Selecting top shows for the Dec. 29 annual wrap-up reminded me that many happened elsewhere; they required (and rewarded!) road trips.
I’m not talking about Jazz Fest in New Orleans in May or Bonnaroo near Nashville in June either: Those were air trips, and quite wonderful. You don’t need me to tell you again how EXTRA-cool Jazz Fest is, though I just did, again. And watching my brother Jim Hoke get cheers at Bonnaroo was a joy deluxe.
Closer to home were some fantastic shows — too far away to include in the wrap-up, but well worth remembering.
In late May, while Jazz Fest funk still echoed through my soul, the great New Orleans singer Aaron Neville played MASS MoCA and brought the Big Easy spirit with him. He had closed Jazz Fest on the Gentilly Stage while Trombone Shorty closed on the (larger) Accura Stage. (Don’t miss Trombone Shorty at The Egg on Jan. 12.)
Neville was better at MASS MoCA than at Jazz Fest — more relaxed, more confident with the band and the songs. His whole thing just worked better. His elder brother Charles, who lives near Northampton, was also more on his game, and the whole band really rocked it, with more energy, livelier interplay and a looser vibe.
A week after Bonnaroo, I met my daughter Pisie at the Iron Horse in Northampton to see Amadou and Mariam, from Mali. We’d both been fans long before Pisie spent a semester in Senegal and traveled around west Africa. So we were jazzed to meet up and see them together.
Driving from Boston, Pisie arrived just as Amadou and Mariam fired up “Coulibaly,” my favorite tune of theirs, a seriously infectious dance number that lifted everybody in the place toward the ceiling. Bonus: I ran into Mona Golub, impresario of Music Haven, and Michael Eck, man of 1,000 bands, downstairs by the bar.
As Amadou and Mariam played, I was struck by how energetic and propulsive the music was as they performed it with such casual ease. Making mighty grooves that seemed to soar straight from the Sahara, they’d occasionally chat as if lounging together in seaside beach chairs.
The “Mountain Snow and Mistletoe” revue of Adirondack folk festivities hits The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) on Saturday and Sunday. There may be no finer or more fun holiday celebration than the songs and stories that troubadours and life partners Chris Shaw and Bridget Ball cook up every December with their Mountain Snow Orchestra: fiddler John Kirk, all-around entertainer Kevin McKrell and percussionist/comic Brian Melick.
Show times are Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is $24. 473-1845 www.theegg.org.
A great mid-September long weekend began with an NRBQ show at The Narrows in Fall River, Mass., followed by a night at the beach house of old friends in South Dartmouth, and a ferry the next day from New Bedford to Cuttyhunk Island, where Ellie had been working for months. It was a sweet reunion in a spectacular place.
The ’Q offered a springy, strong launching pad for all this out-of-town fun. With drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks from the Skeletons subbing for Conrad Choucroun (on paternity leave), the band was well-prepared, hot and happy — and made the crowd feel that way, too. Hicks never missed a lick, and the guys played us an extra-fun one, packed with surprises, as usual, including a handful of Lovin’ Spoonful songs performed with perfect, playful flair.
On the way home after a brief stay on Cuttyhunk — an island you don’t want to leave, a place as pretty and full of eccentric folks as (fictional) Port Wenn in the British TV comedy “Doc Martin” — my friend Joe and I stopped in Springfield for dinner at Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou.
This main street joint does Creole cooking just right — no surprise, considering that Wayne hails from New Orleans. He goes back for Jazz Fest most years, but in his own way. Wayne establishes himself in royal fashion on his favorite bar stool in the Seahorse Tavern across from the Gentilly gate, and he holds court as old friends from the Big Easy and from his new home in the Northeast come by to pay respects.
My friend Dennis from Northampton (he was with Pisie and me at the Amadou and Mariam show there) introduced us in the Seahorse. But I doubt Wayne remembered me when I greeted him over the menu and ordered “Louisiana Lenny’s Sausage ’n’ Chicken YaYa!” The menu describes this, inadequately, as “boneless chicken breast wrapped around andouille sausage, seasoned with Creole spices, then baked. Served with herbed rice, Cajun country rusty tomato, mushroom gravy and corn bread.”
But I expect Wayne might remember the hearty home-brew that Joe poured for the three of us around the table. That dinner took me right back to New Orleans, a perfect coda after a weekend that started with NRBQ; and I don’t know a better way to start any weekend.
’Tis the season for the funk, and here comes plenty of it in the very able hands of the Wooten Brothers — bassist Victor, drummer Futureman, keyboardist Joseph and guitarist Regi — on Sunday at The Egg. The members of this family band are stalwarts of others’ bands: Victor and Futureman with Bela Fleck’s Flecktones, Joseph with the Steve Miller Band and Regi with everybody in Nashville. Together, they wield a rare familial funk chemistry. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Admission is $34.50.