The Upstate Beat: Music scene is back in full force

The band Spoon performs at Empire Live in Albany Friday night. (photo provided)
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The band Spoon performs at Empire Live in Albany Friday night. (photo provided)

This time of year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by how many choices we have for musical entertainment. After two years of curtailed musical events, it feels like the music scene is back — better than ever.

Thursday night, for instance, Albany’s Alive at Five concert series continues along the Hudson riverfront with a show featuring Talib Kweli, an artist representing the golden age of hip-hop. The insightful, lyrical Kweli gained recognition in the late 1990s for his collaboration with fellow Brooklyn rapper Mos Def in the socially conscious group Black Star. He’s also made stellar solo albums like 2002’s “Quality,” which spawned the ubiquitous hit “Get By,” produced by then-little-known producer Kanye West.

Kweli’s latest album is last year’s “Gotham,” a life-on-the-darkside ode to New York City. DJ TGIF, DJ Siroc and JB!! AKA Dirty Moses open up this happy hour show (Jennings Landing, 5 p.m.).

In Saratoga Springs, Morgan Wallen brings his signature mullet, hearty twang and legions of cowboy-boot-wearing fans to the green lawns of Saratoga Performing Arts Center Thursday evening (108 Avenue of the Pines, 7 p.m.). Wallen’s “Whiskey Glasses” was the biggest country song of 2019, a double-entendre tune that conflates “poor me” (as in “feel sorry for me, my baby’s left me’) with “pour me” (a double shot of that heartbreak proof).

Wallen first gained attention on the sixth season of “The Voice” back in 2014, when he was a baby-faced, 20-year-old landscaper with a pretty yet gritty voice. He was eventually eliminated but subsequently hit the Billboard charts with songs like “Up Down” and “More than My Hometown.”

Wallen’s rise has not been without controversy. The East Tennessee preacher’s son was arrested in the middle of the pandemic for public intoxication and disorderly conduct outside of Kid Rock’s Nashville bar and then had his invite to perform on “Saturday Night Live” rescinded after he was captured on video flouting NBC’s COVID-19 protocols. Wallen also was caught on video shouting a racist slur in 2021, and radio stations and streaming services removed his songs at the time from their playlists. (But apparently memories are short.)

The Upbeat on the Roof free concert series at Skidmore College’s Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum is always one of the highlights of summer. It beginsThursday night with a gospel performance (6 p.m.) by one of the region’s most beloved groups: Heavenly Echoes. Founded by the late Deacon James Edmonds from the Sweet Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Albany, Heavenly Echoes performs in the tradition of Southern-style gospel music with spirituals, hymns, traditional contemporary gospel and originals. Concerts take place on the lawn outside the Tang this year (815 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs) and are free. Visitors are invited to bring picnic blankets, camping chairs and their own food and drink.

This Weekend

“Eat, drink and be merry / For tomorrow, we’ll die,” is a well-known line from the Dave Matthews Band’s 1996 debut album “Crash” with lilting rhythms and sing-along choruses. The song’s carpe diem sentiment encapsulates Matthews’ popularity: his shows are celebratory events.

Saratoga Springs loves Dave Matthews, and Dave Matthews clearly loves Saratoga Springs, where he returns for a two-show run at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Friday and Saturday night, June 8 and 9. The South African-born singer-songwriter always seems to mention on stage how much he likes the city and venue, where he has performed close to 40 times in three decades. It’s a setting that suits him well — his deeply nostalgic songs connect personally with the audience, and his talented band brings an amphitheater of energy.

Rock band Spoon first played the Capital Region in 2004 at former Albany club Valentine’s while opening for celebrated indie group Guided by Voices. Spoon, from Austin, Texas, were less known at the time, although they managed to capture the attention of the crowd with their airy, guitar-based rock — which was catchy, quirky and skittish. Today, you could say that Spoon has eclipsed the cult-level fame of Guided by Voices.

In 2017, they headlined a well-received and well-attended show at the former Upstate Concert Hall, and on Friday, July 8, they return to the area to celebrate their new album “Lucifer on the Sofa” at Empire Live in Albany (93 North Pearl St., 8:30 p.m.). A must-see show.

Looking Ahead

— Keep your calendars open for Schenectady SummerNight on Friday, July 22, which will be back for the first time since 2019 in downtown Schenectady (on State Street between Broadway and Barret Street and the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall) from 5-10 p.m. The 1990s alternative rock band Better than Ezra headlines.
— Get tickets now for Farming Man fest on July 16 (www.farmingmanfest.com) at Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont. A beautiful field on the farm with a view of the Helderberg Escarpment sets the stage for a full day of live music and craft beverages served up by dozens of beer and cider producers. A stellar lineup of predominantly local bands includes the Jagaloons, the Abysmalls, Brule County Bad Boys, BattleAxxx and College Farm. You can even sign up on the website for a four-hour volunteer shift that earns you free access to the festival, a free t-shirt, and a free commemorative glass. (342 Altamont Rd., 2 to 11 p.m.).
— And we can’t contain our excitement for the first-ever NipperFest, a free all-day festival on July 23 with Sirsy, the Figgs, Super 400 and many more at the Music Haven stage in Schenectady’s Central Park (500 Iroquois Path, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.).

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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