June Concert Preview: Outlaws, Bad Company, Michael Franti, ‘American Pie,’ and Dolly
June may well be the biggest concert month in Pittsburgh, especially with the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival and the summer sheds and other venues in full swing. TRAF is great for featuring well-known acts and acts that maybe most people haven’t heard of yet, but are stunningly good. The festival also provides an opportunity for many local musicians and groups to showcase their talents and build a bigger following. Our preview details TRAF performances by Michael Franti and Spearhead, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, Beth Orton, Lake Street Dive, and Caroline Rose. Not really any mega-acts this month except for Dolly Parton who is one of the most accomplished musical performers in history. She will be performing at the Consol Energy Center later this month. No major twangers in June either, but we’re now starting to see country acts play here on more of a year-round basis. Although, one of the top groups in the Southern rock genre—The Outlaws—is bringing their harmonies and intricate guitar play to Jergel’s. Don McLean is in town and will certainly play his classic American rock ballad “American Pie.”
This month also celebrates fathers, and Pittsburgh will see performances from two sons of famous fathers. James McCartney, Paul’s son, plays Club Cafe, and Steve Rodgers, son of Bad Company’s lead singer Paul Rodgers, opens for his dad’s band and Joe Walsh at First Niagara Pavilion. Talented local artists we’ve highlighted this month that are playing out on the local scene are reggae jammers The Flow Band and hard rockers Blackbird Bullet. Everywhere we turn this month there will be live music playing, so let’s get out there to support and enjoy it.
Southern rock finds its way north at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille with The Outlaws. For over 40 years the band has been thriving in the Southern rock genre along with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, and The Allman Brothers (now disbanded). Founded in Tampa, Florida in ’67, the Outlaws put forth a Southern rock opus with “Green Grass and High Tides” and scored a major hit with “There Goes Another Love Song.” Outlaw trademarks include beautiful vocal harmonies and intricate lead guitar play. Surviving the test of time, the inevitable evolution of popular music, and bandmates’ deaths, the Outlaws are definitely alive, kicking, and, it would seem, stronger than ever. Some things really do get better with age. Special guest is BrokNPic. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (EC/RH)
Can’t decide if you like rock or hip hop more? You won’t need to pick when you see Twenty One Pilots at Stage AE. The Columbus natives work in an indie sub-genre commonly referred to as alternative hip hop. A little funkier than Aerosmith’s mashup with Run DMC in “Walk This Way,” the duo combine various tempos and rhythms that will have you dancing and headbanging simultaneously. As demonstrated in “Holding Onto You,” the verses are rap-based with a seamless flow into a chorus with a raw beat reminiscent of early Linkin Park. The end result: rock and rap had a love child and named it Twenty One Pilots, and it’s the sound you’ve been looking for if, like me, you find yourself flipping between WAMO and The X on the radio. Twenty One Pilots are touring in support of their second album, 2015’s Blurryface. Mutemath and Chef’Special are warming up the crowd so make sure to get there early. Doors open at 6 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. Sold Out. (EC/RH)
Friday, June 3
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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. This summer, 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)
Sunday, June 5
The Baja Bar and Grill’s outdoor deck and Tiki bar are now open for dining, drinking, and dancing with live bands and DJs. Which is where one of Pittsburgh’s top reggae bands, The Flow Band, will be performing. The band cites as its reggae influences the master, Bob Marley, and Third World. Let the good times Flow! 2 p.m. 1366 Old Freeport Rd., Fox Chapel Yacht Club, Fox Chapel. (RH)
Wednesday, June 8
The music business is fraught with peril and hardships, and a career that spans more than a couple of years is generally considered a significant accomplishment. Frankie Valli has reached that level of achievement. Born in Newark, N.J., Valli rose to fame in 1962 as the lead singer of The Four Seasons (they took the band name from a New Jersey bowling alley), and his fame train continues to chug as powerfully as ever. The Four Seasons’ first hit, “Sherry” put the band on the map. Other hits include “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” and “Working My Way Back to You.” Valli comes to Heinz Hall in what is guaranteed to provide a harmonious joyride down melody lane. Opportunities to catch legends like Valli are increasingly scarce, so pen this one into your “high-priority” category. 7:30 p.m. 600 Penn Ave. Cultural District. (EC/RH)
Charles Bradley is a true champion. He endured a tough childhood and life as a young adult that included many hardships, including abandonment (and later reconciliation at eight years of age) of him by his mom to his grandmother when he was an infant, his brother being murdered down the street from his mom’s house in Brooklyn, and homelessness. After working in several different places and traveling the country, Bradley returned to Brooklyn and cared for his mom for many years until her death in January of 2014.
