Sneak peek at 2016 festival headliners

The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival announces a sneak peek at the 2016 headliners: Randy Newman, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Charenée Wade, and Marcus Roberts Trio. Opening the 2016 festival on the Flynn MainStage will be Randy Newman, who Rolling Stone called “one of the most brilliant composers and songwriters of his generation.” His art has moved generations of fans, from listeners drawn to 1977’s sardonic Little Criminals to those listeners’ children, enchanted by his many beloved film scores (the Toy Story series, A Bug’s LifeThe Princess and the FrogMonsters Inc., and others).

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones reunite for an exclusive summer tour, making a stop at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival to headline at the Waterfront Tent on Thursday, June 9. Formed in 1988, the multi-Grammy Award winning Flecktones soon established themselves as one of the most innovative supergroups in music history.

This announcement brings first glimpse of the 2016 FlynnSpace series set to feature vocalist Charenée Wade. Runner-up in the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition, Charenée Wade establishes herself as an obvious heir to Sarah Vaughn and Betty Carter with her project interpreting the songs of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson.

Headlining two sets in FlynnSpace, Marcus Roberts Trio also join the 2016 festival as Artist-in-Residence, a program that invites celebrated jazz musicians to spend time in the community, participate in local music education, and further engage festival goers, local groups, and social service agencies. In its fourth year, the program emphasizes the importance of a meaningful and multi-layered cultural exchange in expanding jazz audiences.

All four shows on sale to $120+ members on Tuesday, March 8 at 10am; On sale to public on Monday, March 14 at 10am. More information about ticketing

For high res photos and 2016 festival logos, visit the Press Room at

2016 Festival Headliners



Randy Newman

Friday, June 3, 2016

Flynn MainStage



“One of the most brilliant composers and songwriters of his generation” – Rolling Stone

For over half a century Randy Newman has composed Grammy and Academy Award-winning music charged with his signature pairing of wry wit and tender empathy. His art has moved generations of fans, from listeners drawn to 1977’s sardonic Little Criminals to those listeners’ children, enchanted by his many beloved film scores (the Toy Story series, A Bug’s LifeThe Princess and the FrogMonsters Inc., and others).

Newman is the recipient of six Grammys, three Emmys, and two Academy Awards. He has earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Most recently, Newman was presented with a PEN New England Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Award in June 2014.

SLIDER bela fleck and the flecktones

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Waterfront Tent

Doors and VT Nectar’s Grill at 5pm; Music at 6pm (opener TBA)


“It’s all fair game in the limitless musical universe of the Flecktones.” —NPR

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones formed in 1988 at the barren crossroads of bluegrass and jazz and soon established themselves as one of the most innovative supergroups in music history. Along with Fleck’s prodigious banjo playing, the Flecktones also introduced the world to bassist Victor Wooten, who has since become one of the most influential bass players since Jaco Pastorius; and to his brother, Futureman, whose drumitar redefined the possibilities of percussion. Harmonicist/pianist Howard Levy is now acknowledged as the world’s most advanced diatonic harmonic player. The original lineup of the multi-Grammy Award winning Flecktones reunites for this 2016 tour. Futureman likens the reunion to Star Trek, with “the original crew of the Enterprise coming together on a new mission.”


slider charenee wade  

Charenée Wade

Thursday, June 9, 2016



“Ms. Wade is a jazz singer of commanding skill, an heir to the legacies of Betty Carter and Carmen McRae.” —New York Times

In her live performances, Wade incorporates the room’s energy as an instrument shared between the audience and the band. Interpreting the songs of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson on her 2015 release, Offering, Charenée Wade establishes herself as an obvious heir to Sarah Vaughn and Betty Carter. Her cool vocal fortitude on the record teases out, plays off of, and develops upon the band’s dense cycle of moods. Wade was the First Runner-up in the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition, and is currently a professor at the Aaron Copland School of Music, City College, and with the Jazzmobile Workshop program. Wade performs internationally and regularly throughout New York City.

