Busy Concert Friday w/Michael Franti, Jackson Browne, Chris Smither, Caroline Rose, Blackbird Bullet, and Meghann Wright (Fri., 6/3/16)
1) All you “Rebel Rockers” out there make sure to catch Michael Franti and Spearhead as the opening night headliners for the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. The group is like a musical blender using the ingredients of hip-hop, rock, funk, jazz, reggae, and folk to create a tasty smoothie for the ears. Franti and Spearhead have eight studio albums to their credit including All Rebel Rockers and The Sound of Sunshine, both of which occupied high chart positions on the Billboard 200— nos. 37 and 17 respectively. In addition to being a very talented songwriter and musician, Franti is a dedicated humanitarian and environmentalist. He has toured the Middle East as an advocate for peace, is a strong supporter of South Africa’s Ubuntu Education Fund, and played three separate events to commemorate President Obama’s inauguration. He has said “I make music for one reason…I care about people and I care about the planet.” He believes that music can help us all rise up and make a better world.
Franti’s latest single is “Once A Day,” which he wrote for his son who has a rare kidney disease called FSGS. The song was produced by the acclaimed Supa Dups and features special guest Sonna Rele. It’s one of the tracks on Franti and Spearhead’s upcoming album, Soulrocker—which drops the day of their concert at the Arts Festival. 7:30 p.m. Free. Dollar Bank Main Stage, Point State Park, Downtown. (RH)
2) Running on Empty —the 1978 Jackson Browne album—spawned several hot singles including “The Load-Out,” “Stay,” and the title track “Running on Empty.” The album reached no. 3 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart and stayed on the chart for 65 weeks, achieving platinum status, and was nominated in 1979 for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year (losing to Saturday Night Fever). Browne was also nominated that year for Pop Male Vocalist (losing to Barry Manilow, who had “Copacabana (At The Copa)” out during the same period). Other highly popular songs from the Jackson Browne songbook include “Doctor My Eyes,” “The Pretender,” and “Lawyers in Love.” Whether a soft ballad or uptempo rocker, Browne’s vocals and music always retain a melodic balance.
Browne was born in Germany, where his dad was stationed with the U.S. Armed Forces, then was raised in Los Angeles. He was a member of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for several years and even co-wrote the song “Take it Easy” with Eagles band member Glenn Frey. Both Browne and the Eagles released the song, with the latter achieving greater popularity. His 14th studio album, Standing in the Breach, was released in October 2014. Browne has performed with top recording artists too numerous to list. At this February’s Grammy Awards ceremony, he joined the remaining Eagles for a rendition of “Take It Easy” as a tribute to Glenn Frey, who had just passed away. Browne is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His Pittsburgh show is a great opportunity to enjoy a concert from a highly talented American singer, writer, and musician. 8 p.m. Heinz Hall. 600 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (RH)
3) Chris Smither creates very beautiful acoustic guitar music, and when that’s mixed with his husky blues voice and heartfelt lyrics, the combination is almost transformational on songs like “Link of Chain,” “Killing the Blues,” and “Leave the Light On.“ One key to the artistry: Smither has been doing this for a long time. Ever since growing up all over the place (a fitting background for a folk/blues man), he’s been playing all around the world and has cut 16 albums. His 2014 release Still on the Levee was a double-CD, 50-year retrospective. So if you catch a look at his magnificently craggy face, which may strike you as a cross between the American eagle and the Ancient of Days—well, that’s right, you got it. Smither is playing an early show at Club Cafe, and it’s worth getting there early to hear a living legend. 7 p.m. Club Cafe, 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (RH/MV)
4) Caroline Rose tried a few different paths before deciding on music. She was a liberal arts student and, after commencement, found work on an organic farm. Then she attempted traveling the country in a vintage sports car, but the car busted early on in her travels. A cider distillery was her next place of employment, followed by a grocery store. After her boss at the grocery store fired her, she embraced music—and it stuck. While touring, she met musician Jer Coons. At his Burlington, Vermont, studio, the pair produced her self-released America Religious and later 2014’s I Will Not Be Afraid, released on Little Hi! Records. Rose sings with the sophistication and range of Bonnie Raitt or Loretta Lynn. Her guitar playing is top-notch, and her dancing isn’t too shabby, either, as the video for “I Will Not Be Afraid” demonstrates. She and her band open for Michael Franti & Spearhead at this year’s Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. 6 p.m. Free. Dollar Bank Main Stage, Point State Park, Downtown. (CM)
5) Club Cafe is hosting a night of live local rock with the purpose of exposing people not to harmful chemicals or radiation, but to new music from regional rockers. Heading the three-band bill is the esteemed Pittsburgh quartet Blackbird Bullet. (Is it OK to call a rock band a “quartet”?) The four Blackbirds are soon to release a new album, Navigate, described on the band’s website as “a group of stories about the human condition.” Meanwhile a recent BB single is “Sawtooth.” Next up is Akron, Ohio’s Take Off Charlie. (Is Akron in our region? Pittsburgh musicians and artists have a rich ongoing cultural exchange with Akron, so this is part of it.) Take Off Charlie just released a self-titled debut album and that’s the band in the video above. Finally we come to Ugly Blondes. Actually they are neither, but they have an EP called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Blondes, plus singles like “Split in the Soul.” The show at Club Cafe is a late show because after all, it’s the latest from these bands. 10:30 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (MV)
6) Say “Aloha!” to Meghann Wright. The blues-rocker hails from Makaha, Hawaii, lives in New York City, and has performed at plenty of places in between. Last summer, she played Pittsburgh with the Vans Warped Tour. Tonight, she and her band, The Sure Thing, will headline Diesel Club Lounge to promote her debut LP, Nothin’ Left To Lose, released June 2015. On it are twelve bluesy originals, plus a cover of “Motorcycle Drive By,” a song by the ‘90s alternative band Third Eye Blind. Wright has also founded The City & The Heart, a New York-based advocacy organization which supports female artists. The organization has released two compilation albums of indie music—all proceeds go to Safe Horizon, a nonprofit which benefits victims of domestic violence. (A third compilation is due this October.)
No matter where Wright tours, her heart will always be in Brooklyn, where she is based. “Left My Heart in Brooklyn” namechecks many of the borough’s neighborhoods, like Bushwick and Bed-Stuy. She sings all of their names in an affectionate tone; appropriate, as she doesn’t have a favorite. “I love all the neighborhoods,” Wright said in a phone interview. “They all have their own unique aesthetic and cultural diversity that I enjoy.” Whitney Ann Jenkins and Her Platonic Guy Friends and The Kyle Lawson Band open. 7 p.m. 1601 E. Carson St., South Side. (CM)