One ray of light that always shined through for Bradley was his enjoyment of music. As a kid he saw the legendary James Brown perform at the Apollo Theater. After the show, young Bradley worked on mimicking James Brown’s moves and style. This would serve him later in life in his act as a James Brown impersonator called Black Velvet. While performing he was discovered by Bosco Mann, a co-founder of Daptone Records, signed, and sent on his way to musical notoriety. For the first songs he wrote and recorded, he wrote lyrics on the spot during recording sessions and told the band to follow his lead. Many of those songs made up his first album, No Time for Dreaming, released in 2011. His follow-up album Victim of Love made many Best of 2013 lists. Bradley and his band the Extraordinaires are known for rich blues vocals with insightful lyrics, tasty guitar riffs, energetic funky bottom, and timely bold brass. Songs like “Where Do We Go From Here?” and ‘The World (Is Going Up In Flames)” have made Bradley appealing to several different classes and generations of people. He is touring in support of his latest album Changes. Peter Wolf & The Midnight Travelers open for Bradley at 6 p.m., with Bradley taking the stage at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival at 7:30 p.m. Free. Dollar Bank Main Stage, Point State Park, Downtown.
Thursday, June 9
“So bye, bye Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry” was all over the airwaves in ’71 when Don McLean‘s American Pie album, with a single of the same name, rose to the number one spot on the U.S., U.K., and Canadian album charts. “American Pie” has somewhat cryptic lyrics whose meaning many people have been trying to discern for years. It is generally regarded that the phrase “the day the music died” refers to the ’59 plane crash that killed three of the top acts in the burgeoning rock ‘n roll genre—Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.). McLean had success with other songs, though none as big as “American Pie.” He’ll be performing at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (RH)
If you like singer/songwriters, Beth Orton is coming. If you like ‘em British and bizarre, well, bingo. And if you like to hear them for free, Orton is free at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. Her style is sometimes folktronica, sometimes crisp, clean ballads. Orton’s career is the stuff of legend in England, where she famously got her start by bumming a cigarette from electronic musician William Orbit. (The two began a relationship; Orbit urged her to perform on stage, and the rest would be history except that she’s still performing.) Orton’s first album was the 1993 Superpinkymandy, released only Japan and now very hard to find anywhere, but here’s a cut called “When You Wake.” Her seventh release, Kidsticks, is upcoming this year. Orton also acts—she had a key role in the indie film Southlander, playing the (fictional) lead singer of L.A.’s Future Pigeon—and logical minds can find no reason not to catch her act at the Arts Festival. 7:30 p.m. Dollar Bank Main Stage, Point State Park, Downtown. (MV)
Sunday, June 12
Lake Street Dive hits Pittsburgh this month after generating heat from recent performances on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “Conan,” and NPR’s “Morning Edition.” The band members, who met while students at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music, named themselves after a street with many dive bars in trumpeter/guitarist Mike Olson’s hometown of Minneapolis. Their sound has touches of pop, Americana, jazz, and soul. For proof of their cross-genre appeal, check out 2016’s Side Pony, the quartet’s fifth studio album. It topped three Billboard albums charts—Rock, Folk, and Alternative. “Call Off Your Dogs,” a song from that album, moves in many musical directions and features a music video filmed at the famed Electric Lady Studios in New York City. The band also uploads a cover to YouTube every Halloween. 2015’s cover was Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Great music in a beautiful sylvan setting at Point State Park as part of this year’s Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. 7:30 p.m. Free. Dollar Bank Main Stage, Point State Park, Downtown. (RH/CM)
Carrot-topped Brett Dennen is like John Mayer without the tabloid attention or Dave Matthews without the stadium-filling crowds. The California native is an earnest, organic-sounding singer/songwriter with a plentiful collection of laid-back tunes and at Mr. Smalls, you can still catch him before he’s wildly famous. Given the escalating attention Dennen has received with each of his six albums, that won’t be the case for long. Dennen is touring behind his latest album Por Favor which was released in May. Firekid opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (EC/RH)