photo of marcus roberts

Marcus Roberts Trio

Saturday, June 9, 2016




“We call him ‘the genius of modern piano’ because he is.” —Wynton Marsalis

The Marcus Roberts Trio can alternate from a rhythm-led exploration of uncharted soundscapes to sunny funk propelled by Roberts’ piano. With Rodney Jordan on bass and Jason Marsalis behind the drums, each of the three players takes turns at the helm with equal virtuosity. Their sets play out conversations of tempos and mood, constantly testing and redrawing the limits of a trio. Roberts has toured with Wynton Marsalis and is a mentee of Maestro Seiji Ozawa, with whom he and the trio have also collaborated. Roberts has received numerous commissioning awards, including ones from Jazz at Lincoln Center, Chamber Music America, and ASCAP. In 2014 Roberts received an honorary doctorate from the Julliard School. 

BWW: Robert Randolph Review


Robert Randolph Brings Revival to Waterfront Tent

Brett Sigurdson, Burlington Writers Workshop

“Is it possible to leave a Robert Randolph & the Family Band concert without having a good time?”

I write this in my notebook as Randolph walked off the stage after his final encore at the Waterfront Tent on Thursday night. The sound of his pedal steel guitar lingered in the warm night air, offering a fading reminder of how the funk, soul, reggae, and gospel that came before electrified this crowd.

The show began with a promise. A drawing of a hand giving devil-horns—the cover of his latest album, Lickety Split—illuminated the stage as Randolph began noodling on his pedal steel, both beckoning the audience from the perimeter of the tent to the dance floor with promises of jubilation. He gave the promise credence as he busted into “Good Times (3 Stroke),” in which Randolph testified “Talkin bout the good time / We gonna have a good time” as the wah-wah-heavy music swirled around him. He continued to deliver on that promise from there on out, packing funky originals and tasty covers in a nearly two-hour, groove-laced set.

Randolph’s concerts are tailor-made for euphoria, as evidence by the sheer age range of people getting down on the dance floor: everyone from an elderly lady in a Robert Randolph T-shirt shaking her hips in a rolling walker to my four-month-old daughter getting down in my wife’s arms. It all comes down to the band’s instrumental recipe: take one part funk bass and guitar, add Hammond B3 organ and a drummer with a heavy one-two beat, and mix it all together with the slinky slide notes of his lap steel. But it also comes down to the way Randolph mixes those ingredients, how he plays with the tension of the music, how the high lonesome sound of his pedal steel provides a yearning sound that only the low end of his band can fulfill. And when it all comes together and mixes just right—which it did in almost every song that night—the music moves with the propulsion of a train, chugging forward wildly and ecstatically to orgiastic peaks punctuated by Randolph’s high-note slide screams.

At the center of it all is Randolph, a fascinating performer to watch.

For much of the concert he resembled a craftsman hard at work at a table, his focus intent on the project before him. Sometimes he peered so close to the strings he seemed to be smelling them. And then there were moments where the music became too much for him to sit and he jumped out of his chair to dance or sing. During one song, he fell on his knees as if in prayer while he held a long high note on the pedal steel. During another, he played a solo while laying on his back upon the chair, clapping his legs together to the beat.

But aside from musicianship and performance bravado, what got me about this concert was Randolph’s openness to the crowd’s energy and participation. During a cover of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips,” Randolph summoned about a dozen female crowd members to the stage to boogie with him. In the next song, “Just Might be the One,” Randolph invited an audience member to the stage to play guitar. But when the man couldn’t get the flow of the song, Randolph rushed him off stage and placed the guitar near the front as an invitation to another. A man in a backward trucker hat and flannel shirt with cut-off sleeves ambled to the stage and picked up the guitar. At Randolph’s nod, the man ripped into a tight guitar solo, trading riffs with the band to the song’s rollicking finish. The man walked off the stage as mysteriously as he came on, giving high fives as he disappeared into the crowd, likely not needing to buy drinks the rest of the night.

