The Festival at Sandpoint kicks into high gear over the next four days, covering a variety of musical genres from country to jazz and R&B; to blues and gospel, and also offering a children’s program.
Humans - and especially children - have always been fascinated by masks.
Something about a hidden face creates license for imagination, a fact not lost on the members of Umo Ensemble, the Vashon Island-based mask troupe which will perform a family-day show Sunday.
Umo’s show, “Masks!,” is a cross-cultural exploration of masks in performance. Ensemble members don the masks of Switzerland, Bali, the Italian Commedia and the traditional red-nose clown of Europe in a series of engaging, thought-provoking performance pieces.
Highlights of the show include the courtship of a giant electrical plug and socket, the comedic demise of a human fly and the cult-like devotion of a flock of sheep for an animated television set.
Reviewers have praised the show as “breathtaking … a fluid fusion of puppetry, mime, martial art and dance, (High Performance Magazine, Los Angeles) and proclaimed Umo as “Obvious talents for the ridiculous and the sublime … ” (ArtFocus, Seattle).
Before the show, between 5 and 7 p.m., young people will be able to create masks, instruments and accessories at activity centers throughout Memorial Field. The cast of Umo will conduct a workshop on theater masks, and a photographer will be on hand to capture the action.
Families may bring picnic dinners or buy dinner from vendors on the grounds.
Like Nat “King” Cole, George Benson is a jazzman who found his greatest success singing.
Benson was a respected Wes Montgomery-influenced guitarist who had played with Jack McDuff, Billy Cobham, Freddie Hubbard and Ron Carter in the ‘60s. He joined Miles Davis for a while, but resisted the trumpet player’s invitation to join full-time.
Benson knocked around for a time, then hit it big in 1976 with an album called “Breezin’ ” and a cover of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade.” The single took “Breezin’ ” onto the pop charts and turned into the first million-selling record in jazz history.
Now, Benson has teamed up again with Tommy LiPuma, who produced a string of popular Benson records during the late ‘70s.
“We’ve always had success both in recording quality material and selling records,” Benson said. “Tommy and I always connect. As my producer, he’s always done well to connect me to my fans.”
The new Benson/LiPuma record, “That’s Right,” carries on the classic Benson fusion of soul, R&B; and jazz. It’s been a winning combination for him, he said.
“My most successful records are those where I’ve been the most versatile, when I play in different genres.”
True to the jazzman in him, Benson cut several of the tracks in one take - and he allowed himself to step out on guitar.
“People have been begging me to play more guitar. Well, I have plenty of improvisational ideas. So, for this album, I decided to return to the old Benson … on these tunes, I’m soloing for as long as it takes me to say on my guitar what I need to say.
It’s been a long time between albums for Martina McBride, who plays the festival tonight.
Her fourth record, “Evolution,” due Aug. 26, was nearly a year in the making, and in that time a handful of release dates came and went. But McBride says it was worth it.
“We spent seven months on this album,” she told a Billboard reporter earlier this year. “I took time off the road, which I’ve never done to make an album before. … I was determined to take as much time as was needed to get the best songs and make it right.
“My mission for this album was the same as for every album. I just wanted to come up with the 10 very best songs I could find - no filler. Hats off to RCA: I was under no time constraints and no real budget constraints.”
“Still Holding On,” the first single from “Evolution,” and her first duet - with Clint Black - currently is making waves on the country charts.
The album also includes a song called “Valentine,” which McBride sang with pop pianist Jim Brickman. That song went to No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart earlier this year.
“Evolution” will be a pivotal record for McBride. Her third record, 1994’s “Wild Angels,” was generally regarded as her best, but didn’t sell as well as her second effort, the million-selling “The Way That I Am.”
Since her 1992 debut, McBride has scored with a string of hit singles, including “The Time Has Come,” “My Baby Loves Me,” “Independence Day,” “Where I Used to Have A Heart,” “Safe in the Arms of Love,” “Swingin’ Doors” and “Wild Angels.”
Booker T. Jones/Blind Boys of Alabama
Booker T. Jones holds a fabled spot in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
Jones was there, as a teenage prodigy in Memphis, during the first days of Stax Records.
As a staff musician at Stax, he played on some of the day’s most important singles, including “Born Under a Bad Sign” (which he co-wrote), “Hold On! I’m Coming,” “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” “Try a Little Tenderness” and “When Something is Wrong With My Baby.”
As the leader of Booker T. and the MG’s, Jones was the creator of some of the biggest R&B; hits of the ‘60s. They cut the million-selling “Green Onions” when he was 17 and went on to produce six more Top 40 instrumental hits.
Jones, who plays the festival Saturday, said the R&B; musicians of the early ‘60s were carving their own niche.
“The Memphis sound was quite a bit more basic than the music that was being made in Philadelphia, New York and Detroit. It was blues-based, more emotional. It was simpler, had simpler themes. And we didn’t have strings on our records until the company got a little more sophisticated.”
Jones and his MG companions are also accomplished rockers, as they proved when they served as the house band at the grand opening of Cleveland’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Neil Young later invited the band out on tour with him, and they played the wild-and-woolly Neil Young/Pearl Jam show at The Gorge that year.
Lately, Jones has been writing and playing occasional dates with the MG’s, as well as doing gigs with his own Bay Area-based band, as he will at Sandpoint.
The solo group plays the old MG’s hits but also gives Jones a chance to show his stuff as a singer. He does a lot of the blues/R&B; songs that date back to the beginnings of the great black music boom of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Jones will co-headline the bill with a group that’s been around even longer than he has. The Blind Boys of Alabama have been performing rousing gospel music since the Depression.
Remarkably, four of the original six members - five of them were blind - still perform, and they are as vital as ever.
The group was founded by Clarence Fountain, then a student at the Talledega Institute for the Deaf and Blind. Over the years, they have sung the gospel message in such styles as funk, blues and soul.
Booker T. Jones produced their 1992 album, “Deep River,” and played organ on it as well. Speculation is rife that he’ll join them behind the keyboards Saturday.
Opening the show is Spokane’s Mount Olive Baptist Church Choir.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FESTIVAL AT SANDPOINT Following is the schedule for the Festival at Sandpoint for the next week. All concerts are at Memorial Field. Tickets are available from the festival, (888) 265-4554, and G&B; Select-a-Seat, (800) 325-SEAT. Martina McBride, tonight at 7:30. Tickets: $16, $9.50 for children 12 and younger. George Benson, Friday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $18.50, $9.50 for children 12 and younger. Booker T. Jones and the Blind Boys of Alabama, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $16, $9.50 for children 12 and younger. Umo Ensemble, Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets: $6, $20 for four tickets.
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