Sandy Denny Tribute – St. Ann’s Church (Brooklyn, NY)
St. Ann’s Church on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights was an appropriately hallowed setting for this tribute to the late British folk-rock icon Sandy Denny. The church is a national historic landmark that houses the first figural stained glass windows made in the United States, by artist William Jay Bolton between 1844 and 1847. And Denny’s music, both her solo recordings and her seminal 1960s and ’70s work with Fairport Convention, has always had a decidedly spiritual, ethereal, even Gothic air, particularly to American ears. With the stage set up just beneath stunningly colored windows and the audience seated in comfortably cushioned pews, the evening at times had the feel of a religious ritual — passionate, hypnotic, and perhaps a tad too reverential.
The concert was organized by Peter Holsapple (ex-dB’s) and his free-floating, hard-to-categorize ensemble, the Continental Drifters, which counts ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson and former ’60s child rock star Susan Cowsill among its members. The Drifters, plus violinist Deni Bonet and cellist Michelle Kinney, provided first-rate backing for this retrospective of Denny’s rich musical legacy.
An eclectic assortment of vocalists gamely tackled Denny’s haunting original compositions, as well as the updated takes on traditional folk tunes she recorded with Fairport Convention. The lineup included big-voiced singers from both sides of the pond (Katell Keineg, Amanda Thorpe, Sloan Wainwright), intrepid pop stars (ex-Bangle Michael Steele, Don Dixon and Marti Jones), and a couple moonlighting ringers from big bands (R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Hootie & the Blowfish’s Darius Rucker).
The concert was treated as a rather formal recital, and the audience responded in kind, remaining polite and hushed through most of the evening. Up-and-coming Irish folk singer Susan McKeown got probably the night’s loudest ovation for her dazzling singing on the traditional tune “Tam Lin”. The always engaging (and still boyish) Robyn Hitchcock injected the house with a needed dose of rock ‘n’ roll energy on a rousing version of “Mattie Groves”, another traditional number covered 30 years ago by Fairport Convention. Nobody said a word about Denny, or spoke to the audience at all, until Hitchcock broke the ice just before the program’s end.
The show closed on a couple of high notes, with Katell Keineg singing a lovely rendition of Denny’s biggest hit and most memorable composition, “Who Know Where the Time Goes?” The entire cast of performers returned to the stage for a stirring finale of Richard Thompson’s Fairport-era tune “Meet On The Ledge.”