In the end, the music and moments like this made the answer to my question inevitable: everyone was fated to have a good time. Is it any wonder Randolph chose to begin his encore with an instrumental cover of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy?” As the crowd left the tent into the beautiful buggy night, how could we be anything but?

Mavis Staples Electrifies


Staples Electrifies Audience at Discover Jazz Festival

Brett Sigurdson, Burlington Writers Workshop

My wife and I had been buzzing about Mavis Staples’ performance at the Flynn MainStage in the month leading up to Friday night’s show. She was, in many ways, the soundtrack to the formative years of our relationship. Seeing Staples live, and possibly hearing her cover our favorite song, “The Weight”—this was bucket list stuff, and we were giddy as the lights began to dim.

Evidently, we were not alone.

The mostly full Flynn was electric with anticipation as Staples and her band took the stage. At 75, Staples moves gingerly. She was supported by an escort when she entered and exited the stage. But that voice. That voice with is soulful highs and growling lows, as if born of the pure, undiluted essence of joy and woe, is still a force, and she had it on full display in her opening songs, the Staple Singers’ “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” and her interpretation of the old spiritual “Wade in the Water.”
Staples took the audience to another level in her third song, a cover of the Talking Heads’ “Slippery People.” She and her band—Rick Holmstrom on guitar, Jeff Turner on bass, Stephen Hodges on drums, and Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle on backup vocals—found the gospel at the heart of the new wave song (which the Staple Singers covered on their 1984 album, Turning Point).

There were many such peaks during the show.

When I closed my eyes during “Respect Yourself,” for instance, I found the song retained all the vitality and fire of the Staple Singers’ rendition at the legendary Wattstax in 1973. And even when things didn’t go exactly as planned, Staples still shined. She and Randle used music stands so they could read the lyrics during a new song, “Fight.” This made Staples’ performance a bit clunky, and she declared to supportive whoops and cheers she’d know the song the next time she played Burlington.

In between songs, Staples engaged in some fun banter with the audience.

During her introduction to “I’ll Take You There,” she was interrupted by a fan who shouted something about Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, a contemporary of Pop Staples, who apparently played Burlington in the 70s. “You’re gonna make me forget what I’m doing,” said Staples, laughing. During the chorus of the song, she held the mic to audience members in the front row, beckoning them to sing along.

One of those audience members was Win Butler, lead singer of the Montreal-based band Arcade Fire. Staples and Butler have played together before, covering The Band’s “The Weight” together at the Outside Lands Festival in 2011. Staples was apparently surprised Butler was in attendance, and called him onstage to join her for another stab at the song during the encore.

There are moments from concerts I’ve seen that will linger forever, moments that embody the power live music has to thrill, and I think this is one of them.

Butler, dressed in all white and towering over Staples, was game to sing along, even if he stumbled over the lyrics to Rick Danko’s verse (my favorite, alas). As the rest of the band sang their respective parts, Butler and Staples slow-danced and he twirled her. When they broke, Staples motioned offstage for someone to take a picture. Clearly, she thought the moment was as memorable as we did.
The crowd was ecstatic by the final verse and Butler fell to his knees to bow down to Staples. It was a move that captured the sentiment of everyone in the Flynn. After the song, Butler disappeared—later to make another cameo that night with Future Islands at a party—and the audience rode the energy on its feet for one more song before the concert came to an end and everyone shuffled away into the rainy night.

Somehow, the rain didn’t seem to touch us.

Review: Jazz Junior

Jazz Junior Review
JD Fox, Burlington Writers Workshop

“Anything can be jazz. As long as you know what the jazz language is, you can take any song and dress it up in jazz clothing.”
I love that quote, said by Christian McBride of the Christian McBride Trio midway during their performance Friday at FlynnSpace. It’s definition, theme, and aesthetics of jazz encased in a succinct, memorable statement that stays in the head like the Jazz songs they played.

