Volume 19 • Issue 3 | May 2 - 8, 2006

Steve Gullick

Dreamy sounding Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals perform at South Street Seaport this Friday as part of the festival’s opening weekend.

River to River returns with a bang

By Anne O’Neil

The fifth anniversary of the River to River Festival returns this weekend with a bang — literally. Following the Boat, Bike & Buoy Parade, which officially kicked off the festival on Thursday, the premier opening weekend event will be held this Sunday at the Winter Garden, where music organizers Bang on a Can will present an eight-hour-long concert featuring everyone from jazz composer Anthony Braxton to electronica legend Aphex Twin. It’s a rousing sendoff for what has become the nation’s largest free arts festival, drawing an average of a million people each year to its 500 musical, theatrical, dance and cinematic events.

Bluegrass great Ralph Stanley performs at Rockefeller Park June 14th.
“In the last five years, River to River has evolved into the most diverse festival of music, dance, site specific art performance in the city. It has been our major goal to introduce new artists to new audiences,” says Valerie Lewis, Vice-President of Marketing at the Alliance for Downtown New York.

Alliance is one of six groups that help present the four-month-long festival, which was formed after 9/11 to reinvigorate the business community Downtown. The others include the Battery Park City Authority, South Street Seaport, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, World Financial Center Arts and Events, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a broad spectrum of organizers that helps explain the variety in events and venues.

On Friday, the festival’s opening weekend continues with a concert at South Street Seaport featuring the dreamy sounding Welsh rockers, Super Furry Animals, and concludes on Sunday at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden with the Bang on a Can Marathon. The musical organization, founded in 1987, is best known for staging epic concerts that feature an eclectic mix of musicians who perform at ten-hour clips. The event starts at 11:30 am with family friendly music during the “Kids “Can” Too concert. Then at 1 pm, renowned jazz composer Anthony Braxton premieres “Composition #19: Marching Piece for 100 Tubas,” and from 2 until 10 pm, the marathon begins in earnest as members of Matmos, Wilco, Aphex Twin, and the Bang on a Can All-stars take the stage.

Following this blowout weekend, here are a few festival highlights you shouldn’t miss. Be sure to check out www.rivertorivernyc.org to see the full lineup and information on locations and ticketing.

• If you have kids, you’ll want to bring them to Target Kids Day on June 10th at the South Street Seaport. In addition to face painting, storytelling and fireworks, they’ll also be dazzled by the animated stars of children’s television milling around. On site will be Teddy Geiger, performing along with Thomas the Tank; The American Girl Theatre, Dora the Explorer, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Curious George.

• Playing on Tuesday June 13 at the World Financial Center is Eels and Smoosh. The singer gets a lot of hype for his songwriting, but I’m not sure it’s deserved. More interesting is Smoosh, two Seattle sisters, ages 12 and 14, who have been playing together for four years. The younger one, Chloe, took drum lessons from the drummer of Death Cab for Cutie, who’ve they’ve opened for in addition to Cat Power and Sleater-Kinney. It’s hard to tell if it’s all shtick and annoying cutesiness, à la the Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players, but they have some pretty solid endorsements. Not to mention they’re cute.

• On Wednesday June 14th Ralph Stanley plays at Rockefeller Park, the perfect setting for classic bluegrass in the summer. The Americana craze that resulted from the “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack helped revive this Bluegrass great, whose music remains timeless. Opening is Tres Chicas, a three-girl, alt-country band whose clear-voiced, country pop — reminiscent of the Dixie Chicks — will appeal to the discerning country music fan.

• Jay Farrar of SonVolt, who plays on Tuesday June 20 at the World Financial Center, can be a hard pill to swallow, what with his righteousness about his Americana-flavored music. He and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco spearheaded the alt-country movement with Uncle Tupelo fifteen years ago, but whereas Wilco has gone more experimental rock, Sun Volt has stayed true to Farrar’s original sound— a mix between the Allman Brothers and Credence Clearwater Revival as sung by Woody Guthrie. Though his lyrics may irritate, his rolling sound still feels like driving across country in a convertible with the top down.

