play for free.

Through local sponsorships, fundraising concerts and events, and online Kickstarter campaigns, the JP Music Fest has gathered enough dough to set up twin stages, so as one band plays, another gets ready to.

“Everyone plays from five–25 minutes, so it’s not a lot of songs,” says Berlin, who will be performing with the Nickel and Dime Band. “But if you don’t like something, it changes pretty quickly.”

And if you do like something, Tres Gatos, a JP eatery and music store, will have a mobile record store on hand selling CDs by the day’s performers.

Learning from experience, the JP music crew this year changed the orientation of the stages so sound doesn’t carry too far out of the fest grounds (while still taking advantage of what Berlin calls a “Lord of the Rings setting” on Jamaica Pond). They have also enlisted four food trucks as opposed to last years one.

Moynihan books eight shows a week into the Midway, but says setting up the fest is a whole other kind of project.

“At the club, you expect an off night. But there are seven nights of music,” he says. “With the festival, there’s one shot to get it right.”

For a sampling of the “right” music you’ll hear at the JP Music Fest, simply click the link for a digital mix tape of this year’s performers:

Music: Gregory Porter and "Be Good"

By Bridgit Brown   |   Monday, August 20, 2012
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August 21, 2012

Gregory Porter (image source:

When Gregory Porter was a boy he was so infatuated by Nat King Cole that he imagined him to be his father.

Years later, as a professional singer, he would write a drama called “Nat King Cole and Me,” about growing up without a father yet finding solace in Cole’s soft and sultry voice.

Today, Porter is a Grammy nominated jazz vocalist with musical accents of gospel and soul. This deep baritone voice was supposed to be a football star; after an accident in college ended his football career, he turned to singing in school groups and at jazz clubs in San Diego.

Porter has had a theater career and two very successful CDs; both India Arie and Erykah Badu have invited him to collaborate. One of his personal goals is to work with the musician Herbie Hancock, which might just happen because Porter is just that good.

Porter will be performing at Scullers on Thursday, August 23. He spoke to me while in Oslo, via Skype, about his singing career and his personal relationship to music.

Do you write most of your songs?

I do write most of them, and I like to sing about love and all of its forms. The confused love. The backwards love. The clandestine love. Sometimes hate is a confused love. It’s saying, “I hate those people because I love those people so much.” That’s a confused love, but it’s still love. Hate stems from love.

I feel like I write best from my own emotions and my own experiences. Eventually, maybe I’ll run out of life experiences to sing about or talk about. But I get inspiration from the simplest of things. I was in a new relationship, and I remember the person being so brave with me. She took me to a garden party. She grabbed my hand and we just walked through the crowd of her friends, and she was proud to have me beside her. That inspired me to sing, “When did you learn the rules of love’s game…” Beautiful moments move me to feel musical moments. Something brought me to internal tears the other day. Some young people were being abused, and it came out as a musical moment, and I started to write something about it. I think if I stay that way, I’ll be okay. Whether it will be accepted by people or not, I write from my heart.

“Be Good” is a beautiful song. Is there a personal story behind it?

Yes. I remember riding home on my bike from the breakup with this woman who I call Be Good, and I was feeling like I needed a consoling lullaby, which is what “Be Good” is, a grown man’s lullaby. I was still strong, but in a way I was vulnerable. As soon as I got home, I started to write the song. She admired me as you would a lion at the circus, and she marveled at me, and she always told me I was great, but she kept me in this friend cage. She admired my mane and my roar, but never enough so that she allowed me to roam around and be free and love her like I wanted to when I wanted to. It was always when it was convenient for her, during visiting hours at the zoo.

Who directed the lovely video for the song?

Pierre Bennu directed the video for “Be Good.” It’s so amazing because all the people in the video are from my neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant. The dancer is from DC. The little girl lives one block away from me. The male actor is a friend of ours who lives a couple of blocks away. The producer is my brother. Pierre used to live a couple of blocks away. We’re all professionals, but were also a community of people. I love the way the video came out. It’s colorful and visual and interesting. It doesn’t completely follow the story of the song. In the song, I never get to dance with this girl who’s constantly dancing around me.

“1960 What?” was obviously inspired by that decade, but what else are you trying to say in this song?