Mostly kids came to listen to the Trio’s “Jazz Junior” show, with band members from Waterford High School taking up a whole wing. But plenty of adults attended as well. Altogether, the audience filled FlynnSpace to a three-fourths capacity that overflowed with enthusiasm.

Bassist McBride started the learn-about-jazz performance with a few plucks of his bass followed by a serious question: “Who likes Milky Way?”

Promising a candy reward to anyone who could tell him what his T-shirt (Tamla emblazoned on it) means, he expanded on an audience member’s answer by saying “Tamla was a record label that was very famous in the 60s and 70s [Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, et al.].”

He then plucked at his bass more deliberately and, along with drummer Jerome Jennings and pianist Christian Sands, launched their first song of the night: “Ham Hocks and Cabbage” from their album Out Here. Starting out deceptively simple, distinct notes pulsed as it sauntered into a jazz groove that became layered, more complex, and shifting in instrument emphasis and melodic content.

The shifting is important, with lots of give and take occurring throughout their lightly sprinkled with question and banter set; musical movements flowed not only between musicians, but also between musician and instrument, as if it were a sextet instead of a trio.

McBride didn’t just play his bass, he played with his bass; a collaborative effort, in much the same way that Fred Astaire danced with Ginger Rogers. McBride’s gifted fingers questioned, urged, encouraged, and implored. The bass couldn’t help but respond in kind, offering answers and follow-up questions of its own.

Communicating in this subtle, secret language, the two – one flesh and blood, the other string and wood – created more of an aural experience rather than just music. Likewise with Jennings on Drums and Sands on Piano, their anthropomorphic instruments sharing the stage with them.
Learning jazz by exposure, we heard the trio cum sextet play Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” jazz up Stevie Wonder’s “Send One your Love” and, McBride using a French bow on his bass, interpret “I have Dreamed” from The King and I.

It takes a lot of effort to make the creation of art look effortless; a lot of hard work to make it all sound like so much play. As if to emphasize just how easy it is to turn something into jazz – when you know its language, that is, and have become a fluent speaker – they ended the show by putting their distinctive spin on a familiar song as the audience sang its lyrics:
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star…”

“Ok, that was good.”

Thrill Ride at the Flynn
Review of Chris Botti, Flynn Mainstage June 14

James H. Gamble, Burlington Writers Workshop

When I told my wife we were going to see a trumpet player at the Flynn Sunday night she was a little dubious. She didn’t know anything about Chris Botti. She’s not that into the trumpet. But I told her he’s supposed to be amazing and, as a music lover like me, she was willing to give it a shot. I had never seen him either. “Trust me,” I said. Yeah, she’s heard that one before.

Settled in our seats with an excellent view, her body language was still telegraphing “I’m here just so you don’t have to sit alone.” But I was confident. A few minutes later Botti took the stage in a somewhat unassuming fashion. Of course the crowd exploded, but he rather nonchalantly crossed the stage, horn tucked under his arm, and started playing along with his full band. Beautiful tones, nice little bit of syncopation.

At the piano, Geoffrey Keezer ran up and down the 88 a couple times. Solid base line from Richie Goods. Artful drumming by “new guy” Lee Pearson. Ben Butler interjected a number of dazzling riffs on the electric guitar. Andy Esrin, positioned almost surreptitiously upstage left, glued it all together with synthesized orchestration. All very cool sounding. All what you might expect in a professional jazz performance.

And then the first car of what was to be a rollercoaster of a night began to scream down the tracks. Next thing you know, Botti is slaying high C and then some. The band is rockin’ and the audience is visibly stirred. My wife leans over and says, “Okay, that was really good.” Progress.

