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City Parks Foundation 2014 SummerStage Schedule Announced

Shuggie Otis Sent Out a "Strawberry Letter" on a Sunny Central Park Afternoon.

Shuggie Otis Sent Out a “Strawberry Letter” on a Sunny Central Park Afternoon.


Park Life…
Next to hearing the joyously loopy tape loop from a Mr. Softee Ice Cream truck nothing is as sure a sign we’ve finally ditched winter than New York’s City Parks Foundation (CPF) announcing its SummerStage performance schedule. The 2013 line-up was a sublime selection of lazy hazy days entertainment to enjoy in your local park and 2014 promises even more opportunities to enjoy summer in the city.

Full Schedule…
A complete date, artist and park schedule is here. Check out all the good stuff coming your way beginning on June 6.

Last Season's "Diablo Love"  was a mash-up of "Dream Girls" &  "Faust" meeting Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf at the Crossroads.

Last Season’s “Diablo Love” was a mash-up of “Dream Girls” & “Faust” meeting Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf at the Crossroads.


Focus On FANIA…
While last year took a historical look at Hip-Hop that included an outlandishly fun tribute to King Kong, this summer the focus will be on a celebration of the preeminent label of latin music, FANIA Records.

Performances by classic acts like Joe Bataan, Ismael Miranda and Roberto Roena, will be offset by inheritors of the tradition like Ana Tijoux and La Mechánica Popular, spinning out Chilean Hip-Hop Fusion and psychedelic salsa respectively. The season finale in Central Park will be a special Fania All Stars night, conjuring the spirit of Hector Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Yomo Toro and other masters of the genre.

SkeletonPete Says…
Thanks to Greenhouse Publicity for the heads-up.

Kong, We Hardly Knew Ye: Summerstage Theater Goes Ape

Tracy Jacks in Commercial Bondage as MC Kong in Hip-Hop Satire

Tracy Jacks in Commercial Bondage as MC Kong in Hip-Hop Satire

What It Is…

In this 80th anniversary year of RKO’s King Kong and 40th of Hip-Hop music, writer Randy Weiner and writer/director Alfred Preisser offer up a lighthearted jibe at the theme of outre culture blunted by mainstream acceptance and the enduring legend of “T’was beauty killed the beast.” In addition to Kong-o-philes, life long New Yorkers will get the insider jokes, as will (strangely enough) any recent viewers of the Adrian Brody/Beyonce Knowles film Cadillac Records.

Actors Matthew LaBanca, David Michaels and Sid Solomon play Moe, Hyman and Izzy, the Gold Brothers, whose failing record company – Gold Records – needs a boost of new musical blood. Secretary and would be socio-anthropologist Faye Wellington (Rhiannon Hansen) brings them a demo of MC “Kong” lurking in the deepest Bronx. The brothers’ ultimate goal is to sign the indigenous rapper to their label and collect the publishing royalties. The Gold Brothers’ quick fire tandem delivery plays like The 3 Stooges and Marx Brothers, with stances informed by Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Along the way they encounter mutant rats of unusual size, Thriller style dancing zombies, cops on the take, and spar with the Baron Samedi-like witchdoctor. Nothing is sacred or too puerile. For instance, one the Gold Brothers’ chronic flatulence equals the Kong subduing “gas bomb.”

Kong_Summerstage_004

The Kong character gets a gender flip via actress Tracy Jacks’ portrayal (a goof on “Queen” Latifah?) which triggers Faye to expound on the role of powerful women in male-less households, question her own sexuality, and leads to a loopy Barry White seduction scene in Kong’s lair.

Although the show is part of the 2013 Summerstage season’s “This is____Hip-Hop” series, it plays a lot more like Mel Brooks than Melly Mel. Wes Matthews’ compositions are show tune oriented, save one of the representations of Kong’s rap repertoire. Choreographer Ryan Kasprzak and associate Ellenore Scott give the characters plenty of kinetic range from Al Jolson Vaudeville gesturing to In Living Color fly girl cool and throw in some cartoonish slow motion chases for good measure. The graffiti emblazoned sets, designed by Isis Kenny were deftly maneuvered by the stage crew offering seamless scene changes throughout the intermission-less show. It was particularly fun to watch Jacks’ heartbroken Kong languishing at the top of the Empire State Building, while a rabble of sycophants, hucksters and nay-sayers mill about below.

