For decades, spring started when Herb Chesbrough announced Saratoga Performing Arts Center non-classical shows in a news conference. In SPAC’s Live Nation era, we hear of shows one by one, often on artists’ websites.
On Saturday, SPAC opens its box office in a rite of spring echoing the old protocol, and Music Haven announces its season next Thursday.
Saturday only, Live Nation waives its service fees, for in-person purchases only, on the 29 shows announced so far, including multinight jam-rock faves the Dave Matthews Band; Beatle Ringo Starr; Pulitzer Prize-winning hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar; comic Kevin Hart (opening the season May 25); country giants Keith Urban, Jason Aldean and the Zac Brown Band; and stars on the big horizon Halsey and Imagine Dragons.
SPAC also offers a 15 percent discount on the National Ballet of Cuba’s three-night run, June 6-8. The SPAC box office (routes 9 and 50, Saratoga Springs) opens Saturday at 10 a.m.; dance fans can get the ballet discount online right now using the MDAY18 code.
Music Haven (Central Park, Schenectady) announces its newly expanded season a week from today, presented in an improved facility with permanent stadium seating on a concrete floor (but the same dance floor space as ever), a newly terraced hill for lawn-chairs and picnic blankets, plus a new sound system. It promises to be as excitingly international as ever.
SPAC serves up bargains on Saturday, but free shows at Music Haven are pure gifts.
VINTAGE COHOES ARTISTS
Tremendous heritage-and-roots artists play the Cohoes Music Hall (58 Remsen St.) this week: Brand X tonight, Alejandro Escovedo on Friday and Terrance Simien on Saturday.
Lesser-known than Escovedo and Simien, the aptly named Brand X once featured drummer Phil Collins (in Genesis at the same time!), with John Goodsall, guitar; and Percy Jones, bass. Joining Goodsall and Jones are newcomers Kenny Grohowski, drums; Scott Weinberger, percussion; and Chris Clark, keyboards. They’ve made five live albums (plus eight studio albums) affirming their performing power. They recorded their first live album in 1976 at Ronny Scott’s famed London jazz club the year they formed, and recorded “Locked & Loaded” last year in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 8 p.m. $45 floor, $39 parquet. 518-953-0630 www.thecohoesmusichall.org
In maybe 20 Escovedo shows I’ve seen since the ‘90s everywhere here (including the pool room at Valentine’s) and in New Orleans, Fall River, Hudson and Northampton, I’ve only seen him lead the same band twice. However, playing solo or fronting his 13-piece orchestra, rock and chamber groups of all sizes and his all-star Burn Something Beautiful band, he’s been great or better every time. Kris Gruen opens. 8 p.m. $30 parquet, $25 balcony
The greatest singer zydeco has produced, Simien plays zippy accordion with a funky band and can foot-toss Mardi Gras beads to the back row of any venue this side of Congo Square at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. An eighth generation Creole, he may be the most powerful current keeper of the zydeco flame. 7:30 p.m. $19 floor, $15 parquet, $12 balcony
The Indigo Girls and Michelle Malone show Saturday at Skidmore’s Zankel Hall is sold out.
Last Tuesday was saxophonist-composer-arranger-teacher Keith Pray’s birthday. So he gave himself the same gift jazz fans open at the Van Dyck once a month: a swing-rocking blast with his Big Soul Ensemble, a big band playing full force in bracingly contemporary terms.
The band is fluid, with subs in and out month by month. But its feel and power remain amazingly consistent. Everybody sight-reads section parts and improvises solos, but the rhythm section welds it all together with muscular swing: Lou Smaldone, bass; Bob Halek, drums; Dave Gleason, piano.
They knocked it out of the park for the boss; Brian Patneaude blurring his “Giant Steps” solo into “Happy Birthday,” which band and fans sang at the end. Then they partied “Happy Birthday” in at the end of the high-energy New Orleans shuffle “Down at the Lark,” a sweet good-night.
Singer-songwriter Tom Russell returned Thursday to the Eighth Step Underground (a Proctors venue in the former Carl Co. bargain basement). Most artists celebrate new releases one at a time, as John Gorka did at the Step last week with “True in Time.” Not Russell: He honored both the all-new “Folk Hotel” and the rerecorded classics collection “Old Songs Yet to Sing” – his 36th and 37th releases.
The cowboy-hatted bard assumed his “Railroad Bill” persona to riffle through folk chestnuts before opening his own songbook, unobtrusive guitar supporting his burly baritone in campfire simplicity.
Some songs rode horseback: “Leaving El Paso” (with a nod to Marty Robbins) and “Guadalupe.” Others mourned in graveyards: “The Last Time I Saw Hank” (Williams), “Rise Again, Handsome Johnny” (JFK), “The Sparrow of Swansea” (Dylan Thomas). And the lightness came in jokey, wild-wit chat.
Russell’s Johnny Cash imitations, after his own breathtaking “Veterans Day,” felt fun but unnecessary. Russell writes such moving melodies and literate lyrics that he doesn’t need to borrow songs from anyone. Few have written anything as strong as “I Walk the Line,” maybe; but Russell’s poignant encore of “Navajo Rug” came close.