Our heart rates effectively elevated, Botti slows things down a little, bringing out violinist Lucia Micarelli. She immediately charms everyone with her melodious sounds and virtuoso bow work. And then, gradually, he builds up speed again. Throughout the night Botti mixed it up with some contemporary numbers and original compositions, as well as standards and pieces from his Italia recording. I glance over—My wife’s got that immersed look on her face and I just get right back into the performance.

What I found particularly remarkable was when Botti took a break while someone in the band soloed, he didn’t just stand idly by. He was fully engaged with his fellow performer—watching, tapping his foot, bobbing his head, really into it. In fact, on more than one occasion he started clapping for the soloist before the audience, as impressed as all of us.

Just when you think you’re in a groove for the night, he switches it up again—this time bringing out vocalist Sy Smith. Smith is vivacious with a voice that’ll have you eating out of her hand one minute and begging for mercy the next. She kills it on stage and then descends with Botti into the audience, making us all part of the show. You could feel the electricity. Turns out this was just the beginning of the full charge to come.

After thoroughly wowing and wooing us, Smith exits and Botti brings back Micarelli. He introduces her with a brief commentary on the life of a concert violinist and then sets her loose, no horn required. She leads us through some spectacularly beautiful classical-sounding piece (I couldn’t tell you what it was, but it was beautiful). Slowly but surely she builds up speed and volume to the point I was sure she’d break a string. Then, just when you’re certain either the instrument or the whole stage is about to burst into flames, she lays down a heavy chord in perfect synchronization with the band (sans Botti) and they blast into Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Totally didn’t see that coming. Needless to say, she took the house with that one. Wife is speechless.

Change of pace again to bring this ride to an end. Botti brings out singer George Komsky for a couple of Italian numbers, including the theme from Cinema Paradiso. Botti, like all successful leaders (musical or otherwise) really knows how to surround himself with greatness.

Finally, after a leaping ovation Botti and his band returned to the stage for the encore. He closed the night (aptly I think) with “My Funny Valentine,” the song that inspired him to take up the trumpet when, at the age of twelve, he heard Miles Davis play it. Very nice. At this point my wife is leaning her elbows on the seat in front of her, chin in hands, completely smitten. Success.

The evening was perfectly formed, and for this audience member at least, rolled by all too fast. Of course that happens when you’re completely immersed in a performance. Something tells me we’ll be listing to a lot more trumpet in our house now.

Chris Botti Preview


Chris Botti will open the festival on the Flynn MainStage on Sunday, June 14, 2015 at 8pm. Tickets are available at the FlynnTix Regional Box Office at 153 Main Street, Burlington, VT 05401, by calling 802-86FLYNN or order online here. Below is a preview as a part of the festival’s partnership with the Burlington Writers Workshop. 

Impressive Expression

Contribution by James H. Gamble, Burlington Writers Workshop

The word “expressive” is commonly used when describing Chris Botti’s trumpet playing. It seems an apt term.  Listening to his interpretation of “Prelude in C Minor,” what strikes me most is not the drama of the piece (although Chopin can be dramatic), it’s the care and devotion he gives each note.  I mean, really, each and every note.  It’s as though in that fleeting moment it is the only note in the world.

It’s a lot of tenderness for a jazz musician.  Although that’s a pretty limiting classification for someone so diverse as Botti.  Consider that his 2012 album Impressions won the Grammy for “Best Pop Instrumental Album.”  This is a guy who’s not afraid to mix it up.  He toured extensively with Paul Simon in the ‘90s, and he’s performed with the likes of Sting, Steven Tyler, and John Mayer. On Impressions he collaborates with a range of artists, from tenor Andrea Bocelli to country star Vince Gill to rocker Mark Knopfler.  Wow.