I remember thinking about the Civil Rights Movement when I wrote it. We look at it in black and white pictures, literally, and we think it was so long ago. I was born in 1971, and 1968 was three years before I was born. I got to thinking, my mother died 20 years ago and it’s so fresh and so painful for me today. The emotions and feelings of that time not only existed at that time but they carry on for life. Martin Luther King wasn’t just assassinated in 1968, the pain from that lasted for a while, up until the time that I was born and even now, but 1960, what? 1960, who? Who? Who? Who was assassinated in the1960s? So many people were and it was happening in so many places, all over the country, and so a song about when and where and who? You pick a date. Some people think I’m saying 1961, but I’m talking about all of the years within that decade. I’m also talking about the absurdity and the pain of treating one part of your society unjustly. It’s like cutting off your hand. Why would you cut off your hand? Why would you cut off your foot? Where do you think those people are going to go?

It’s only smart to treat your neighbor right because they live next door to you. So it’s a song about the absurdity of treating people wrong, and the absurdity of the people who have been treated unjustly. Generally, we burn our neighborhoods and our own stores and I know what it is. It’s self-mutilation, and it’s not just an American phenomenon, which should make people think that these people are in pain; these are people setting themselves on fire are hurting and it’s not right.

Scullers Jazz Club
400 Soldiers Field Road
Boston, MA  02134

Music And Art: O'Keefe and Still (from the CNE Journal)

By Cathy Fuller   |   Wednesday, August 15, 2012
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Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small - we haven’t time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small.

So I said to myself - I’ll paint what I see - what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it - I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.

These thoughts appeared in a letter written by Georgia O’Keeffe, whose painted flowers overwhelm their canvases with her marvelous, signature style.

Born in Wisconsin in 1887, O’Keeffe studied in Chicago and New York. There was a time of discouragement, though -- a point when she realized that she was seeing in her art an unhealthy sense of obligation to please the public. She began creating abstract charcoal drawings. In 1916 the American photographer and art gallery director Alfred Stieglitz (whom she married in 1924) became interested in those drawings and exhibited them at his gallery in New York City; her work was shown annually in Stieglitz's galleries until his death in 1946. She moved to New Mexico in 1949, a place that attracted her deeply and felt like home.

The painting White Rose with Larkspur, No. 2 is a product of 1927 and hangs in the Art of the Americas wing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Delicate and powerful, I love its color and size. Its uncountable petals seem to crowd out the rest of the world. Busy Bostonians, like the New Yorkers O’Keeffe gently scolds, need to take time, too. I hope you can find some time for it.
Here in our Host Notes, I’m bringing you art in pairs: a piece of music paired with one of the pieces of art in the Art of the Americas Wing. I’m finding pairs that were created in the same year. Even artists with opposing approaches, I’ve found, compel us to find connections.

Today I’ve got a couple of pieces to share with you. The first was composed by William Grant Still in the year that O’Keeffe painted her White Rose. Still was an extraordinary man – the first African-American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony of his own performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. He’s known as "the dean" of African-American composers. Below is a clip from his ballet score “La Guiablesse”, a ballet commissioned by Chicago Allied Arts with a story based on a legend of Martinique.

Still: La Guiablesse - Final Scene (excerpt)

The second is a setting of the excerpts from the O’Keeffe letter above. Contralto Elizabeth Anker sent that excerpt to her friend, the composer Francine Trester asking her to turn it into a song. Elizabeth sang the result with pianist John McDonald, and here is a clip from that studio performance:

Trester:  Nobody Sees a Flower (excerpt)

Music and Art: Homer and MacDowell (from the CNE Journal)

By Cathy Fuller   |   Tuesday, August 14, 2012
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When the Museum of Fine Arts opened its new Art of the Americas Wing in November 2010, the vibrancy of that collection in its new space inspired thoughts about the music written at the same time as these incredible artworks were created. So I decided to experiment and look at specific pieces from the collection with music written around the same time.

This installment focuses on Winslow Homer, who was born here in Boston and spent his adolescence in Cambridge. His father disappeared to California to pan for gold, and when Homer was 19 when he began creating illustrations for sheet music covers at John H. Bufford’s lithography shop, one of which is at the bottom of this page.

At 21 he moved to New York and worked for Harper’s magazine as a “special artist” documenting the civil war. By the end of his life, he was capturing the serenity and drama of the Maine Coast with oils. His uncanny ability to convey the complex and stirring nature of the sea has made him one of the world’s most recognizable artists, and one of the most dramatic of those paintings is "The Fog Warning."

This painting puts you so close to the fisherman’s world, it feels as though you’re tipping the boat. The horizon threatens with fog and nightfall and the fisherman lifts his head to make the sensory calculations that a life at sea has taught him to make to get himself home.

