My Top Ten Shows From a Stellar Music Year
I ‘only’ saw 172 shows last year, which is the lowest number since 2013 (it was late in 2013 that I started this website). Nevertheless, it still made choosing my top ten shows difficult.
As always, I do not include sets from festivals because the energy at a festival adds so much to an artist’s performance that it is unfair to compare festival sets to ‘regular’ shows. This year, however, I make mention of some sets at festivals that were especially fabulous.
In no particular order, here goes! I include a photo where I have one of my own to share even if it was from a different show than I mention here.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the CMA Theatre at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville on December 12 – All I can say to this show is wow! Jason is the artist-in-residence at the Museum this year and performed three Tuesday night shows in one of the intimate (774 seats) venues in the Museum. I feel so fortunate that I was able to attend the middle show at which he performed with his regular band, the 400 Unit. I have seen him in a number of iterations but never in a venue that has as superb acoustics as this theatre has. The two-hour plus set included songs from throughout his career. Jason bantered with the crowd and appeared humbled by the intense reaction from the audience. One thing that truly made my heart sing was the way he and Amanda Shires (his fiddle-playing and singing wife) held each other’s eyes when they played a duet. Every member of the band was on fire and made the 850 mile trip more than worth it!
The Ballroom Thieves at The Sinclair in Cambridge on February 3 and 4 – I was able to see both shows which were different in energy (mostly from the audience) but similar in intensity. This Americana trio continues to grow and amaze their audiences. They are based in the Boston area and thus have many fans who have followed the band since their inception. While I have seen the band on stages from Boston to Nashville to Newport Folk Festival, their hometown shows always seem to have an intensity that makes these shows more special. This configuration of the band has only been together for slightly over three years and hopefully they will stay together forever!
Victor Wooten with Bob Franceschini and Dennis Chambers at The Sinclair in Cambridge February 24 – Victor is one of the best bass players making music today (and he is the only bass player I have seen break a string on stage), so I did not hesitate to see this trio at a venue that does not typically do jazz shows (although the music is a combination of jazz and funk). They performed two sold out shows that weekend but I saw only one of them. I arrived just as the show began and had to stand at the back of the room which may have been better since I could hear the nuances of every note they played. All three are masters of their instruments and while I adore Victor in all of the bands I have seen him in, this show was something special.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives at The Sinclair in Cambridge on April 25 – This was another one of those shows that I went to mostly because I knew his reputation, and was stunned at how incredible this show was.
This was a two-show night for me; I missed the first couple of songs but the good thing about that is the band was completely warmed up to the sold-out audience and was rocking hard! The music is country, and if you think you do not like country music, give him a listen. He should change your mind!
Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers at Lizard Lounge in Cambridge on March 17, 24, and 31 – Amy had a three-week residency in this intimate club (official capacity 105) and I was fortunate enough to score tickets to all three shows. I cannot single out one show in particular as the best, so all three are one of my top ten.
The band was not her usual group of handsome strangers (in fact, because Cindy Cashdollar – a fabulous lap steel player who deserves your attention on her own – was with them, they altered the name of the band for these shows), but they supported her well. The chemistry between Amy and Cindy was incredible and I hope to see more of them together. The audience was filled with adoring fans and we were rewarded each week with a great live show.
Southern Soul Assembly at The Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River on March 19 – This collective of Marc Broussard, Luther Dickinson, JJ Grey, and Anders Osborne, four of the best southern songwriters making music today, stunned the sold-out crowd at this fantastic venue. This was the second tour for this collective; I saw the first tour and that show also was on my top ten of the year (2013 I believe).
I believe I enjoyed this second tour more for a few reasons, but mostly because I know each artist better than I knew them the first time around. The show was a guitar pull, meaning that they rotated taking lead on guitar and vocals, with the other three providing backup and texture. If they tour again, run to see them. And if not, see each one separately. I apologize that the photo is not up to my usual standard – I was recovering from hand surgery and using a monopod so my mobility was non-existent!
Son Volt at The Paradise in Boston on April 6 – This band does not tour a lot, but they released an album in 2017 that is stellar and toured in support of that.
It was a sold-out show at one of my less favorite venues, but I was not about to miss this. Starting with opener Anders Parker, the show had the audience enthralled from the first notes. This is one of the earliest alt-country bands and are still one of the best.
North Mississippi AllStars at The Sinclair in Cambridge on May 12 – This is one of my favorite bands and this show was possibly the best show of theirs I have ever seen (and also the longest set)!
You have already seen Luther Dickinson on this list in Southern Soul Assembly, but NMA is the band he founded with his brother Cody (the drummer). Their style of blues rock needs to be experienced, preferably live. They had openers Rev Sekou and Alvin Youngblood Hart who both sang with NMA. I had never seen either of them and both added even more depth to the show if that is possible.
Old Crow Medicine Show at The Orpheum Theatre in Boston on May 25 – They toured in support of their stupendous version of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde in 2017 and, as I wrote in my review, did Dylan better than Dylan.
This band is comprised of terrific musicians who know how to have fun while performing. The ‘choreography’ on stage does not in any way detract from the quality of the music but rather enhances it for me. I would see this show again.
Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer at The Sinclair on August 22 – I had seen each of these sisters separately, but together they brought tears to my eyes.
This show made the audience feel as if we were treasured guests in their living room. They bantered, told stories of growing up together, called each other ‘Sissie’ and played the album which they co-wrote. They obviously have much chemistry as sisters, but as musicians I felt as if they are almost a single voice. Together or separately, I will see these sisters as often as I can!
I add some honorable mentions to this list, all as number eleven: Iron & Wine with John Moreland opening at The Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale on November 6; The Suitcase Junket at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge on February 1, 8, and 15; Guy Davis and Fabrizio Poggi at Regattabar on April 4; Christopher Paul Stelling at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge on May 18; Susan Cattaneo at Thunder Road in Somerville on June 15; and Stephen Stills and Judy Collins at Lowell Summer Music Series on August 20.
And then there are the festival sets that stood out for me. I want to preface this list by saying that honestly almost all the sets I saw were impressive, but these are a little more so. J.P. Harris and Chance McCoy at Newport Folk Festival; Zephaniah O’Hora at AmericanaFest; Aaron Lee Tasjan at both Newport Folk Festival and AmericanaFest; John Prine at Newport Folk Festival; and Rachael and Vilray at Green River Festival.
It was a pretty stupendous year for live music. These artists and many others make our lives better and they deserve to be supported. Go to live shows and buy their music at the shows (where they get more of the money then if you buy somewhere else). Your mental health will thank you!
Posted on January 6, 2018, in concert photos, concert reviews, music, Uncategorized and tagged Amy Helm, concert photos, concert review, Jason Isbell, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Live music, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, North Mississippi Allstars, Old Crow Medicine Show, Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, Son Volt, Southern Soul Assembly, The Ballroom Thieves, top ten shows, Victor Wooten. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.