But make no mistake, Botti has jazz in his bones.  He was inspired to take up the trumpet at the age of twelve after hearing Miles Davis. Later, he studied with the highly regarded jazz educator David Baker, the great trumpet teacher Bill Adam, jazz trumpeter Woody Shaw, and jazz saxophonist George Coleman. And in his early career he honed his skills in the company of Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, and Natalie Cole. We should not be surprised that he’s had four #1 albums on Billboard’s Jazz Albums listings.

Anyone lucky enough to see Botti when he hits the Flynn Mainstage on June 14, wrapping up the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, is in for a special treat.  What’s fun is anticipating all the possibilities.  It could be jazz, it could be pop; maybe a little classical, folk or Latin.  It won’t matter. With Chris Botti, whatever genre he chooses will be his own. And however he chooses to express it, we will be impressed.



Rubblebucket Preview


Rubblebucket will perform at the Waterfront Park Tent on Saturday, June 13, $25; Doors and VT Nectar’s Grill at 5pm; Music at 6pm; Pimps of Joytime to open. Tickets are available at the FlynnTix Regional Box Office at 153 Main Street, Burlington, VT 05401, by calling 802-86FLYNN or order online here. Below is a preview as a part of the festival’s partnership with the Burlington Writers Workshop.

On this ride I’m the Captain
All my friends call me Shackleton

By Michelle Watters, Burlington Writers Workshop

Thirteen years ago I attended The Horde Festival. It was only my second live show, the first one being The Black Crowes. I was seventeen and couldn’t wait to see Lenny Cravitz in his leather pants.

Unfortunately that never came to be because I dropped acid for the first time.

The only band I can recall seeing is Rusted Root. Then the acid kicked in and Jesus himself sent me messages through Rusted Roots drumbeats. I got stuck in a port-a-potty and time stood still. I lost my shoes and somewhere along the way my jeans. By the end of the show I was in the parking lot: confused, in just my underwear, and being felt up by a Frenchman; at least I think he was speaking French. After that, I never wanted to go to a concert again.

Fast forward. I hear about Rubblebucket coming to town.

The name itself works magic on my tongue. I find myself saying, “Rumblebucket, Rubberbucket, Rubblebucket…” it wants to be a tongue twister.  What is a Rubblebucket anyway? Something in a tornado emergency kit?

A poet’s mind is never at rest when it comes to unusual wordplay. I’m not the savviest music aficionado. I don’t know what’s cool or if the word “cool” is even used anymore. I listen to easy listening seventies music like a daily anti-anxiety pill along with some early eighties thrown in like a cup of coffee. I consider my knowledge of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn to be cutting edge.

I was five when MTV first aired, my face inches from the television as I watched the first music video, The Buggles Video Killed The Radio Star. I didn’t know then that it would be a big part of music history but I knew the feeling I got when a good music video came on.

The good ones told stories, had interesting visuals, and a beat I could wiggle to.

Fast Forward.  I’m on YouTube to checkout Rubblebucket’s music video Carousel Ride. Annakalmia’s angelic voice sings against the background of an electronic beat.  I feel like I’m watching old MTV again. Somehow they have made music videos fresh.

The lyrics are more like poetry than a pop song.

I think I was a bird in another life
Maybe that’s why I’m prone to flight
And I do like heights
When all the strongest winds are blowing my way
Then the reaper comes to take my breath away

The video itself has a retro feel channeling the I Love Lucy show’s chocolate factory episode. Chocolate soldiers drop off a conveyer belt.  A factory worker eats melted chocolate and smears it on his face. At the end, in a bizarre fantastic twist, the factory workers help what I can only describe as an anus made of flowers escape from a cage where it is being pumped full of thick pink liquid in IV bags.

On further inquiry and after finding out Annakalmia is a survivor of ovarian cancer, I deduce the big flowery thing is supposed to represent an ovary and the factory the big business of cancer treatments.

In their video Came Out of a Lady, they sport neon colors and have their heads, arms, and legs emerging from nylon, tent-like structures.  The sound of Trumpets give the song a fast jazzy feel.  The retro feel and playfulness are reminiscent of Devo’s Whip It with a smidgeon of Boy George’s Karma Chameleon. Again the depth of the lyrics are just damn good poetry.

