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Jeff Pevar on electric guitar and David Crosby on acoustic.

Lucky for me, a person can love music even when she has pretty much zero ability to create it. Oh sure, I was assigned French Horn in gradeschool mandatory music class, and played guitar from age 6 to about age 30, and learned about 9 chords and a few folk songs. Sure I sing along to Ed Sheeran when I’m driving home from work. But I truly admire the people who can *really* make music. So when I’ve got the time and the energy, I hit a concert.

You’ve already heard me rave about Black Violin – a duet of classically trained violinists who build their own irresistibly compelling brand of hip hop. They came to Portland again, so I grabbed a friend who had not yet seen them in person and saw their latest show.

The iconic Portland sign at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Black Violin can’t stand it when their audience sits still.

Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste are Black Violin.

To avoid the hassle of carrying a quality camera, I relied on my phone. So… as you can see, the images are poor quality. But you get a sense of what I saw.

My good deed was confirmed accomplished, when my friend just exploded with excitement over the performance, and had purchased some of their music by the next day. Just doing my part…

Last week I saw David Crosby. You’ll know him as the “C” in CSN (and sometimes Y).

I’m not actually a Crosby fan, though his music is good. My favourite musician of all, Marcus Eaton, is also a dear friend of mine. Marcus toured with Crozby for his last album, CROZ, and so…I don’t know…I guess an affinity came of that. David Crosby has been making music – good music – for so many decades that I can’t deny his professionalism and relevance. And I had never seen him before in concert, or even Crosby, Stills, and Nash. (I did see Steven Stills play halftime at a Colorado Rockies game, but I digress…) And finally, his show would be at the Aladdin Theatre in Portland. It’s a venue that can’t be beat if you’re looking for intimacy and atmosphere.

A string of great acts coming up at The Aladdin.

I arrived in time to buy a beer before the show, and while I was standing in line, got to talking to the man in line ahead of me. I mentioned that I love seeing concerts at the Aladdin.

“Did you know that this theatre had the longest running of the film Deep Throat of any theatre in America?” he asked. (I researched later, and sure enough, during the 70s and 80s the Aladdin was a movie theatre, and the premiere exhibitor of the X-rated classic, Deep Throat)

“Uh, I did not know that,” I answered.

“I love this theatre!” agreed the woman in line behind me.

“Have you seen performances here before?” asked the man.

“Only Deep Throat,” she answered, straight-faced. Then we all burst out laughing.

Pevar, DiStanislao, Crosby, Agan, Willis, Raymond

I was not familiar with most of the musicians on stage, only James Raymond the keyboard player. Raymond is Crosby’s son, and an accomplished musician in his own right. Raymond was adopted, and did not know his father until he was an adult. What fun to find your dad, then find out you had music in common? I just love that story.

His tour is David Crosby & Friends, and there was a great collection of artists on stage: Jeff Pevar the guitarist who was jammed full of energy, Steve DiStanislao the drummer who was spot on, Raymond at keyboards, Michelle Willis from Canada who also played keyboard and provided some solid vocals, and tiny Mai Agan from Estonia, in the background, playing the heck out of a bass guitar in a short skirt and boots. Pevar and DiStanislao hardly stopped grinning, which added a happy vibe to everything.

Crosby is well beyond putting on airs at this point. Or, since I’m such a newcomer, maybe he never did. He greeted us with warmth, as though we were all hanging out on a mellow Tuesday evening in a really big living room. The venue is small, and can hold only a few hundred people, so the sense of being intimate was easy for Crosby to achieve. He chattered just a little between songs, but made an impact, getting in some digs about the ineffectiveness of Congress, his criticism of politicians in general, the need to take action on important issues, to critique the media, to remember to love one another. He also spent a few minutes teaching us to howl like the Na’vi from the movie Avatar.

He talked fondly of each of his musician friends on stage, gushing over each one and affirming their skill and practically declaring each one the best he’d ever known. Maybe they are. Maybe when you’re a rock icon you naturally have the best of the best on stage with you. Most touching was when he talked about his son.

