Best Concerts 2014

I’m going to try something new. I’m going to talk about music. I haven’t really done a lot with this since I wasn’t sure I knew how to talk about music. But I’ll give it a try for my top nine list of best concerts of the year.

In no particular order:

  1. Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Blues Festival and City Winery

This all African-American blue grass group is so good I saw them twice in three days. I already had tickets for the City Winery (strange place with disappointing wine), when I heard they were also playing at the Blues Festival. Since the concert was free and I had time, I also went. Sure, they played most of the same songs but they are so good, that I didn’t care. The lead singer Rhiannon Giddons has such an amazing voice. And there is a bones (two small flat wooden sticks) duel. You have to love that. I will see them as many times as they are in Chicago.

  1. Nickel Creek at the Taste of Chicago

To clarify, this is not Nickelback. This is a folk band led by the fiddler Sarah Watkins, a regular on Prairie Home Companion. I was really excited about seeing her fiddle and sing and was not disappointed. The band was great, silly at times, serious at times. Well worth the trip through Taste to see them. One of their new songs, “Hayloft”, blew me away.

  1. Anna and Elizabeth at the University of Chicago Folk Festival

Yes, there is a lot of folk music on this list. It’s my preferred music right now. This duo wowed me at the Folk Festival. They’ve been collecting songs in the South, talking with old musicians, and bring that tradition to life. They also have a visual component to the show where they use a “cranky,” a scroll with pictures moved by a crank, to tell a story. I think my favorite song of theirs is “Sun to Sun” about working in a chain gang. It just blows me away every time.

  1. Arcade Fire at the United Center

There are few bands that I’d see in such a huge venue. Arcade Fire might be the only one. The show was great. The band marched in wearing giant papier mâché heads, like it was a giant party. They had dancers, sparkles, and flickering lights to accompany their amazing songs. My only disappointment was that they did not play “We Used to Wait.”

  1. My Brightest Diamond at Lincoln Hall

My Brightest Diamond was my find this year. I had tried to go see her play at Millennium Park but the rains came and canceled her concert. But the two and a half songs she played had me hooked. Her music is haunting with a touch of electronica. Her opening piece “Pressure” includes a marching band in each city she goes. In Chicago, she had the amazing Mucca Pazza play with her. So neat. During the Lincoln Hall concert, she wore a white suit with red sneakers, which is just awesome. She also is seems to be a very caring and thoughtful person who is willing to share the spotlight.

  1. Lúnasa at Old Town School of Folk Music

Lúnasa has been my favorite band for 14 years. They play traditional instrumental Irish music and they wow me every time I see them in concert. Their songs are simply marvelous examples of Irish music. Their stage presence is fun and delightful. This concert I learned that the fiddler Seán Smythe is not only this world renown fiddler, he is also a medical doctor. That’s just blows my mind every time I think about it.

  1. Nellie McKay at the Space

Nellie McKay is full of mischievous glee. She seems shy, she barely talked to the audience but that’s okay by me. Her songs are delightful and bitter at times. She plays piano and ukulele. At the end, she ended taking suggestions from the audience and played a medley of her best hits. I got to hear my favorite song “Caribbean Time” as part of the medley.

  1. Sarah Donner at a house concert

Sarah Donner is a singer songwriter on guitar. She is simply wonderful and thoughtful. She has witty songs like “The Rebuttal of Schrödinger’s Cat”, which imagines the response of the cat to this experiment. Her songs have some wonderful geek friendly themes but also many are about the Northeast too. Just lovely. Yes, the concert was in someone’s home which made the experience extremely intimate and fun.

  1. Ari Eisinger at the University of Chicago Folk Festival Workshop

I saw Ari Eisinger, a folk guitarist, as part of a workshop he held at the Festival about folk guitar. It actually got really technical; he talked about chords and whatnot with the audience members that was lost on me. But the two songs that he performed at the workshop earn a mention on this list. He seems to play songs that herald back to 1920s-1940s of folk music in the south. He’s simply magnificent. I hope I can hear him at full concert sometime in the near future.

Tomorrow, I’ll end on best movies in theater that I’ve seen this year.

That’s all!

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