Kong Tempted Into Signing on the Dotted Line

Kong Tempted Into Signing on the Dotted Line

SkeletonPete Says…

The card carrying politically correct will need to leave their inhibitions at the door as no ethnic or New York City stereotype is spared. It is important to remember that successful satire points out the absurdity of its targets. King Kong succeeds while taking good natured swipes at everyone from Moses to Robert Moses. Though there are no fall-down-the stairs laugh moments, the play sustains itself with continued chuckles, elicited by a series of sight gags and nudges and winks for those who lived through New York City’s “Pre-Disney” grind house years, or maybe tried to make a living in the music industry. I’ve done both. At the end of the presentation I realized I’d been smiling – knowingly – for its entire length.

Kong_Summerstage_025

Where It’s At…

The free presentation, produced by the City Park Foundation’s Summerstage and sponsored by Time Warner, has up-coming dates at the following locations.

August 7 & 10, 2013 at St. Mary’s Park, Bronx, NY

August 13, 14 & 17, 2013 at Marcus Garvey Park, Manhattan, NY

August 20, 21 & 22, 2013 at East River Park, Manhattan, NY

Check the Summerstage Website for more details on show times and directions.

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SummerStage 2013 Calendar Released

Alabama Shakes were one of the bands that shook SummerStage last year.

Alabama Shakes were one of the bands that shook SummerStage last year.


Sittin’ In the Park Waiting for You…
A peak point in Once Upon A Dream, The Young Rascals’ reunion show now playing at the Richard Rogers Theater, comes mid-show when the sound of chirping birds and conga beats herald the beginning of their 1960’s Top 40 classic “Groovin’.” As the band slides into this pean to the lazy hazy days of summer the fuzzy image projected behind them becomes sharper until it reveals a scene of Central Park lawn loungers soaking up the rays. It’s a perfect picture of the idyllic side of summer in the city that is headed your way again.

Yep, it can be a pain living in a metropolis as big as New York, but that is all the more reason to take advantage of the special events being offered. Just so you can’t say no one warned you, here are a host of reasons to get off the couch between now and September. Get out your calendars, dumb pencils or smart phones and start marking the dates for all the wonderful and mostly FREE doings the City Parks Foundation has planned for SummerStage 2013. Presented by AT&T SummerStage events are not limited to Central Park, there are shows in every borough. Use the City Parks Foundation’s interactive calendar to find Summerstage and a bazillion other happenings.

We’ll Keep On Spendin’ Sunny Days This Way…
The choices span every cultural aspect of NYC, classical, rock, jazz, folk, with a fortieth anniversary focus on Hip Hop this season. Genre keystones like DJ Cool Herc and Rock Steady Crew are on board. Foundation President Alison Tocci notes, “Audiences have come to expect the highest-quality, arts programming from SummerStage and we intend to continue that tradition. With the introduction of the new “Forewords” discussion panels and the “This is __ Hip-Hop” series, we hope to present programming that is not only entertaining but further pushes the bounds of what the festival offers and celebrates the spirit and history of all performing arts genres.”

SkeletonPete Says…
On my personal radar are two theater pieces, a Hip-Hop reworking of King Kong in this 80th anniversary year, and Diablo Love writer Mando Alvarado’s play interpolating the songs of seminal American blues artist Howlin’ Wolf. If you’ve yet to see Liane La Havas don’t miss the chance.

Rock-A-Billy Fillies Rip It Up @ Central Park Summerstage

More Encore Photos Below. Follow the links for Full Photo Galleries of Imelda May and Wanda Jackson.

Rock-A-Billy’s Reigning Queen And Princess

The original rock-a-billy fillie, Wanda Jackson, was joined by the genre’s newest spitfire Imelda May for a Central Park Summer Stage night of 50’s styled riffing and jiving on July 27, 2011. The ladies lit up a perfect mid-summer’s eve in the park and wowed the audience with a host of original and cover tunes formulated to get your pulse a-racing and your feet a-dancing.

Let’s Have A Party

Wanda’s early career mixed country with the then burgeoning rock of Elvis and Gene Vincent and deservedly earned her the title of “Queen of Rock-A-Billy” in the ensuing year’s. Aficionados of the style know her catalog well and you’ll find her tunes being spun along with The Cramps, Eddie Cochran and The Collins Kids wherever DA’s, poodle skirts and pegged pants are found on the dance floor. In 2009 she was honored with induction into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Jackson has flowed through stylistic changes of country, rock-a-billy and southern gospel but she has never “left the building”. Artists like Rosie Flores have championed her in the past and now Mr. Jack White (“a nice young man”) has given the lady’s catalog a healthy injection by producing her most recent album. Aptly titled “The Party Ain’t Over”, a decades later nod to her 1960 radio hit “Let’s Have A Party”, which was the set closer on this show.

