Farm Aid, LarkFEST wrap up summer season

Fall hits on Sunday, so no wonder this big transition week marks endings and start-ups.

Fall hits on Sunday, so no wonder this big transition week marks endings and start-ups.

Our biggest ending is Farm Aid on Saturday, the last show at Saratoga Performing Arts Center this season. Brian McElhiney gives us the rundown on page D1 of this strong lineup for a great cause. At Jazz Fest in New Orleans in May, Willie Nelson still played and sang great; Farm Aid’s other highlight may be the seldom-seen Carlene Carter. SPAC hasn’t stayed open this late since Herb Chesbrough kept things going well into September in hopes of booking a Prince show that unfortunately never happened. But Farm Aid is well worth waiting for and a tremendous swan song.

Another ending: LarkFEST on Saturday in Albany may be the last outdoor freebie of the season and features a strong lineup. See Brian’s overview and spotlight on Washington Stage headliner Bobby Long (not to be confused with Jazz Fest fave Bobby Lounge, who’s rolled onstage in an iron lung by uniformed nurses, only to spring forth and be outrageous — but I digress). So let me tell you about Madison Stage headliner Willie Nile.

Willie has been one of our greatest rockers since bursting onto the scene at the University at Albany MayFest (a students’ freebie series in the 1980s) and has impressed in every return, including when he ripped up WAMC’s The Linda despite being on crutches at the time.

Here he comes with his finest album in years and, well, I’ll let Willie Nile tell it:

“My full band that recorded the new album ‘American Ride’ will be joining me for LarkFEST,” he said of bassist Johnny Pisano, drummer Alex Alexander and lead guitarist Matt Hogan.

“I’ll be playing guitar and maybe some keyboards. We play a number of songs from the new album and some from earlier albums as well, along with some fun cover songs. I’ll be playing songs of thunder and fire. There’ll be lots of up-tempo rockers with choruses that you can sing to. It’ll be a high-energy show with the occasional twist and turn aimed at lifting the spirits and raising the roof, or sky, as the case may be.”

LarkFEST is free, so get there early to see articulate Americana rockers Grainbelt open up on the Madison stage, or jazz/hip-hop powerhouse the Chronicles open up on the Washington Stage. Grainbelt has announced that while other bands will bring the funk or the rock or whatever, they’ll bring bagels. Really.

Two major series start in Schenectady this weekend: A Place for Jazz and the Eighth Step.

A place for jazz

A straight-ahead quintet led by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and saxophonist Jerry Weldon launches the 27th season on Friday at A Place for Jazz. Each apprenticed with numerous greats, and each has released eight albums as a leader; so they won’t lack for tunes, skill or panache. This volunteer-powered, nonprofit series has a proud reputation for starting with a bang. A Place for Jazz shows start at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady (1221 Wendell Ave.) Admission is $15, students $7, with a discount for season ticket buyers of all five shows. Phone 393-4011 or visit

Even after last weekend’s Jazz at the Lake Festival, we remain a jazz-rich environment. The New Gary Burton Quartet headlined at Lake George and returns to play the Massry Center at The College of Saint Rose (432 Western Ave., Albany) on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Bopitude opens, featuring guest saxophonist Gary Smulyan. Tickets are $30, students $15. Phone 337-4871 or visit

Drummer/composer Bobby Previte’s Voodoo Orchestra North returns to Club Helsinki (405 Columbia St., Hudson) on Monday at 8 p.m., continuing to explore Miles Davis’ 1970s fusion music. Tickets are $5, $7 on Monday. Phone 828-4800 or visit

Ukulele festival

OK, say “oo-koo-leh-leh,” not “you-koo-lay-lay”. The Eighth Step starts its season on Saturday with the 2nd Electric City UkeFest — a full day celebrating the much-maligned Hawaiian four-string, which nonetheless has been a favorite of George Harrison and Eddie Vedder.

UkeFest packs the whole day at the Eighth Step at Proctors (432 State St., Schenectady) with 11 workshops (in three sessions), an open mic hosted by Michael Eck (of course he plays uke; he plays everything), morning and evening performances and even offers uke music during lunch and dinner. There will be hula dancing, tips on fingerpicking blues uke, yoga and ukulele and “Care & Feeding of Your Uke,” among many activities and topics.

Admission to the whole fest is $35 in advance, $40 at the door, which opens at 9:30 a.m. for registration; $20 for students and free for children under 12 who attend the 10 a.m. “Ukes R Us” family session. The “Fleabag! Ukulele Concert” starts at 7 p.m. featuring the Vododeeyos, the Hokum Hawaiians, Jim & Liz Beloff, Stuart Fuchs, Luana Haraguchi and of course Eck. Phone 434-1703 or 346-6204, or visit or

OK, now, how do you say “ukulele”? Right: “the Eighth Step at Proctors.”

Jon Dee Graham

Few knew who Jon Dee Graham was when he opened for the sensational Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra at Revolution Hall a few years ago, apart from Escovedo fanatics who recognized Graham from the True Believers, which featured both.

So, Graham came out by himself at Rev Hall and just slayed the place. He was a one-man rock ’n’ roll tornado, Texas style. When he stopped to let us catch our breath, he took our awed applause as his due. Hands on hips, he glared out at us and exclaimed, “Well, I should think SO!”

Here comes Graham again, headlining on Wednesday at Valentines (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany), with fellow Austin resident Mike June (a Hudson Valley transplant) opening the 7 p.m. show. Admission is $10. Phone 432-6572 or visit

Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]

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