• The New York Classical Theatre will perform Mary Stuart in the lobby of 195 Broadway on July 5-9, 11-13, at 5:30 pm and July 6, 11, and 13 at 1:30 pm. The play, which takes place just before Queen Elizabeth beheads her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, is about power won by deception and bribery, the consequences of which remain relevant in today’s political theatre.

• Puffy AmiYumi, which plays at the World Financial Center on Tuesday July 11 at 7 pm, sounds like the band that would roll during the closing credits of a teen flick: energetic, poppy, cute and fun. Which makes sense, because they are the Japanese answer to a marketing company crafted girl band à la the Spice Girls. The group, which has been big in Japan for the past decade, boasts a franchise bigger than Sponge Bob, complete with a clothing line and a TV show that hosts guests like Governor Arnold and Harrison Ford. Still, their music is extremely fun and watching them on stage with their colorful clothes comes as close as humanly possible to watching a live cartoon.

• One of the most hyped bands to play the River to River this summer is Austin’s Okkervil River on July 13th at Castle Clinton. Their third album, “Black Sheep Boy,” has been compared to both the Arcade Fire and to Wilco, though to me they sound like a less spooky American Music Club or a cuter, less crazy Will Oldham. The amount of positive press they’re getting perches them on the edge of what they claim to be their ambition: total failure. Regardless of their wishes, they purportedly play a good, old fashioned, fun-to-watch show, so expect the concert to be packed with hipsters.

• bluemouth inc, a Toronto-based, four-person interdisciplinary art collective, will perform “What the Thunder Said” at 8 pm, July 25-29 and Aug 1-4, on the main floor of 32 Avenue of the Americas. bluemouth’s performances encompass dance, theatre, spoken word, music, sound design and film, but are intended to use the spectator’s involvement to connect parts of the show. “What the Thunder Said” is about a family about to crack under the weight of surmounting problems. Much of performance art is inaccessible and incomprehensible to the uninitiated, but, bluemouth inc.’s shows promise to include a narrative, characters and a plot, which is appealing to newbies. Tickets aren’t required, but an RSVP is suggested at www.rivertorivernyc.com.

• The Hold Steady, which plays on July 27 at Castle Clinton, is one of the best bands in New York right now. Their sound falls somewhere between classic rock and Billy Joel — lots of heavy riffs between gruff, storytelling lyrics about down and out junkies and hoodrat skaters. Still, there’s something undeniably sweet about lyrics that profess, “I have to try so hard not to fall in love, I have to concentrate when we kiss.”

• On Friday July 28 at South Street Seaport, the two-for-one line up of Richard Hawley and Nicolai Dunger promises to be a solid night of singer-songwriters. Richard Hawley sings traditional ballads along the lines of Travis, but his voice is reminscent of Ian McClellan from Echo and the Bunnymen. He could be a lounge act in Vegas, if he weren’t an Englishman who dresses in cowboy shirts and plays guitar for the Brit Pop band Pulp. He’s joined by Nicolai Dunger, a Swede on Van Morrison’s label, whose sounds is a cross between Coldplay and Americana.

• One of the most exciting new events this year is the “New Song New York” contest at South Street Seaport on August 12, says Valerie Lewis, the VP of marketing for the Alliance for Downtown New York. This is first annual New Song contest sponsored by Mountain Stage. If you find American Idol engrossing, you should check out this homegrown version.

• Ted Leo and the Pharmacists’ show on August 25th at the South Street Seaport promises to be one of the best shows of the summer. In the past few years, New York’s own Ted Leo has played some pretty heroic South Street Seaport shows, one during the blackout of 2003 and all through a thunderstorm in 2004, but that isn’t why you should go see them. You should see them because they are just the right music for a stiflingly hot, late August evening: energetic music landing someplace between punk and pop. He’s cool enough for the hipsters, yet fun and accessible enough for kids and adults.


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