New Hampshire-born singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne performs at Stage AE. LaMontagne celebrates a prolific career, having just released his sixth studio album in 12 years, titled Ouroboros and produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket. James also plays on five out of eight of the album’s tracks, including electric guitar and saxophone on the album’s single, “Hey, No Pressure.” The album’s title comes from the ancient symbol of a snake devouring its own tail. At times buoyant and at times downbeat, LaMontagne showcases a real vocal talent that’s raspy and gravelly. His genre isn’t easily identifiable—sometimes bluesy, sometimes folksy, and sometimes a curious hybrid of several genres—but he’s always equipped with a story to tell and music to ease the soul. Whether caught in the throes of a doomed affair (“Jolene”?) or the spark of new love (“Supernova”?), chances are LaMontagne has a song in his repertoire to fit your mood. Doors open 6:30 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (EC/CM)
Wednesday, June 15
True Beatlemaniacs should know that “James” is actually the first name of Paul McCartney. What they might not know is that it is also the first name of Paul and the late Linda McCartney’s only son. The junior James McCartney played on his father’s albums Flaming Pie and Driving Rain and on his mother’s posthumous album, Wide Prairie. James McCartney has also become an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right with two EPs and two full-length studio albums under his belt. The most recent, 2016’s The Blackberry Train, was engineered by the alt-rock record producer Steve Albini. Albini produced albums such as The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, Nirvana’s In Utero, and PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me. You can hear Albini’s engineering on McCartney’s “Unicorn,” where the drumming veers into grunge territory. Other songs, like “Too Hard,” are more Beatlesque, as they feature psychedelic instrumentation paired with lyrical whimsy. McCartney is currently touring the States and playing intimate venues like Club Cafe, which he headlines this month. The Damaged Pies open. 8 p.m. 56 S. 12th St., South Side. (CM)
Friday, June 17
Alt-country musicians The Mavericks, fronted by Cuban-American lead singer Raúl Malo, have a distinctive sound with elements of everything from Hispanic big-band to you-name-it. Darlings of adult alternative-contemporary radio stations, The Mavericks have gained a huge following over the years since starting in Miami, Florida in 1989. Breaking up in 2004 and reuniting in 2011 gave Malo an opportunity to build a successful solo career. Now that he’s back, these guys have been out to prove they’re still at the top of their game and the verdict is: oh yeah. Their latest album is last year’s Mono—featuring tracks like “All Night Long” (above)—and The Mavericks have been on the road diligently since then, in what they’re calling the Mono Mundo Tour. We get them at the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall for two shows, Friday and Saturday June 17-18, with each show at 8 p.m. 510 E. 10th St., Munhall. (RH/MV)
Monday, June 20
Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week”: an ironic rap performed by Canadians, detailing a seven-day argument through nearly unintelligible lyrics. On paper, sounds like a failure, but as a 1998 single, it worked pretty darn well, spending (ahem) one week atop the Billboard Hot 100. Far from being a one-hit wonder, Barenaked Ladies have many other recognizable singles, like “If I Had $1,000,000” and, yes, the theme for CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.” Barenaked Ladies began in Scarborough, Ontario in 1988. Although different members have come and gone, co-founder Ed Robertson is still the lead vocalist. (Bassist Jim Creeggan is the band’s other remaining original member.) In 2015, the band headlined Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. They recorded the show, and this May released it as BNL Rocks Red Rocks. They are touring again this year, including a stop at Stage AE. OMD and Howard Jones open. OMD stands for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark; the English duo are arguably best known for “If You Leave.” Howard Jones, also from England, pairs synthesizers with introspective lyrics, like on “What Is Love.” Doors open 6 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)
Wednesday, June 22
Soul Asylum is an innovative alternative rock group that formed in Minneapolis in 1983 and has recorded many memorable songs including “Somebody to Shove,” “Runaway Train” and “Black Gold.” The band’s most recent album is Change of Fortune, released in March. Soul Asylum is coming to town to share a bill with The English Beat, the 1980s new wave/ska/punk/reggae band. Some of this band’s biggest hits are “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Save It For Later” and “Too Nice To Talk To.” You can catch both acts at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (RH)
