The AmericanaramA festival that hits the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (Saratoga Spa State Park) on Sunday may be the biggest summer show here, and not just for its 13-letter name.
The lineup is big: Bob Dylan and his band, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Ryan Bingham.
Bob Dylan is big: the folksinger who plugged in and transformed popular music forever in the mid-1960s, just a few years after he played cozy Caffe Lena on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs in 1961, one of his first shows outside Greenwich Village. In August 2008, he headlined a SPAC folk festival with the Levon Helm Band, the Swell Season, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Steve Earle, Raul Malo, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Big.
Wilco is big, recently hosting their third Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA, with bands they love and their own side projects. You can download their two Solid Sound sets (Friday, all requests; Saturday mostly Wilco) at wilco.kungfustore.com/categories/491-roadcase.
Ryan Bingham isn’t big yet — his songs on the “Crazy Heart” soundtrack brought his big break —but he’s playing a way-bigger stage than last time through: Oct. 17, 2010 at WAMC.
Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket may not be the biggest band on the bill but are likely the busiest.
Their playing together as My Morning Jacket is surprising with everything else MMJ songwriter, singer and guitarist Jim James has been doing lately.
What’s he’s not doing these days: Monsters of Folk (James, Conor Oberst, M. Ward and Mike Mogis) is on hiatus, plans for MMJ to play as the Electric Mayhem (“The Muppet Show”) behind a screen with animatronic Muppets in front have been shelved (though MMJ played, as My Morning Straitjacket, on “American Dad”).
James has raced full speed ahead on many other projects. He recently released a solo album “Regions of Light and Sound of God” and formed a touring band to play it; the closest gig to us was the Calvin Theatre in Northampton. He released “Tribute To,” an EP of George Harrison songs, and contributed to a Woody Guthrie tribute — among many compilations and TV show soundtrack hits.
He has collaborated with everybody from Dr. Dog to the Decemberists to Tift Merritt to the new Gov’t Mule album — while My Morning Jacket played with John Fogerty on “Wrote a Song for Everyone.” (Visit www.johnfogerty.com/news/behind-the-scenes-studio-footage-with-john-and-my-morning-jacket/ to see.)
In the full-circle department, James portrayed Dylan in the film “I’m Not There,” backed by Calexico. James produced the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s album “That’s It,” after playing with them at SXSW. At Bonnaroo last month, James played with his solo band one night, then guested with the Preservation Hall guys the next; later that same night he co-led the all-star (really!) Rock and Soul Superjam.
Watching the Superjam rehearsals and their Bonnaroo set showed me how James does all this: There’s more than one of him, somehow. The Jim James in rehearsal was focused and sharp, all business. Smiling only when somebody really nailed their part, he painstakingly led the band through the songs he would sing in the show, honing entrances and endings again and again, coordinating with the TelePrompTer guy to get all the words and cues into the system.
But the Jim James onstage in the show was a revved, rocking showman, wild and woolly. He spun in circles and flung his hair in a curly cloud. He played more guitar, and way better, than in rehearsal. He sang better, too. He draped a towel over his head, donned and doffed a hat.
So, My Morning Jacket may be the hottest band on the AmericanaramA Festival on Sunday at SPAC. Show time is 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $96 to $40.50. Phone 800-745-3000 or visit www.livenation.com.
Poison hair-metal singer Bret Michaels fronts his solo-projects band at the Empire State Plaza on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in a free show. A powerful hard-rocking singer with hit albums since the 1980s, Michaels is more than just famous for being famous: “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Also, Wednesday, barely-more-than-one-hit wonder Eddie Money (“Two Tickets to Paradise”) rocks Vapor (Saratoga Casino and Raceway, 342 Jefferson St., Saratoga Springs) at 9 p.m. In the spotlight since the late 1970s, if seldom on the charts, Money sang “Two Tickets” in a recent GEICO commercial. Admission is $30 and $21. Phone 584-2110 or visit www.vapornightclub.com.
The Green River Festival serves up 33 bands on three stages plus hot-air balloon ascensions on Saturday and Sunday at Greenfield Community College (Route I-91 Exit 26, Greenfield, Mass.) Performers include Gogol Bordello, the Skatalites, JD McPherson, the Bernie Worrell Orchestra, the Ryan Montbleau Band, Brandi Carlile, Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale, Lake Street Dive, Todd Snider, Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole and many more. Tickets are $75 each day, plus $10 for parking; balloon rides $250. Visit www.greenriverfestival.com.
Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Ana Egge plays at Music Haven (Central Park, Schenectady) on Sunday at 7 p.m. She plays a guitar that she handmade; she’s won award after award; she boasts a rich, clear voice; and Steve Earle produced her seventh album “Bad Blood. Molly Durnin opens this free show. Visit www.musichavenstage.org.
Cajun rockers the Pine Leaf Boys play at Old Songs (37 S. Main St., Voorheesville) on Saturday at 8 p.m., updating songs of their south Louisiana heritage without losing any of the character that have made folks dance to them for generations. Tickets are $20. Phone 765-2815 or visit www.oldsongs.org.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.