I’m thrilled to report Ms. Wanda has kept her pipes in perfect shape and it is a joy to hear her serving up a blue plate special of I – helped – invent – this, four – on – the – floor, stomp. She also kept her red fringe shimmying for the appreciative crowd. Her stories of touring with – and dating – Elvis are priceless. She still keeps the ring he gave her to wear around her neck. Her originals, like “Mean, Mean Man” and “Fujiyama Mama”, penned to fill the gap for female vocals in early rock, match Elvis’s better Sun Records output and rival Gene Vincent’s work for flat out hot-doggin’ fun. Both tunes were in her Central Park set.

Hot Dog, He Got Me Mad

The Hi – Dollars, led by Heath Haynes, backed Wanda marvelously, got a few opening numbers in for themselves to warm up the crowd, and produced some stop-on-a-dime turn around’s with a dose Fender twang, Gretsch sting and banging keyboards; everything cruising along on a bed of pumping stand up bass and drums. The set included two personal favorites, Johnny Kid’s “Shakin’ All Over” and Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown”, the latter being the ur-seed for Led Zep’s “Living Lovin’ Maid” and the former sporting a lick that, though covered by every band from here to Timbuktu, never gets old. A run through “Rip It Up” was another highlight for the rock-a-billy centric crowd up near the stage.

Wanda made note of the sad passing of chanteuse Amy Winehouse this week. Lamenting the death of a talent so young and paid tribute with a rendering of Winehouse’s “You Know I’m no Good”. She also dipped into her own country and gospel roots for a few tunes, even slipped in a sweet blue yodel, giving the young audience a nice glimpse of how traditional sounds collided to give birth to Rock.

Darling Buds of (Imelda) May

Petite powerhouse Imelda May’s star has been on the rise internationally since her well publicized stint with Jeff Beck on his Les Paul Tribute Show (Eagle Vision DVD). There she ably emulated the late Mary Ford (Les’s wife), harmonizing with her own meticulously multi-tracked versions of “How High The Moon”, “Bye, Bye Blues”, “Vaya Con Dios”. Similarly her own band includes husband Darrel Higham on guitar. The group is steeped in outre and retro culture. On this night Imelda sported a slinky blue dress emblazoned with the sixties Batman TV show logo, double bass player Al was attired in leopard print shirt and bleached buzz cut, Darrell’s on big fat Gibson & Gretsch hollow bodies – just like Eddie. Imelda resisted the Betty Page bangs so prevalent on the scene for her own signature look; a big blonde curl in her raven hair.

The band’s Dublin Ireland roots come out when Imelda wields a Bodhran and bones beating out a pulse for the audience to clap along to. Along with her own numbers like the popular “Johnny Got A Boom Boom” May peppers the set with tunes like Howlin’ Wolf’s “Poor Boy” and the Northern Soul classic “Tainted Love”, which served as her firey finale number. The group presented a nice tight opening set, only missing one favorite of mine, their take on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”.

Double Mint Fun

As the audience clearly hoped both ladies took the stage for an un-staged version of Jerry Lee Lewis’s ”Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On”. “What key you do this honey?” “I’m following you.” You could see the mutual appreciation unfold as Wanda coached Imelda through the songs sly, sexy, spoken bit. “Now Imelda, my friend Jerry Lee tells me you can shake it just standin’ in one spot. Easy now… yeah, I think you got it”

Rock-A-Billy music will ring throughout the world as long as these ladies have something to do with it. Wanda and Imelda, long may you reign.

SkeletonPete Says: Get Off The Couch!

This free concert was a perfect double bill on a perfect New York summer night and is just one of the many shows offered by The City Parks Foundation and its sponsors. There is plenty more to come from Summerstage throughout the city. Check out their website for details. New Yorkers, time to leave reality TV for your own reality.

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Photo Gallery: Wanda Jackson @ Summerstage 2011


Wondrous Wanda Jackson reigning “Queen of Rock-A-Billy” and her band The Hi – Dollars lit up the Central Park Summerstage on July 27, 2011.

Full story and photos of encore performance with Imelda May are here.

Click any image to large the gallery.