Sunday, June 26
Indie-pop singer and adult-alternative darling Ingrid Michaelson makes a stop in Pittsburgh this June. According to Michaelson’s site, her current tour features all of your favorites plus songs from her forthcoming studio album, It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense, due out this summer. One of those new songs may already be a favorite—“Hell No.” She used the popular messaging app Snapchat to record the music video for “Hell No,” which she shot on her phone over the course of four weeks. She is no stranger to innovative music videos. The video for her hit “Girls Chase Boys” is an updated take on Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible“ video of the 1980s. “Girls Chase Boys” is from her last album, 2014’s Lights Out. Michaelson, a native New Yorker, has been playing music since she was four years old. She headlines Stage AE as part of 100.7 Star Acoustic Sunday Funday with openers Magic! and Simple Plan. Doors open 6 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)
Tuesday, June 28
Joe Walsh, legendary guitar slinger, formerly of the James Gang, and a member of the classic rock group The Eagles, is teaming up with Bad Company to give The ‘Burgh a double shot of classic rock this month. Walsh is a great rocker in his own right, although he sings “I’m just an ordinary average guy” and modestly admits that “Life’s Been Good.” Bad Company, an English band, was a staple of ’70s rock radio fronted by lead vocalist Paul Rodgers. Rodgers’ resonant, crystalline voice along with top play from band members propelled their songs into the top of the record charts. “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Shooting Star,” and “Rock and Roll Fantasy” were some of the band’s numerous hits. Walsh and Bad Company are co-headliners on their One Hell of a Night tour. Opening is Steve Rodgers, who is Paul Rodgers’ son. 7 p.m. First Niagara Pavilion, 665 Rt. 18, Burgettstown. (RH)
What can you say about Dolly Parton? More specifically: What can you say about Dolly Parton without mentioning the first attribute that too many people think of when they hear her name, and also without using trite-but-true phrases like “the best-loved female country star of our time” or “one of the all-time greats”? One could start, as many fans do, by talking about her childhood. Parton grew up seriously poor in rural Eastern Tennessee—and yet she was raised lovingly, and has recalled it fondly, in songs like “Coat of Many Colors” and “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).”
Raised musically as well, Parton headed for Nashville after high school and soon rocketed to fame. Citing highlights of her career would be difficult because it’s been nearly all highlights. A few data points: over 3,000 songs composed, many of them hits. 25 singles at #1 on the Billboard country charts. 47 solo albums (not counting 184 compilation releases) and 18 collaborative albums,13 of those with Porter Wagoner. Lead acting roles in 9 to 5 and other movies and TV, plus many cameos and specials as herself. Country Music Hall of Fame, numerous country awards, 8 Grammys including a Lifetime Achievement Award all add up to an amazing career for Parton.
Her charitable work includes backing literacy programs, economic development, wildlife preservation, and medical care. Dolly Parton was the first person (as distinct from a product) to receive the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval due to her work on her Imagination Library charity. And surely the house will be full of approving customers for her show at Consol Energy Center. 8 p.m. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (MV)
Singer/songwriter Rachael Yamagata has a breathy, sometimes-plaintive and sometimes-rocking style that is somewhat reminiscent of Edie Brickell … except Yamagata is younger, not married to Paul Simon, and brings distinctive touches of her own to the music she makes. Yamagata started out as a belter with the Chicago funk band Bumpus, then spun off onto a silkier tangent as a solo artist. She’s not exactly a household name but has gained quite a following. First Lady Michelle Obama had her perform at the White House; her songs are used in movies and TV shows; and on her overseas tours she is often booked into big venues like Singapore’s Esplanade Concert Hall. From there Yamagata is coming to the cozy confines of Club Cafe, where you might get an up-close preview of some songs from her upcoming album Tightrope Walker. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (MV)
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and loves great music.
Christopher Maggio and Mike Vargo also love great music and were major contributors to this preview.