I used to walk by the stream at night
With silver shadows everywhere
My brain like an exploding light
And wonder if it was worth my time
To sing these sings and do these things
And stumble at the every time.

All the songs on Rubblebucket’s album Survival Sounds have a playful quality combined with powerful and eloquent lyrics that tell a story about doubt, fear, survival, and, most prominently, joy.

This will be a show where acid need not apply. It will be better than chocolate (or a close second). It will definitely be better than being trapped in a hot port-a-potty.

Fun Fact:

Rubblebucket did awesome covers of The Doobie Brothers What a Fool Believes and The Beatles My Michelle.  I was named after the latter and I love The Doobie Brothers. So clearly this being my first concert in so long is kismet.

Rubblebucket is like riding a unicorn in the sunset, trumpets blaring rainbows. Saturday June 13th at The Burlington Waterfront. Be there with bells on.

She’ll Take You There—Mavis Staples at the Flynn



Mavis Staples, Friday, June 12,  Flynn MainStage, $15-48, 8pm. Tickets are available at the FlynnTix Regional Box Office at 153 Main Street, Burlington, VT 05401, by calling 802-86FLYNN or order online here. Below is a preview as a part of the festival’s partnership with the Burlington Writers Workshop. 

She’ll Take You There—Mavis Staples at the Flynn

By Brett Sigurdson, Burlington Writers Workshop

For me, there isn’t any more pure encapsulation of musical joy than Mavis Staples clapping her hands in ecstasy as The Band closes its rousing rendition of “The Weight” during the Last Waltz. Lost in the music, Staples keeps the beat with her claps as the music swells behind her into the final, legendary chorus: “Take a load off, Fannie / Take a load for free.” Staples sings along with relish, adding her distinctive soulful yawps, and lifts her head skyward. As the music closes, she whispers, “Beautiful. ”

The same could be said of Staples—still a musical force at 75.

Sure, Staple Singers treasures like “I’ll Take You There,” “If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me),” “Respect Yourself,” and others have cemented her status as one of our greatest gospel and soul voices. But Staples isn’t one to rest on her catalogue. She has been a prolific recording artist throughout the last decade: she’s recorded six albums since 2004, the two most recent with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and she’s still touring, keeping the Staple Singers gospel-soul magic alive.

Like Forrest Gump, the Staple Singers story links with some of the 20th century’s greatest musicians and historical figures.

The Cliff’s Notes version:

Roebuck “Pops” Staples was born and raised near Cleveland, Mississippi, and toiled the fields of the legendary Dockery Farms, the same plantation that saw blues godfathers like Son House, Howling’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, and Honeyboy Edwards pass through. At Dockery, Pops learned to play guitar at the feet of the legendary Charley Patton. In the mid-30s, he and his family—wife Oceola and children Cleotha and Pervis—joined the Great Migration north to Chicago, where Mavis and sister Yvonne were born. He joined a gospel group, the Trumpet Jubilees, but, frustrated that the group couldn’t get traction, he vowed he’d sing with his children instead, teaching them to harmonize on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” to the accompaniment of a $7 guitar.

As the Staple Singers acclaim grew from Chicago churches to major festivals, the group performed with 60s folk singers like Bob Dylan—he once proposed to Mavis—and traveled with Martin Luther King. Their sound fit well into the worlds of folk and activism.

Held together with Pop’s twangy guitar lines, Mavis’s soulful growl, and the siblings’ stirring harmonies, the band forged a singular identity despite moving from straight gospel to soul to funk through the 60s and 70s.

African American issues were always at the heart of the music. The Staple Singers sound was inspirational and empowering during the turbulent Civil Rights era. Yet the sound always retained something of the Mississippi Delta’s rural soul. In a sense, their music was always both forward looking and backward looking.

