Thursday, August 30, 2012

Boss tunes shuffle to MusicFest

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have been barnstorming the region this summer, playing two nights at Fenway Park and one at Gillette Stadium this month. Maybe you were there and want more Boss. Maybe you missed out, and are itching for some live “Jungleland” and the like.

Either way, E Street Shuffle will have you covered at Wachusett Mountain’s  MusicFest happening Sept. 9. The festival starts at noon and also features Little Texas, Orleans, Andy Cummings, and James Keyes.

A popular Springsteen tribute since 2008, E Street Shuffle works so well because its members are dedicated Bruce scholars as well as talented musicians. Singer Sean Loughlin doesn’t just understand the fanaticism; he lives it. He collects the innumerable Springsteen concert bootlegs, stays atop the artist’s history, and sees his own life experiences through the filter of Springsteen’s lyrics.

And he learned that people seeing E Street Shuffle are just like the people seeing a real Springsteen concert, and want to have the band dig deeply. And Loughlin has yet to be stumped by a request.

“I’ll know the song, but the band may not necessarily be ready to play some obscure tune that pops up once or twice on a demo recoding. But we learned pretty quickly that Bruce fans want to hear more than the hits. When we started, people, shouted out for ‘Thundercrack’ all the time” says Loughlin, referring to one of Springsteen’s long story songs that just circulated among bootleg traders before finally appearing on the “Tracks” box set.

E Street Shuffle balances the what with the how, meaning it doesn’t just play Bruce songs, it plays them the way the real E Street Band does in concert, going beyond the recorded versions from studio albums. Loughlin points out how some songs, like “Promised Land” have 15 different arrangements as Springsteen performed it over the years.

“What we’ll do is borrow a little something from all of the versions,” Loughlin said. “We want to give people a taste of why Springsteen has such a fanatical following and why his shows are so legendary.”  

Loughlin entered the fandom early. It started when he was 9 years old and his dad routinely played Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” album. As he got older, Loughlin developed his own appetite for the music.

After spending 10 years playing his own music in an original band, Loughlin formed E Street Shuffle with his brother Ryan and the lineup now includes two keyboards, sax and rhythm section.

Since starting this project, Loughlin says he has even more admiration for Springsteen

“I have even greater appreciation of him as a vocalist. When you put on a full show of this music, it’s a lot of work,” he says. “I don’t have the natural rasp that he has. When we started, I blew my voice out the third night of our first run. And there’s the sheer amount of lyrics he puts into a song. If  this were a Pink Floyd tribute, the band could play ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond' for 25 minutes and give the singer a break.”

E Street Shuffle comes from the Boss’ own home state of New Jersey, and is anchored along the Jersey shore, just like Springsteen himself.

“It’s always a little different when we play outside of New Jersey,” Loughlin says. “They are fascinated that we are from New Jersey and playing this music. When we play in Monmouth County where Bruce lives, it’s a little different. There’s a little more pressure at home to do it right.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Orleans celebrating legacy, honoring founder

Orleans quartet featuring Fly Amero, Lane Hoppen, John Hall, and Lance Hoppen (John Bruno photo)

What should have been a year of celebration for Orleans_ which turned 40 in 2012_ took an awful turn when Larry Hoppen, one of the band’s founders, died last month.

“My brother Lane called me at 5 o’clock on July 24th to tell me Larry had passed. My whole world just went up in the air,” says Lance Hoppen, who joined Orleans on bass when he was just 17 years old, a few months after Larry launched the band in 1972 with John Hall and drummer Wells Kelly.

Despite the recent tragedy, Orleans is fulfilling its previously booked engagements, with Hall coming back into the fold for these shows, including the band’s performance at Wachusett Mountain’s Sept. 9 MusicFest with Little Texas, E Street Shuffle, James Keyes, and Andy Cummings.

Orleans pulled together a variety of sophisticated pop influences to build its following then crashed the mainstream in the mid ’70s with the indelible hits “Sill the One” and “Dance With Me.”

