Congratulations to Caffe Lena for being named Best Small Venue in North America at the International Folk Alliance convention in Memphis last week in a tie with Freight and Salvage in Berkeley.
Famed since 1960 for career-making performances by Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie, Ani DiFranco, Don McLean, G. Love and too many others to name, it’s still forward-looking.
When I first climbed its narrow stairs as a high school student, I entered a cathedral of the deepest and spookiest art as the voice and magic of bluesman Mississippi John Hurt filled the place. It’s still deep and sometimes spooky, but joyous and endlessly surprising, too.
In fact, small venues here have the coolest shows this week.
At Caffe Lena (80 seats at 47 Phila St.), this weekend will bring Catie Curtis, Annie and the Hedonists, Jose Luis Merlin and the Barefoot Boys to town.
At The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany), the Roches harmonize tonight in the (450-seat) Swyer Theater while Keller Williams and the WMDs jam in the (982-seat) Hart Theater; where classic rockers Dave Mason and Al Kooper team up on Saturday.
At the (230-seat) Linda Norris Auditorium of the WAMC Performing Arts Studio (339 Central Ave., Albany), the great pop-rocker Marshall Crenshaw performs tonight, and the young country singer Tift Merritt launches her national tour there on Saturday.
At the (1,000-seat) Troy Savings Bank Music Hall tonight the Quartet San Francisco swings everything from the classics to jazz to tangos,
At a busy Caffe Lena this weekend, TV-intensive troubadour Catie Curtis (her songs have been on Grey’s Anatomy, Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, and Alias) headlines tonight, and the duo Nervous But Excited opens, at 7 p.m. Admission is $22, $20 for members.
On Saturday, Annie and the Hedonists rock the blues, folk and jazz, starting at 8 p.m. at the Saratoga Springs venue. Admission is $15, $12 for members.
On Sunday, classical guitarist Jose Luis Merlin performs, with Spiral Tango (guitarist William Simcoe and flautist Elizabeth Williams) opening, at 3 p.m. Admission is $15, $12 for members.
That evening at 7 p.m., the Barefoot Boys celebrate the release of their new album “Sweet Passage” about New York’s maritime history, starting at 7 p.m. Admission is $15, $12 for members.
The Roches — you know, Maggie, Terre and Suzzy — have been stars so long that returning from a 10-year hiatus is no problem. Soon after reuniting, they played a poignant show at WAMC, then came a Central Park show last summer and now a new album, “Moonswept.”
The Roches started their long string of area shows at the former Hullaballo in Rensselaer, where performers shared a dressing room with a leopard, soon after releasing their 1979 self-named debut album (and still top seller).
Two years later, backstage at RPI, my baby son Zak grabbed a container of orange juice away from Suzzy, who was nonetheless completely charmed by him as she had just become mother to Lucy, whose photo she carried in her shoe. Zak and Lucy have grown up, and Lucy sometimes opens shows for her mom and aunts.
Show time for the Roches tonight at The Egg’s Swyer Theater is 8 p.m. Admission is $26. For tickets, phone 473-1845 or www.theegg.org.
Keller Williams calls the new band that he leads onstage tonight at The Egg’s Hart Theater the WMDs, an all-star crew with bassist Keith Moseley (String Cheese Incident), guitarist Gibb Droll (Marc Broussard) and drummer Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Trey Anastasio, Susan Tedeschi and Phil Lesh).
Williams sings and plays guitar, celebrating “12.” With 11 previously released songs and one new tune, he calls it a “hitless greatest hits” album. Show time is 8 p.m. Admission is $26.
Bonus: Bring your ticket stub to Revolution Hall (capacity 450 at 425 River St., Troy) after the show and get $5 off the ticket price of $15 for the Ryan Montbleau Band, jamming on new tunes from “Practice on Friday.”
MASON AND KOOPER
Dave Mason and Al Kooper played far bigger places than The Egg in their 1970s peaks — Kooper turned 64 on Feb. 4 — but both seem right-sized to the Hart Theater now. In fact, this weekend’s show is sold out.
Mason drew a big crowd to a free Alive at Five show two years ago, and so he’ll headline on Saturday, with Kooper opening, starting at 7:30 p.m.
Kooper seems to prefer opening: Last year, he and his Funky Faculty band played first, then Sonny Landreth closed the show.
CRENSHAW AT WAMC
Like Williams, Marshall Crenshaw, who has performed solo on recent tours, leads a new band tonight at WAMC: bassist Byron Isaacs (Ollabelle, and Levon Helm’s band) and drummer Diego Voglino.
Before forming his first trio, for his 1982 self-named debut album, Crenshaw was part of another band — impersonating John Lennon in the Beatlemania crew. Backstage at Saratoga Performing Arts Center after opening for the Beach Boys, Crenshaw brought a shocked silence by proclaiming “I hate the Beatles!”
Becoming a star himself mellowed him. So Crenshaw seemed to enjoy impersonating Buddy Holly in “La Bamba,” the Richie Valens movie. He’s not in the mock rockumentary “Walk Hard,” but his title tune is.
Show time for Marshall Crenshaw tonight at WAMC is 8 p.m. Tickets are $24. Phone 465-5233, ext. 4 or visit www.wamcarts.org.
On Saturday, country singer Tift Merritt takes over at WAMC, performing at 8 p.m.
Her debut album “Bramble Rose” hit the Top 10 lists of Time and the New Yorker magazines, and she took time off after a grueling tour following release of her second album “Tambourine” to write her new and aptly named “Another Country” in Paris. What other country singer has done that?
When Emmylou Harris discovered Merritt in a Nashville writer’s night, she said Merritt “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch.”
Show time for Tift Merritt on Saturday and WAMC is $16.