SummerSounds Reprises The Guggenheim Grotto
After several weeks of Baltimore-like weather here in the mountains of verdant southwestern PA (Pennsyltucky), the sun and moon graced us again and blue reappeared on the local palette.
Bridey and I, joined by another couple from Ligonier, seized the opportunity to see the fabulous Dublin-based The Guggenheim Grotto at a free concert. SummerSounds, a 14-week Friday night festival, is located 20 miles west in Greensburg (nearer Pittsburgh), and has held forth as a community galvanizer for the last 14 years.
The venue, when weather permits, is an outdoor Shangri-La, offering two hours of earthly paradise. What resounds at SummerSounds are the clarion-clear speaker arrays, augmented by acoustic tiles on the ceiling of the performance shed. Creator and impresario Gene James has a pitch-perfect ear for the breadth of today’s and yesterday’s musical soundscape. His ever-buoyant gang of volunteers and Greensburg’s city workers keep St. Clair Park immaculate. On a summer’s night like this, surrounded by like-minded music aficionados, the élan can almost be tasted.
Shows start at 7:00 p.m. We arrived 45 minutes early to stake out a spot on the hill, with a prodigious oak as our umbrella (old habits die hard). Bridey had outdone herself again, with mouth-watering grilled chicken, a salad, and lemon bars. The Ayers provided the hooch, white wine and Dogfishead 90 minute IPA.
The band has grown since we last saw them at the Three Rivers Arts Festival. They now boast a drummer (Elliot Jacobson), bass player (Chris Kuffner), and Oscar Rodriguez, a spine-tingling guitarist. I have no set list. What follows are highlights. I know you have laundry to fold or hedges to trim. You might even have a nap to take.
> Her Beautiful Ideas — I shot a knowing glance to Bridey when this sparked the twilight air. After a few verses, I could take it no more and dashed down the hill to the only dancers I could find. Turns out the gang leader was Gene’s adult daughter Emily, whose love affair with the band is in no small part why “The Grotto” have warmed the Robertshaw Amphitheater stage on three occasions. The other whirling dervishes were elementary school girls, bejeweled in summer dresses. The smallest of our quintet was angelic in white and, when the song ended and I collapsed to the grass, she implored me to join them for another twirl. Finally, I returned to find my blanket dwellers to find them looking away as if to say, “We’ve no idea who that mad lad is…”
> You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Lead singer Kevin May began by saying that they had a new song by the same name as the Rolling Stones. The crowd response to the title was so positive that he decided to shelf their composition and hand the reins to co-conspirator Mick Lynch to crank out an extraordinary vocal performance, punctuated by some Richards-esque solos. The overjoyed crowd was no match for the London Bach Choir featured on the original, but we sure as hell achieved a few moments of weightlessness.
> Vertigo – A fan nearby asked for this song on three occasions. May responded to the first request, saying, “Ah, we’ve not had the chance to practise it with our new mates,” or something to that effect. Still, the implorer persisted, to no avail. I purchased it this morning, figuring that anyone who was so determined to hear a song was either well-oiled or a fine judge of culture. Perhaps it was a bit of both.
> Hola – A new song from a cd scheduled for an early Fall release. Though promoted as a “bilingual” song, May admitted that the title and its one word chorus were the only evidence of such. This had us all singing along amid a decidedly monochromatic racial landscape.
> Hallelujah – Yes, that Hallelujah. Just a few days earlier, I had watched a youtube video interview with Leonard Cohen (see below) in which he expresses both gratitude for its ascendance and a certain ennui for its seeming ubiquity. Mr. May delivered the exquisite lyrics to rapturous applause. I whispered into my friend’s wife’s ear that I used to play the Shrek version for my religion class. She smiled until I revealed that it was really a song about earth-moving coitus.
> Psycho Killer — The first evocations of this show stopper and closer catapulted me to my feet. Returning to the scene of the earlier balletic melange, I found that their carriage had long since secreted them off to Cinderella-themed pillows. No matter, I did my best David Byrne halting and stumbling cavorting, lost in yet another gravity-defying musical levitation. Sometimes the right band on the right night at the right venue with the right people can make you feel that “for a little while it seemed like the whole world was alright” – Polaroid by Richmond Fontaine (maybe next year Gene & Co. will relent and finally book the Portland-based cinescapic rockers).
The elegant Bard Cohen:
Afloat from the forthcoming record by The Guggenheim Grotto: