REVIEW: Seeped in silvery, eclectic rhythms, Celebrity Series of Boston presented a joyous, sold out Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto concert for Bossa Nova’s 60th anniversary

Catchy, invigorating rhythms have never had a better reception than at Grammy award-winning Brazilian great Sergio Mendes and popular Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto’s sold out concert to celebrate 60 years of Bossa Nova on Friday, October 18 at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston.  Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston, an enthusiastic crowd rejoiced in the exhilarating, eclectic rhythms that surely left them humming a tune or two long after the show was over.

Click here to find out where Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto will perform next on their tour.  Click here for more about Celebrity Series of Boston and all of their upcoming events.

Dressed in a floral, black trimmed dress that delivered a certain sparkle with silver, sky high heels, Bebel Gilberto, who descends from a long line of Brazilian and jazz greats including her late father, Joao Gilberto, who wrote the Grammy award-winning tune, The Girl from Ipanena, kicked off the celebration.  Accompanied by renowned guitarist Guilherme Monteiro and drummer Leo Costa, Bebel swept onto the stage with catchy, low key rhythms.   Her smooth, slinky vocals opened with Wave written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Frank Sinatra recorded this popular song in English in 1969.

BebelGilberto-credit Vicente de Paulo(3)

Bebel Gilberto Photo credit: Vicente de Paulo/Celebrity Series of Boston

Most of Bebel’s songs were in Portuguese, but as she engaged the crowd through song and personal reflections, she said she is Brazilian-American.  She dedicated a few songs to family members, stating family is everything.  Her set was a mix of jazz and serene rhythms as she whistled and scatted onstage.

Even if Portuguese is not a familiar language, the beats and rhythms linger in Bebel’s crisp, clear, and captivating vocals.  She invited the crowd to sing and clap along as she covered some of her father’s hit songs such as the humorous O Pato (The Duck), the upbeat rhythms of Saudade vem Correndo, and Udiu, a song that Bebel said mirrors how her father played guitar.

Warm and charismatic, Bebel delivered a lighthearted, invigorating version of her own hit, So Nice (Summer Samba) and performed a lighter, more upbeat version of Just One of those Things, dedicating the classic Cole Porter hit to her parents.  After playfully applying lipstick onstage, she ended her set with Samba Da Bencao, dedicating the mystical, romantic rhythms to Boston.

The celebration heated up as Grammy award-winning Sergio Mendes appeared onstage, greeted with a rousing applause.  Along with his vocalist wife Gracinha Leporace and Katie Hampton, Sergio promised the crowd a musical journey through 60 years of Bossa Nova music and he certainly delivered.

Referring to the renowned musicians onstage as “the best band he ever had” while simultaneously playing piano and conducting the band, Sergio was accompanied by drummer Leo Costa, guitarist Kleber Jorge Pimenta, bassist Andre De Santanna, keyboardist Scott Mayo, and percussionist Gibi.

Dressed in his signature white Cuban Hat and suit, Sergio delved into the history of Bossa Nova, opening with a rousing rendition of Magalenha as the crowd clapped wildly.  He followed it with the lighthearted and colorful tune, Waters of March, composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim as Katie Hampton and Gracinha Leporace swayed and effervescently sang, “It’s the end of the strain/It’s the joy in your heart.”

Sergio-Mendes_V0A0520_V_Final

Sergio Mendes Photo credit: Vincente De Paulo/Celebrity Series of Boston

Sergio kept the evening lively, sharing songs that ranged from romantic and stirring to breezy and joyous with drum-infused rhythms.  In a flowing sea green dress and charcoal leggings, Gracinha passionately sang O Que Sera by Chico Buarque.  Hip hop veteran and vocalist Harrell Harris (H2O) sang a lovely duet with Katie Hampton for Sergio’s 80s hit, Never Gonna Let You Go as guitarist Kleber Jorge Pimenta performed an amazing guitar solo.

One of the most thrilling parts of the evening was a freestyle jam session which included a berimbau and percussionist solo seeped in the rhythms of Rio de Janeiro. Many of the musicians are multi-instrumentalists and it was fascinating to watch the instruments seemingly “speak” to each other.

The concert featured unique spins on popular songs such as Gracinha and Katie’s spirited, piano-infused duet of the Beatles classic, Fool on the Hill.  Gracinha also lends her powerful vocals to an eclectic version of Dusty Springfield’s James Bond theme song, The Look of Love.

Sergio Mendes capped off the evening on a high note with two of his most popular songs.  H2O returned to the stage as the band performed Mas Que Nada, a 1966 hit song that became popular again when Sergio collaborated on the song with Will.i.am and The Black Eyed Peas.  H2O is an incredible talent, adding a boost to an already electric lineup.  Saving the best for last, Bebel returned to the stage with the entire ensemble for a sensational version of Sergio’s most popular song, Pais Tropical, enhanced with bright rhythms and Scott Mayo’s thrilling saxophone.  After 60 years, Bossa Nova still puts joy in the heart.

Click here to find out where Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto are performing next.  Click here for Celebrity Series of Boston’s wonderful 2019-20 season and upcoming events.  For updates and more, follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

REVIEW: Multi-talented Hugh Jackman wows at the TD Garden

Is multi-talented Hugh Jackman better on film or onstage?

Is it worth seeing him when he comes back to Boston?  Is he the Greatest Showman?

One thing is certain – Hugh Jackman is the genuine article.

Some actors who decide to go on tour put on self-indulgent shows of their history in show business and share their general musings about life to promote their next album or film.  They might even sing a song or two.  However, outside the studio, they can’t really sing or dance.   People cheer, even if the show isn’t what they were expecting, but they remember that guy in that film or show who was so great in those roles, and that is enough.

Hugh is one talented guy.  He is a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award-winner as well as a Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominee.  He has also been on the other side of acting as host of the Academy and Tony Awards.  For his 50th birthday, he wished to go on a world-wide tour.

Hugh Jackman’s ‘The Man. The Music.  The Show’ will continue through October 20, 2019. Click here for show dates.  He’ll also return to Boston’s TD Garden for one more performance on Tuesday, October 1.

Hugh Jackman the Tour

Photo credit to Hugh Jackman The Show

The morning of Hugh’s appearance on Thursday, June 27 at the TD Garden, Hugh Jackman made a surprise appearance serving coffee from a coffee truck in Boston to promote his charity work with ‘The Laughing Man Cafe and Foundation.’  A loyal Bruins fan, he called performing in Boston one of his big dreams.

As superhero Wolverine (in which he demonstrated an onstage pose or two), he showed his dynamic range.  Decked out at first in a white tux, he ran the gamut of styles from flashy costumes to more casual attire with no ringleader costume in sight.  Though he reminisced about his career with a realistic look at his dogged pursuit to find success as an actor, he seemed like a humble, funny, and approachable guy.

A family friendly show, he kept the crowd moving with a broad range of music.  From reaching into an old school vibe with selections such as I’ve Got Rhythm and Mac the Knife to tap dancing to AC/DC to performing a vast selection of musical theatre including lighting up the stage with selections from ‘The Greatest Showman,’ the show had a universal appeal though especially tailored for the theatre buff.  He joined Kaley McKnight onstage to perform a stunning, powerful rendition of This is Me and a sweeping ‘Les Miserables‘ medley.  He also joined members of the Boston Children’s Chorus for a stirring rendition of You Will Be Found from the hit musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’

Hugh Jackman stage

Hugh Jackman at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

The second half of the show did not outdo the first, but he demonstrated his range further in the second.  It actually became a bit trippy during his ode to his Australian idol, Peter Allen in which Hugh won a Tony Award for his portrayal as Peter in ‘The Boy From Oz.’  Peter was not only known for songs such as Don’t Cry Out Loud and Arthur’s Theme, but for his over-the-top stage performances.  He also welcomed the audience into his native Australia by recreating the outback, claiming it as one of his most out-of-this-world experiences he has ever had.

So, to answer those questions, I prefer Hugh in his epic films, but he is undeniably a wonderful performer.  The very best is a lot to ask, but his dynamic range is truly great and worth watching on tour or when he returns to Boston in October.  You will no doubt recognize the sheer talent that he has developed over decades of being a singer, a dancer, theater actor, movie star, and a hero.

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s renowned conductor Cynthia Woods discusses ‘Angels and Heroes’ and describes her inspiration

On International Women’s Day, the Sleepless Critic pays homage to women who are making their mark around the world.  One woman who is thriving in the Boston area and beyond is renowned Cambridge Symphony Orchestra (CSO) conductor, Cynthia Woods.

Cynthia has toured around the world and put together Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s latest show, ‘Angels and Heroes,’ a one day only concert performance on Sunday, March 17 at Kresge Auditorium at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Click here for more information and tickets.  The Sleepless Critic interviewed her about her exciting music background, what inspires her, ‘Angels and Heroes,’ and her future plans.

Angels and Heroes

Photo courtesy of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra

Sleepless Critic:  Grammy award-winning composer Nan Schwartz has not only composed arrangements for Natalie Cole and is from a long line of women composers, but she has also created orchestration for several films such as My Week with Marilyn, Life of Pi, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and Julie and Julia.  What inspired the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra to take on Nan Schwartz’s latest work, the 15-minute trumpet tone poem, ‘Angels Among Us?’  I understand this piece will be performed live for the very first time.

Cynthia Woods:  I met Nan Schwartz a few years ago and immediately thought her music would be a great way to broaden our programming.  I asked her to keep me in the loop about her works for concert orchestra and she very kindly did.

Simultaneously, I was actively looking for some fresh concertos that use the brass to break up the piano or violin concerto routine and found a great fit when I heard Angels Among Us.   Its beautiful lines and lush melodies evoke shimmering imagery and its rich, jazz influence brings a breath of freshness to the concert repertoire.

SC:  One of the featured soloists for the afternoon is trumpeter Joseph Foley.  He has performed all over the country and his first solo CD makes its debut this year.  How did he become part of this performance?  I understand this is a particularly challenging piece.

CW:  I knew I needed an exceptional trumpet player who was also very comfortable crossing idioms and had a range that went much higher than what is considered standard.  Joe, whom I have known for years, came to mind right away as the perfect choice.

SC:  It is easy to see why this performance is called ‘Angels and Heroes’ because Joseph Schwanter’s powerful piece, ‘New Morning for the World’ pays tribute to the great Dr. Martin Luther King, JrReverend Ray Hammond of Bethel AME Church will narrate some of Dr. King’s most acclaimed speeches.

CW:  As you know, Art reflects the times we live in and the struggles we face as a society.  I wanted to program something that reflected some of our current struggles we face while adding a historical context.  Schwantner’s brilliant ‘New Morning for the World’ was a perfect choice.  Dr. King preached hope and love and Schwantner represented that by using bold, fractured rhythmic cells to represent the unrest and despair of inequity against the soaring, vocal-like writing of the strings and brass.

The text is drawn from a series of some of King’s most famous speeches including ‘Behind the Selma March’ ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ and ‘I Have a Dream.’  We are thrilled Reverend Dr. Raymond Hammond is joining us to narrate these speeches and to bring renewed life and hope to Dr. King’s words.

SC:  The theme of this concert is using your voice to break through feelings of powerlessness.  Please expand on that.  I understand the pieces in this performance complement each other.

CW:  Yes, all the works in some way celebrate the human spirit and its ability to transform our lives for the better. The ‘Angels’ of Schwartz’s work are the ordinary people such as parents, teachers and friends, who, in the quietest way, change our lives for the better.  Schwantner reminds us while we may face many challenges and heartbreak in life, we must have hope for change ‘because the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’ (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). The Sibelius, which was inspired by the simple beauty of 17 swans soaring overhead, reminds us of the simple beauty and inspiration our lives hold on a daily basis.

SC:  You have worked all over the world.  Please tell me what first inspired you to choose a career in music and what has been your favorite career moment so far?

CW:  My parents enrolled me in a Preschool for the Performing Arts when I was three, and I think I have had the music bug ever since.  I have very vivid childhood memories from when my folks would take my brother and me to the local orchestra concerts, which were conducted by the pioneering conductor Catherine Comet. My eyes were glued to her and thought it looked like fun! My passion for music began early and never dimmed.

I have so many wonderful memories. One of my favorite moments might be our recent ballet production of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  It ended up being everything I could have hoped for artistically as a synthesis of music and dance, two of my favorite art forms.

SC:  Is there a particular conductor that has inspired you over the years?

CW:  It’s hard to choose because there are so many wonderful conductors out there, but my favorite one would be Bernard Haitink if I had to choose.  He seems to overflow with music every time he performs.

SC:  I understand you conducted Conrad Pope’s The Little Match Girl, such a compelling tale. You also worked on Morgan Neville’s documentary on Amar Bose.  Please tell me more about that.

CW:  Two seasons ago, the CSO was very fortunate acclaimed Hollywood composer Conrad Pope agreed to write The Little Match Girl for us.  With youth runaways and homelessness at an all time high, we envisioned a tone poem outlining a story that is still very relevant today. Instead, it found its essence as a ballet filled with various scenes of our heroine’s life, from snow ball fights to teasing a grumpy old man to her vivid memories of her grandmother waiting for her in heaven.  Due to this evolution, both Pope and I hope to see it fully staged at some point in the future.

I worked with Morgan Neville on his documentary about Amar Bose filmed on location at various parts of MIT where Bose was a student and he designed where the CSO performs, the Kresge Auditorium.  Anytime you work with artists of different fields, it gives you a broader sense of your own idiom.  It was an inspiring and rewarding experience.

SC:  When you are not conducting, you are also a lecturer and writer.  Any new projects you’d like to let people know about?

CW:  We are busy planning lots of great things for our 45th anniversary season next year including a newly commissioned ballet of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. We also hope to commission a new work for our Family Concert series as well as continue to highlight diverse and relevant programming that inspires our audiences. I think it will be our most challenging and rewarding season yet.

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s latest show, ‘Angels and Heroes will be held Sunday, March 17 at Kresage Auditorium at MIT.  Click here for more information on Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and for tickets.

REVIEW: Lexus Broadway in Boston’s ‘Waitress the Musical’ proves the best things in life come from the kitchen

Lexus Broadway in Boston’s heartwarming and meaningful musical, Waitress the Musical, shows that life’s most important answers can be found in a pie.  Currently on a national tour, Waitress, with book by Jessie Nelson, music and lyrics by Tony and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and featuring an all female production team, oozes with southern charm as baker Jenna, portrayed passionately by Desi Oakley, finds herself pregnant and falling in love with her doctor.

Jenna in the kitchen

Desi Oakley as Jenna in the national tour of Waitress, photo by Joan Marcus and courtesy of Broadway in Boston

With a cast of colorful and comical characters and based on the 2007 film of the same name starring Keri Russell, Waitress served its best in Boston from February 20 through March 4 at the Boston Opera House.  Click here to see where Waitress will be taking the stage next and here for more on Lexus Broadway in Boston.

From a bright neon sign and red chrome booths to clever choreography that gives diner dancing a fresh, new meaning, the majority of Waitress is set inside the vintage and picturesque Joe’s Pie Diner.  Impressive songs range from catchy to reflective and numbers like When He Sees Me and Opening Up are sure to stay with the audience long after the show is over.

Full of heart, what Waitress the Musical achieves is a delicate balance of the sweetness and realism of life, delving into the lives of a group of dynamic characters who dream of a better life.  Jenna expresses her thoughts on life through the humorous titles she deems to Joe’s Diner Pie of the Day.

'Waitress the Musical 'Jenna and Earl

Nick Bailey & Desi Oakley in the national tour of Waitress, photo by Joan Marcus and Matthew Murphy and courtesy of Broadway in Boston

Desi Oakley delivers a powerful, inspiring performance as Jenna.  She depicts Jenna’s complex web of emotions with a blend of dark humor and a note of hope.  Her voice is as versatile as the pies she bakes and her intense rendition of She Used to Be Mine is one of the show’s greatest highlights.  Her irresistible chemistry and beautiful harmony with compassionate and mysterious Bryan Fenkart as Dr. Pomatter are engaging in the playful Bad Idea and the tender You Matter to Me.  Dressed in a plaid shirt, worn jeans, and tied back hair, Nick Bailey as Earl is manipulative and gruff with a rich, rock n roll voice.

'Waitress the Musical' Doctor visit

Maiesha McQueen, Desi Oakley & Bryan Fenkart in the national tour of Waitress, photo by Joan Marcus and Matthew Murphy and courtesy of Broadway in Boston

With big earrings and wild hair, Charity Angel Dawson offers a great deal of comic relief as outspoken and wise cracking waitress Becky.  Passionate and direct, Becky is captivating in the number, I Didn’t Plan It and her onstage charisma will have the audience hanging on her every word.

Waitress The magic of pie

Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley & Lenne Klingaman in the national tour of Waitress, photo by Joan Marcus and Matthew Murphy and courtesy of Broadway in Boston

In bright, red glasses, Lenne Klingaman portrays Dawn with her own, magnetic, comedic timing.  Dreamy and shy, Dawn calls herself “a woman of many passions.”  She is unforgettable singing the yearning number, When He Sees Me.  With Jeremy Morse as scene stealing Ogie, they are a comedic force to be reckoned with.  Gleeful and goofy with a habit of over sharing, Jeremy Morse has even the cast trying to keep a straight face.  Morse’s comic timing is a bungle of flawless, unsuppressed energy.

Waitress Lenne and Jeremy

Lenne Klingaman & Jeremy Morse in the national tour of Waitress, photo by Joan Marcus and Matthew Murphy and courtesy of Broadway in Boston

Larry Marshall, with a wonderful laugh and a curmudgeonly personality, portrays difficult customer and diner owner, Joe.   A complicated storyteller with more insight than he seems, his conversations with Jenna is full of humor and openness.  Speaking to the uplifting spirit of this charming show, Joe proclaims, “Baking a pie is a magical experience.”

Waitress - Waitress and Joe

Desi Oakley & Larry Marshall in the national tour of Waitress, photo by Joan Marcus and Matthew Murphy and courtesy of Broadway in Boston

Click here to see where Waitress the Musical arrives next.  Lexus Broadway in Boston announces their new season on Monday, March 18 and is just getting started with popular musicals, On Your Feet, Disney’s Aladdin, Hamilton, and more.  Click here for more information, tickets, and upcoming news.  Follow Lexus Broadway in Boston on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

For Performing Arts news, interviews, reviews, and much more in Boston and beyond, follow us on Facebook @sleeplesscritic and subscribe.

Jars of Clay, TobyMac, and For King and Country part of ‘Soulfest’s’ 20th anniversary concert celebration

Soulfest Full lineup

Credit to Gunstock Mountain Resort and Soulfest

Nestled in the White Mountains is a concert experience unlike any other.  Beautiful and uplifting, Soulfest is celebrating its 20th anniversary as a haven for fellowship and the Christian music scene in the stunning mountain setting from Thursday, August 3 through Saturday, August 5 at Gunstock Mountain in Gilford, NH.  In addition, this anniversary concert weekend will also include the Soulfest Kickoff Concert as well as the late night screening of the film, Priceless on Wednesday, August 2.  Click here for an inside look at this anniversary concert experience.

Soulfest Revolution

Soulfest concert scene Photo credit to Soulfest

Co-founded by Dan Russell in 1998, Soulfest annually features an incredible repertoire on multiple stages, featuring 80 musical guests and inspirational speakers over a three day weekend in August.  With this year’s theme entitled ‘Music, Love, Action,’ the Soulfest Kickoff Concert includes performances by Grammy and Dove Award winners Jars of Clay, The Violet Burning, Rachel Taylor, and Dan Russell.  A few highlights spread out over the Inside Out, Mercy Street, and Revival stages are For King and Country, TobyMac, Crowder, Derek Minor, Moriah Peters, Lacey Sturm, Kardia, Project 86, Epic Season, The Light of Hope, as well as acoustic performances on the Mountain Top stage from Chasing the Light, Christopher Williams, Big Kettle Drum, and more.  Click here for this year’s milestone lineup and for tickets.

Soulfest Kickoff Concert

Kickoff concert lineup Photo courtesy of Soulfest

Not only is Soulfest a monumental musical event, it is also packed with exciting and informative workshops by Grammy-winning singer-songwriters, professors, New York bestselling authors, and much more.  This year, the Justice Center stage includes Morning Worship hosted by The Salvation Army and Soulfest Open Mic, the Inside Out stage features Musician’s Workshop with Paul Colman as well as Catholic Mass with Matt Maher, and the Mercy Street stage features a few performers in The Songwriters Circle.  Soulfest also offers an opportunity to meet some of the acclaimed performers in the Meet and Greet/VIP Lounge.

Soulfest performers 2

Photo credit to Soulfest

Soulfest performers

Photo credit to Soulfest

Attendees are also invited to participate in activities onsite including Zip Line, Mini Golf, Paddleboats, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Kayaking, and more.  Kids’ activities zone includes an archery tent, video game hub, and there will also be a children’s ministry in front of a campfire.  Click here for more information.

Soulfest candlelight service

Candlelight service, part of Soulfest’s 20th anniversary celebration Photo credit to Soulfest

Soulfest is always looking for volunteers and are in need of 500 in order to run this three day festival.  Benefits of volunteering include free admission, free camping in volunteer section, and one free meal a day.   To learn about requirements and to register, click here.

Click here for full three day tickets, day passes, and evening passes.  Follow Soulfest on Twitter and Facebook for more details.

REVIEW: Led by CeCe Winans, Boston Pops Gospel Night rings in a joyous 25 years

Over the past 25 years, Boston Pops Gospel Night has stood the test of time as a glorious and revered annual tradition.  An illuminated brass backdrop, shining music notes, and a floating, celluloid film strip adorned the Symphony Hall stage while an enthusiastic crowd filed in for this highly-anticipated, one night only, 25th anniversary event.

Each year, Gospel Night features a special blend of acclaimed musical guests, a variety of beloved and new songs from the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, and memorable performances.  With multiple Grammy Award-winning singer CeCe Winans, a resounding, patriotic, monumental speech about freedom and peace, and rousing performances from the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, the Boston Pops Gospel Night has certainly outdone itself.  It’s an annual concert with toe tapping reverence and a spirited finale that always brings the audience to its feet.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops, upcoming events, and more.

Warmly greeting the crowd and the orchestra was accomplished conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd, who has been conducting Gospel Night for the past 23 years.  Click here for a closer look at Charles Floyd and his career.  Distinguished looking in a white tuxedo with black pants and a bow tie, Charles Floyd gave an appreciative wave before opening the 25th anniversary concert with Aaron Copland’s spirited Fanfare for the Common Man, as horns blared distinct and clear.  It was a mix of tender, powerful, and upbeat melodies that included Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor and Chadwick’s Jubilee, which culminated into a vigorous finish and wondrous applause.

Gospel Night also recognized what would have been the recent 100th birthday of the late President John F. Kennedy by paying tribute to him and also honoring award-winning conductor, John Williams, who was the subject of this year’s Boston Pops season.  Young and naturally charismatic Reverend Thomas Crowley who is Senior Pastor of Myrtle Baptist Church, passionately delivered JFK’s famous inaugural address, “Let the Word Go Forth,” a stirring and thrilling speech which remains especially prevalent today.  The audience was captivated as the Reverend spoke of freedom, peace, ambition, and achieving the American ideal of brotherhood as musical excerpts of John Williams film score, JFK and Celebration 2000: Journey of John Williams rose underneath.

Boston Pops CeCe_Winans

Legendary, Grammy award-winning Gospel singer CeCe Winans Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

 

The excitement for multiple Grammy award-winning singer CeCe Winans was tangible.   Dressed in a black and multi-colored floral gown, Cece Winans took the stage to roaring applause.  CeCe Winans is a flawless soprano whose vocal tone at times is reminiscent of Whitney Houston.  CeCe and Whitney collaborated together for the uplifting song, Count on Me in 1996.  With a joyful warmth and tenderness and as the Boston Pops Gospel Choir swayed and clapped, CeCe performed an array of faith-filled songs from her latest album, Let Them Fall in Love such as Run to Him, Dancing in the Spirit, Peace from God, Never Have to Be Alone, and the title track.  “Welcome to church,” CeCe exclaimed as she gracefully took the stage.  Many of her songs spoke about finding hope in despair, forgiveness, and in the state of the world today, how much we are in need prayer.  She concluded with a beautiful cover of Fanny Crosby’s hymn, Blessed Assurance, bringing the crowd to their feet.

Featuring a number impassioned performances from talented soloists, Charles Floyd continued to lead the Boston Pops Gospel Choir.  Soloist Suzanne Buell and Raymond Martin opened with upbeat, jubilant renditions of Celebrate followed by Carolyn Saxon and David Grandy singing King of Kings.  A particular highlight was Katani Sumner’s powerful, expressive, and bluesy rendition of When Sunday Comes.  Katani’s smooth version of the song hinted of Ella Fitzgerald in its delivery.

Each year, Gospel Night offers a grand, spirit-fueled finale.  Led by The Boston Pops Gospel Choir Artistic Director Dennis L. Slaughter, it is a party that could go all night long, if only they could.  One of the biggest highlights of the evening came from soloist Renese King, who sang a tambourine-infused, rollicking rendition of the classic Gospel hymn, Oh Happy Day.  Oh, Happy 25th Anniversary indeed.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s David Tanklefsky talks songwriting and Passim’s campfire.festival

David Tanklefsky of the band Whiskey Treaty Roadshow is just one in a wide array of dynamic musicians making their way to Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the 19th annual Memorial Day campfire.festival from Friday, May 26 through Sunday, May 29.  An interactive music festival presented “in the round,” featured artists interact with each other and the crowd, often improvising and exchanging songs during the weekend.  What often results is the unexpected.  Click here for the full list of featured musicians and for tickets.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s David Tanklefsky talks about Whiskey’s unique songwriting, the Beatles, and their touring adventures.  Click here to see their award-winning, short documentary and follow them on Facebook.

Sleepless Critic:  You’ll be at Club Passim for the campfire.festival Memorial Day weekend before the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow will make an appearance at Club Passim on Friday, July 14.  You’ve played the venue as well as campfire.festival before.  I understand it is quite an improvisational, interactive music experience.

David Tanklefsky:  I’ve done campfire a few times. This will be my first time playing there with my friend Hayley Sabella, who is terrific. Passim is a special place and we are lucky to have it in the area.  It seems like as less money is available to go around in the music world, the relationship between musicians and venues has become more of transaction.  Passim is the opposite. They are unique and truly care about developing musicians and giving them a platform for being heard.

SC:  How did the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow form and how did you meet?

DT:  Tory Hanna is really the conduit through which the band came together.  One of my best friends, who I was in a band with for years growing up, was living in a loft in Brooklyn with Tory and we started hanging out through him.  His wife Susie went to high school with Greg Smith and Tory knew Billy Keane through the Berkshires music world.  Billy had played a few shows with Chris Merenda and was a big fan of his old band, The Mammals. It happened very naturally, which I think is the best way for creative groups to get together.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow on tour Photo courtesy of Tim Bradley

SC:  Whose idea was the award-winning, short documentary and how did you decide on the details to the documentary?  It features lots of scenic, peaceful views of different areas of Massachusetts.

DT:  Tory grew up with a filmmaker named Tim Bradley who was looking for a new documentary project.  Tim captured our rehearsals for a four night tour we had organized through Massachusetts.  It was our first time playing together as a group.

Watching it now is such fun because it’s a snapshot of a band just starting out without any expectations beyond playing four great shows.  Tim meticulously planned out all the locations and the amazing videography.  When Tory mentioned his friend wanted to film us, I trusted his judgment but never imagined Tim would come up with such a well-crafted film.  It really helped catapult us into being a real band.

SC:  You have a relaxed sound, a rhythm likened to a drive down a peaceful country road.  You have a bit of a country tinge to some of your music.  Was that planned?  How did you end up conforming to a sound?

DT:  In folk music, there are songs and chord progressions that become seared into your soul over time. We’ve never had a discussion about it, but everyone brings songs to the table that we think will work with our instrumentation and vocal abilities. I think the folk/country/Americana textures come from having many stringed instruments on stage and the collaborative spirit of just sitting around, passing the guitar, and sharing songs.

SC:  Folk music is full of rich stories and each of you has a distinct style.  How do you come up with your songs?  Do you write a song together or are the songs bits of each songwriter or one song written by one another?

DT:  In this project, everyone writes independently and then brings songs to the table in various forms of completeness. We’ve been tinkering with different instrumentation and having some songs with more minimal arrangements as it has evolved.  We ask ourselves, ‘Do we need five people strumming away like mad men through this whole song?’  Often the answer is no. In the next few months, we’re planning to do a little songwriting retreat where we write more actively together for the first time, which will be new, exciting, and hopefully fruitful.

SC:  Where did your love for songwriting start?  Your particular songwriting style has a bit of humor with some rich lyrics and a bit of an unpredictable tempo at times.

DT:  When I was 10, I had an unhealthy obsession with the for three years straight.  I thought they were a perfect band.  My friends and I went as the Beatles for Halloween every year between ages 10 and 13. No one wanted to be Ringo and no one was left-handed like Paul so we were four kids with mushroom cuts and right-handed cardboard guitars.

Later I became inspired by songwriters that are always growing, pushing, and challenging their listeners.  I think Paul Simon is the gold standard for that.  I’m in awe of the insatiable curiosity he taps into and I try to write from a position of newness like that.  Being unaware of where my curiosity will take me but trying to just follow it through.

SC:  I understand you are touring.  What kind of venue would be an ideal place for you to play?

DT:  It was a huge thrill to perform with Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter Sarah Lee. That’s way up on the list.

We’ve had the opportunity to play some amazing old theatres over the last year or so. We loved the Academy of Music in Northampton and the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.  It was total thrill to sell out Mass MOCA, but some of our best shows have been in how-did-we-end-up-here type places too.

We played a last minute show in Cambridge in March at a really tiny place in Central Square and it was packed in with people standing on tables, total chaos.  The bouncer was adamant that no one else could come in because it was too packed.  One person left outside was our drummer, Jimmy.  He came in the back door and was kicked back out onto the street. We said, ‘But that’s the drummer!’  The bouncer replied, ‘I don’t care, I said no more!’  Eventually we brokered a deal and Jimmy was allowed inside and the show went on.  Theatre and dive bar are both okay in our book.

SC:  What are the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s future plans?

DT:  Our new EP is almost done and we are in high-level band discussions about a run of shows in the fall to support its release. We did it with an awesome engineer named Marc Seedorf at Barnhouse Studios in Chicopee, Massachusetts. We had to take a month break from recording because he was on tour with Dinosaur Jr. as their guitar tech and he got to play a few songs each night with them.  He’s our new hero.

Click here for more information and tickets to Passim’s campfire.festival at Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, conveniently located in Harvard Square.  Not only a haven for music lessons, Passim offers live concerts nearly 365 days a year featuring Grammy winners to musicians with a dream.  Click here for their music schedule and follow Passim on Facebook and Twitter.