"The Fog Warning" was finished in 1885, the same year that the American composer Edward MacDowell finished his Piano Concerto No. 1. It took two slightly desperate weeks to get it done. MacDowell’s teacher, Joachim Raff, had asked what music he’d written, and apparently, out of sheer intimidation, MacDowell blurted out that he had a piano concerto. (He hadn’t even thought about a concerto at that point!) Raff asked to see it the next Sunday. MacDowell finished only the first movement and managed to evade meeting his teacher. He put him off the next Sunday, too, and finally by the Tuesday after that, he had a piano concerto. Raff loved it, and sent MacDowell to Weimar to play it for Franz Liszt.

It’s not his finest – but it’s his first. And well worth hearing. Below is a clip from Seta Tanyel’s performance of MacDowell’s A minor Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony and conductor Martyn Brabbins.

MacDowell: Piano Concerto No. I, I: Maestoto - Allegro con Fuoco (excerpt)

Music: The Naukabout Music Festival

By Scott McLennan   |   Friday, August 10, 2012
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August 10, 2012

Ryan Monbleau Band

The Naukabout Music Festival in East Falmouth is testament to how fertile our musical fields are here in the Bay State.

First there is the festival itself, which has blossomed over the past five years into a nice regional attraction, boasting two stages of music, tie-ins with other Cape Cod cultural organizations, such as the Woods Hole Film Festival and Little Beach art gallery, and a growing roster of affiliated musicians.

Ryan Montbleau has been there just about every step of the way. Like the festival itself, Montbleau has made artistic leaps over the past five years. He is now a well-qualified Naukabout headliner, taking on the role for the second straight year.

“Now it’s like family. I think I’m grandfathered in,” says Montbleau, laughing when asked if he would be offended if the festival didn’t call. “It feels good to see how they’ve grown as we’ve grown. It’s a great vibe every year.”

The Naukabout Festival takes place Saturday, August 11, at Barnstable County Fairgrounds in East Falmouth. In addition to the Ryan Montbleau Band, the festival features John Brown’s Body, the Adam Ezra Group, Dune Billy All-Stars, Will Evans of Barefoot Truth, Will Dailey, Tall Heights, Jeff Conley Band, and Baker Thomas Band featuring Danielle Miraglia; in other words, it’s a smorgasbord of Mass-bred rock with reggae, folk, chamber-pop, funk and R&B coloring the mix.

“In past years we had Bela Fleck and Rusted Root come in as headliners, but we really want to showcase what’s happening right around here,” says Peter Murner, one of Naukabout Festival’s directors.

Naukabout is a Cape-based lifestyle brand responsible for both the festival and a line of craft beers. One of the festival’s green initiatives this year is the use of solar energy to power the side stage. The second stage was previously more of busking enclave on the fest grounds, but this year will it have a bit more juice to amp up sets by Evans (OK, he’s from Connecticut, but has certainly been lighting up local stages with Barefoot Truth in the past few years), Conley, Tall Heights, and the Thomas band.

Montbleau arrives at Naukabout with the new album For Higher in tow. It’s a project he recorded in New Orleans with some of that city’s hottest players, including guitarist Anders Osborne, keyboard player Ivan Neville, drummer Simon Lott and bassist George Porter Jr. from the legendary Meters.

“I was dancing in the vocal booth,” Montbleau says. “I’m just a kid from Peabody. What am I doing in New Orleans making a record with a member of the Meters?”

Well, for one thing, capitalizing on a ton of hard work. The Ryan Montbleau Band has been a grass roots phenomenon, getting better every year at honing its funky, R&B pop tunes. Word-of-mouth raves fuel the fan-base expansion, which really revealed itself when Montbleau made an online appeal for funds to make For Higher. Montbleau reached his goal 30 days into a 60-day PledgeMusic campaign.

For Higher sprung from Montbleau’s songwriting contributions to a Trombone Shorty album produced by Galactic’s Ben Ellman. Ellman then lined up recording sessions for Montbleau and some NOLA elites, knocking out two days of studio work after the 2011 Jazz Fest in New Orleans.

Montbleau says his regular band was supportive of the solo project and it is interesting watching the tunes take new shapes now the he is playing them with the guys he has been with for years.

“We have something I couldn’t just pull off on the fly,” he says. “We’re digging deep into this material, and we’ve started working on new stuff too.”

So when Naukabout checks in for year six, Montbleau will likely be ready with fresh goods.

Tickets are on sale at for $29 and will be $39 at the gate. Kids under 12 and with an adult get in for free, and there is a whole area of kids activities at the fest, which runs noon to 10 p.m.

About the Authors
Scott McLennan Scott McLennan
Scott McLennan is a music correspondent for the Boston Globe and former entertainment columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. His work as taken him from the Newport Folk Festival to the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival and many musical points in between. Scott also writes about skiing for Hawthorn Publications.
Bridgit Brown Bridgit Brown
Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.


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