Brewery Ommegang is a road trip away (656 County Highway 33, Cooperstown – stay tuned for more of those). The venue on the hill opened its outdoor-music season Sunday with Jack White and continues with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats on Tuesday.
Rocking folkie conviction with Stax and Motown soul, the R&B big band wowed new fans in recent TV gigs with fresh tunes from “Tearing at the Seams.” Unlike its mostly Rateliff-written debut predecessor, it’s a full-band creative collaboration with Joseph Pope III, bass; Mark Shusterman, keys; Patrick Meese, drums; Luke Mossman, guitar; Wesley Watkins, trumpet; and Andy Wild, saxophone. They wrote “Seams” (fast!) in New Mexico and produced it in Oregon with Richard Swift who sometimes recorded them when they didn’t know tape was rolling.
Indie-rocking folk band the Head and the Heart opens. Formed in Seattle open-mic nights, they chose their name this way, as lead singer/guitarist Josiah Johnson explains, “Your head is telling you to be stable and find a good job, you know in your heart that this (the band) is what you’re supposed to do even if it’s crazy.” He and fellow crazies Jonathan Russell, vocals, guitar, percussion; Charity Rose Thielen, violin, guitar, vocals; Chris Zasche, bass; Kenny Hensley, piano; and Tyler Williams, drums, earned “Seattle’s Best New Band” honors. They’ve toured with everybody and released three albums. “Signs of Light” hit in 2016, so they’re due for new songs. 7 p.m., doors 5. $45, $60 with camping. 607-544-1800 www.ommegang.com
Roots music fans face a tough choice Friday: the rollicking super-fun Gulf Coast piano R&B of Marcia Ball downtown at the Upper Room (59 N. Pearl St., Albany)and Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones uptown at WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany).
Introduced every night as “long, tall Marcia Ball,” Ball crosses impossibly long legs under her piano and rocks the house with swampy Delta pop, Texas glide-blues and primal rock ’n roll. Crossing state lines and styles easily, she’s so popular in New Orleans that she often previews the second weekend of Jazz Fest with a free show in downtown Lafayette Park, a party dubbed “Local-fest;” and she was named an official 2018 Texas State Musician by the Texas State Legislature. Her newest album “Shining Bright” features her road-tested band co-starring Texas-style (T-Bone Walker, Albert Collins) guitar whiz Mighty Mike Schermer and New Orleans sax-man Eric Bernhardt. 8 p.m., doors 7. $30 standing, $40 reserved seating, $180 VIP. 518-694-3100 www.theupperroomalbany.com
Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones’ show Friday at WAMC’s The Linda includes a swing-dance lesson, appropriately. The Hudson Valley combo plays “a new take on an old sound,” says Hope. Well, “sounds,” multiple: they toss rockabilly, R&B and whatever else they want into a blender and crank it up to “Dance” speed. Hudson Valley magazine named them “Best Up-and-Coming Band:” Hope, vocals; Matt Goldpaugh, bass; Dave Tetreault, drums; Chris Heitzman, guitar. Later this summer, they tour with the Rev. Horton Heat and the Blasters. 7 p.m. $15. 518-465-5233 x158 www.thelinda.org
At the Linda last Saturday, Willie Nile reached back to Bob Dylan and ahead to songs simmering on an album due in July. Primordial, punchy as punk, there’s nothing fancy about Nile’s rock, and never a false note or word. He came up just after the New Wave hit – “a poet from outside Buffalo who could barely play his instrument,” as he described himself Saturday. His music generates its impact from immediacy, from simply and strongly meaning it.
Nile’s own “This is Our Time” had the same hopeful/blunt force and swagger as the anthemic Dylan one-two – “The Times They are A-Changin’” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” – that preceded it, starting the show. Nile toggled between Dylan classics from his “Positively Bob” tribute, new originals and older ones. Rockers hit hard with depth and drive and the hushed romanticism of “Have I Ever Told You” and “Looking for Someone” soothed sweet and slow.
At the end, he bookended his own mission statement “House of a Thousand Guitars” about the power of us united, and “One Guitar,” about individuals’ expression, between Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and “Blowin’ In the Wind.” Nile reveled in his band’s bold slam: guitarist Matt Hogan’s hot riffs, Johnny Pisano’s surging bass undertow and drummer Jon Weber’s relentless thunder. Late in shows, Nile sometimes shouts, “This is IT!” to rev the crowd. Last Saturday he didn’t have to: Everybody knew.
Afterward, near the merch table, Nile said people often ask how he keeps going, being positive, when so much is so wrong. Noting he turns 70 this year (his dad’s 100), he pointed to the power of rock ‘n’ roll as one source of his endurance – “I’m doing the best work of my life now!” – to his mother’s optimism as another, and to the example of Robert Kennedy. “Bobby Kennedy said, ‘We can do better,’” said Nile, suggesting we have to.
One on one, this felt uplifting as his show. He’d welded the crowd into a cheering, singing, fist-waving single entity of that ecstatic spiritual sort that forms in a crowd only when something true and real rocks the house and your heart.