“I’d say some of the best work I’ve ever created is in collaboration with James. Wait, what am I saying? THE BEST work I have done is since I started working with James.” At this, Raymond put his hand over his heart in a gesture of humility and appreciation. Crosby talked about working with Raymond for years, and about appreciating every moment of it. He talked about how Raymond was adding a jazz influence to their work. A few people clapped. “It’s ok!” he said to the audience. “You can like jazz!”

And then they got back to making music.

A view of the stage during a break.

Pevar and Crosby

Crosby, Willis, Raymond (and Agan, if you look carefully)

Since I am not a fan of the music, and since it was really good music anyway, I sat back in my seat in pure pleasure and let my eyes rove over the faces of the crowd. During the evening I had spotted about 5 people in their 20s, about 5 in their 30s and 40s like me. But everyone else was from a different generation. Most in their 60s.

I distinctly noticed that no one was old. You know how people can be young or old, regardless of their years? It was like the people who showed up were still tapped into their youth. Everyone smiled. There was so much grey hair and so many wrinkles and so many smiles. The energy was generous and warm and enveloping and oh, so glad to be there. The songs clearly took many people back in time. People remembered a time when their bodies didn’t require so much thought, and they swayed in their seats and some held a cane, and some just beamed. There were whoops, and howls, and fists in the air.

It was a beautiful environment, and I was delighted to be there with them. I felt like a visitor to another culture, and it was a culture of love and generosity and acceptance.

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“For us the violin is the vehicle for a bigger message, which is not to be afraid to be different,”

~ Kev Marcus.

Six years ago, Tara was dancing ballet at the Laurelhurst Dance Studio, which is a part of Portland Parks and Recreation. It was a great environment, with talented dance instructors. For one seasonal performance, Tara’s instructor chose a song for the kids to dance to by a group called Black Violin. The song was Dirty Orchestra.

If you’ve ever participated in practicing something, or were a parent watching someone practice something, you can guess how many times I heard that song. I ended up purchasing the song on iTunes, and I even made CD copies for all the kids and handed them out at one of the early practices, so they could take their dance home if they liked.

After a couple years, I still couldn’t get enough, though I had purchased the album. It’s fun to discover musicians whose appeal turns out to be long term.

Tuesday I received an email from Portland’5, the local arts email that gives me a heads up when anything is happening in PDX, from opera to ballet to music to Broadway. It announced Black Violin, the very next night! In person! I bought tickets without even thinking about it.

Stage before Black Violin's show

Stage before Black Violin’s show

The show was even better than I was hoping for. Black Violin are packed full of energy to back up their irresistible music. Both classically trained violinists, these two men, Wil Baptiste and Kev Marcus, lean more toward hip hop and R&B. So, they pull it all in together: the appealing sounds of the strings with the funky, soulful beats. The sounds were rounded out with a DJ on stage (and I’ll admit it’s probably the first time I’ve ever attended a concert with a DJ in the band), and a drummer who held his own. In my opinion, the mix is fabulous!

If you would like to read the program insert for more information about this group, and in particular their new album Stereotypes, I scanned it here: Black Violin 1 Black Violin 2

Most of the performance was their own work, but the guys also covered a lot of familiar songs that were fun for the audience members who didn’t know Black Violin songs very well. My favourite was a mash-up of Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud and Barry White’s Let’s Get It On. I was singing at the top of my lungs for all of it.

The only down side (and this is a pretty high down side) is that they weren’t willing to let us sit through the show. Though I had recently had a small operation on my toe, I expected to be seated most of the evening, and assumed my toe would be alright. Nope. “Get up! This is a party!” yelled Kev. I had no choice, but was forced to shake my tailfeathers for hours.  My toe was angry the next day, but it was worth it. The show was a blast.

Unlike every other show I’ve attended at one of the Portland’5 events, the artists told us right from the start that we SHOULD be using flash photography, and video, and posting it online as much as possible, and to tag it with #blackviolin. I love it when people grab onto trends and use them, rather than fight them. I managed to get a couple of poor quality videos, so you get a sense of the show.

 

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