Volume 20 Issue 18 | September 14 - 20, 2007


Music Downtown
September 17 - 19
7 World Trade Center (at Greenwich and Barclay)

Photo by Ben Goetting

The Hold Steady kicks off the second annual Music Downtown series, curated by Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf.

Hold Steady and more to hold court at 7 WTC

By Lee Ann Westover

Between Sept. 11, 2001 and today, the cultural landscape of Lower Manhattan has been totally transformed as summer shows produced by River to River, the Seaport Music Festival, and even quirky Spiegelworld have become the norm. Now, another amazing concert series, created in 2005 as part of this wider effort to lure New Yorkers Downtown, is set to return before the season’s end. Sponsored in part by the non-profit Wall Street Rising and curated by Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf, the first installment of Music Downtown brought acts like Jeff Tweedy, Keren Ann and Rickie Lee Jones to the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, at no cost to the 2500 grateful spectators. The following year, Wall Street Rising temporarily narrowed their sponsorship focus and skipped the festival while they moved offices. This year, however, the series is back, and will celebrate its sophomore season from Sept. 17-19 at 7 World Trade Center’s spanking new plaza.

The Hold Steady will headline the festival’s kick off on Monday, September 17. Their combination of heady lyrics and head-on rock and roll has brought them the adoration of critics worldwide. Festival Producer Michael Dorf adds, “They were a part of my Bruce Springsteen tribute at Carnegie Hall. They are really one of the hippest bands in America.” The band’s populist slant makes them in some ways heir to Bruce’s hometown-boy tradition. At the request of the Minnesota Twins’ musical director, they recently recorded an emotional rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” which was played during the 2007 season’s home opener. Solid Texas alt-country combo the Old 97’s, along with Pennsylvania folk-rockers Illinois, round out the night’s rootsy flavor.

M. Ward, fresh off the road with Norah Jones, will lead the pack on Tuesday, September 18. His sentimental warble will be gently offset by that of singer-songwriter Victoria Williams, with whom Ward has been sharing the bill as of late. Omaha honky-tonkers McCarthy Trenching will liven things up by nights end.

Wednesday, September 19 brings out some heavy hitters on an impressive bill including Nick Lowe, the Holmes Brothers and Olabelle.

Dorf is enthusiastic about all the acts on the roster, but was forced to admit a soft spot for Brooklyn’s Olabelle. “The sound of Olabelle is something very fresh. They take world music instrumentation and mix it with a modern pop sensibility. The result is very listenable.”

As much as Olabelle lassoes the charm of a new sound, Nick Lowe will attract music connoisseurs in screaming droves. Lowe was a steady presence on the charts through the late ’70s and all the ’80s with (among many things) his production work on the Pretenders’ debut single “Stop Your Sobbing” and on Elvis Costello’s early albums. (Lowe himself penned the now classic, “What’s So Funny about Peace Love and Understanding.”) His own hits are also numerous, starting with “So it Goes/Heart of the City” in 1976. That said, as he steps on stage to support his new album, “At My Age,” even those who don’t give a hoot about the history of music are sure to have a great time dancing around the plaza to Lowe’s well-toned pop sound.

Of the Holmes Brothers, Dorf said, “I think they are in their 70’s now. They are so fabulous to see live,” and their gospel sensibility is “a nice contrast from a songwriting point of view.” Luminaries galore — including Levon and Amy Helm, Levon being the drummer of The Band, Amy his daughter and core member of Olabelle — pay tribute to the legendary trio in appearances on their sublime new album “State of Grace.”

Although Michael Dorf speaks passionately about his own festival, and appreciates the benefits of all the free music we get to see in his neighborhood, he would still like to have a permanent home for the arts Downtown. His own solution would be his pet project, the Art Exchange, a 365-day-a-year venue in the heart of Lower Manhattan for which he has yet to find funding.

In 2005 Dorf was thrilled to present major artists in an intimate indoor space, but this year’s move to festival co-sponsor 7 World Trade Center will allow 3,000 to 5,000 people a day to see the performances, up from just 850 or so last time around. Dorf rides against popular opinion in his lauding of another of his festival’s three major patrons (another being the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in conjunction with the New York City Department of Housing and Urban Development). “The folks of Silverstein Properties, all the way up the ladder to Larry, have been great. Here’s someone who has given up the plaza for no money. Negatives overall don’t apply to him … I really give him and his team credit for allowing art to happen.”

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