For Mavis Staples, there’s comfort in the past and the future. Her live shows still possess a sound informed by Pops’s twangy guitar, but her most recent albums have been grounded in folk and rock as much as gospel and soul.

“I’m always willing to try new things,” Staples told People Magazine earlier this year. “And ready. I just felt like, I got to keep moving, got to keep up with the times.”

No matter what she’s singing, Staples brings the pure musical joy to the performance, and I can’t wait to hear her deliver it at the Flynn June 12.


Jazz Junior Preview

Jazz Junior

Jazz Junior with Christian McBride Trio, Friday, June 12,  FlynnSpace $10; 3-4pm. Tickets are available at the FlynnTix Regional Box Office at 153 Main Street, Burlington, VT 05401, by calling 802-86FLYNN or order online here. Below is a preview as a part of the festival’s partnership with the Burlington Writers Workshop. 

Contribution by JD Fox, Burlington Writers Workshop

Jazz. noun, often attributive ˈjaz : a type of American music with lively rhythms and melodies that are often made up by musicians as they play. (source: Merriam-Webster online).

Okay, now we know all we need to know about Jazz. Right?

Hmmm. A lot of music has rhythms, melodies, and improvisation. “American” and “lively” don’t exactly add much either, do they?

My musical tastes have grown like tree rings, adding and expanding my appreciation without my ever discarding the core. I remember:

Sitting in an egg speaker chair at my dad’s house listening to David Seville and the Chipmunks “Witch Doctor.” I sang out loud (and very loud), proud that I knew all the lyrics. “Beep Beep” by The Playmates occupied my audio world, too.

Pulling  the flimsy “It’s a Super-Spectacular Day” record from Mad Magazine and listening to it over and over again to ensure I heard all the possible versions, which incredibly and mysteriously changed with each playing.

Listening to my Dad’s old vinyl: Moody Blues, Simon and Garfunkel, Rod Stewart. Through him, I also heard the Star Wars soundtrack, that just released cassette playing during many car trips.

Sneaking my step-brother’s 8-tracks from his room: AC/DC, Styx, and The Cars among them.

But no Jazz.

I turned 13 the year MTV launched, that month actually, so music videos heavily influenced my musical choices: A Flock of Seagulls, Human League, and Devo, to name just a few. I started regularly buying records. In addition to MTV, my friends helped shape those purchases, turning me on to their own favorites:

Iron Maiden from Mark Combs, Alan Parsons Project from Tom Polkabla, and the incredible concept album “Pink World” by Planet P Project from Scott Tullis. I’m not sure who exposed me to Rush, as it seems like all of us just had simply always liked them.

But no jazz.

I discovered a lot of music on my own. On a whim, I picked up Skinny Puppy’s “Tormentor” CD Single and became hooked on Industrial, getting all of their albums and many other brilliant artists in that genre. From a Skinny Puppy forum, I found out about the unclassifiable but always captivating Legendary Pink Dots. Both Puppy and Dots remain perennial favorites.

Onward into EBM like Project Pitchfork, VNV Nation, and Funker Vogt. Metal, too, unlike I had heard before, such as Dark Tranquillity, …And Oceans, and Hollenthon.

My husband gave me new appreciation for female singers, such as Tina Turner, Kate Bush, Debora Iyall (Romeo Void), and Deborah Harry (Blondie).

Somewhere along the way I discovered Noise: power, rhythmic, ambient. I developed a fondness for artists like Ah Cama-Sotz, This Morn’ Omina, and Winterkalte, as well as such niche record labels like Ant-Zen, Hands Productions, and Hymen.

But still no Jazz.

I’m looking forward to correcting this gap come this Friday when the Discover Jazz Festival brings Jazz Junior to FlynnSpace. Both a performance and an intro to Jazz, this geared-towards-kids event should prove to be audibly illuminating for music fans and music seekers of all ages.