“I hate to reduce anyone’s career to two or three songs,” Lance Hoppen says. “But Orleans made its mark on Americana with ‘Still the One’ and ‘Dance With Me,’ and that’s not something most people can say. We actually got to work for 40 years because of those two songs. We always worked on new things and continued to develop songs, but we knew people were interested in the warm and fuzzies of those songs.”

At the peak of Orleans’s popularity, Hall left the band, setting up the entry of Dennis “Fly” Amero. Amero, who lives in Gloucester, regularly played around Worcester with his namesake band and the Mitch Chakour Band when not busy with Orleans.

Amero recalls making a casual remark among musician friends, wondering how Orleans would pull off the signature dual guitar parts in “Still the One” without Hall.  The comment reverberated through the league of seasoned session players familiar with Amero and Orleans, and, as the guitarist and singer put it, “in the fall of  ’79 I was on a Greyhound to Woodstock,” and entering the Orleans base camp.

“I considered myself a singer until I joined this band,” Amero cracks about the intricate vocals woven into Orleans’s signature sound.

Hall rejoined Orleans after performing at a memorial concert for Kelly, who died in 1984. Then Hall ran for Congress in 2006 and represented his district in New York until last year, during which time he left the group and Amero was back in.

Hall wasn’t actively touring with Orleans during the 40th anniversary run but jumped in to fulfill the dates already booked before Larry Hoppen died, turning shows such as the one at MusicFest into celebrations of Hoppen and his musical legacy.

Lance Hoppen points out that Orleans wrote many songs the band is proud of  (and please audiences) in the years after the big hits. One of the newer compositions_ “God Never Gives You More Than You Can Handle”_ has become especially poignant, he notes.

For MusicFest, Orleans will perform as a quartet, with Lane Hoppen on keys, Lance Hoppen on bass, and Hall and Amero on guitars.

“When we finish this calendar of events, I can’t see beyond that,” Lance Hoppen says. “There are no decisions about continuing. The one thing that I have learned over the years is that every time this band goes down it manages to get backup."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Are you ready for MusicFest?

For its 15th year, Wachusett Mountain’s MusicFest delivers a rich earthiness to it. Headliners  Little Texas blends country and rock; Orleans conjures indelible, generation-spanning pop anthems; and E Street Shuffle pays tribute to blue-collar rock hero Bruce Springsteen.

Similar musical values spill over to the festival’s side stage which features James Keyes and Andy Cummings, two guys who have built their followings with music full of grit and heart.

MusicFest takes place Sept. 9, and starts at noon. Tix are on sale now here on the Wachusett Web site. Check back here for news and weekly profiles on the bands playing the festival this year.

Catching up with Keyes recently, he was singing the praises of Alabama Shakes, the blues-rooted, indie rockers that bubbled up this year.

“They’re the only new band I feel is not trying to sell me something,” Keyes says. “It’s refreshing to hear a musical band, by that I mean a band that puts the music first and made it on its music, not an image.”

You could say the same about Keyes’s music, a smoky blend of country, folk, and rock.  Keyes writes and sings like he’s riding shotgun with you on a long road trip. But his hard strumming, foot-stomping playing style keeps this from turning into idle conversation. There’s urgency and immediacy in Keyes’s work; he projects energy akin to that when he plays guitar in the punk rock band The Numbskulls.

“I’ve been in rock bands forever, and I had that kind of performance under control. I wanted to take just an acoustic guitar and still generate that kind of energy,” Keyes says. “I’ve got to make the song work. I’ve got to get somewhere. You can get somewhere in a Ferrari or with a skateboard. You just gotta make it work.”

And Keyes has been making it work pretty good. He’s toured around the region and out to the Midwest as a solo artist and is working on his new album “Yankee Peddler.”

While it took him a while to transition from band member to solo performer, the spirit of the music is much the same in both settings (volume, he says, being the biggest difference).

“As a kid, I listened to Oldies 103 _ Buddy Holly, the Platters, stuff like that while my friends were listening to Guns N’ Roses,” Keyes says. “Then I got into Nirvana and worked back to Black Flag to the Stooges to John Lee Hooker and the blues. Through Social Distortion, I worked back to Johnny Cash and country. And I kept going back to bands like from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s like the Carter Family and they were as heavy and bad as anything today.”