The first concert we had the pleasure of seeing was a solo acoustic performance by folk singer John Gorka, someone we both have seen at least five times before. Gorka is one of the few folky troubadours I really enjoy and that is because of his deep golden baritone and his imaginative lyrics. Because Gorka possesses a truly great singing voice his songs are far more melodic than most singer-songwriters and therefore immediately more enjoyable. He sang many of his best and most well known songs including "I'm From New Jersey," I Saw A Stranger With Your Hair," and "Good Noise." His friendly, onstage demeanor just added to his fine performance. Gorka played, as do all of the Appel Farms musicians, on an outdoor stage, yet you would be surprised to hear the clarity of the performance their sound system provides. The sound is better than at many indoor venues I've attended.
Appel Farms always has two stages active at the same time. Unfortunately the scheduling is not always conducive to seeing full performances of everyone and such was the case after Gorka concluded his portion of the day long festivities at the larger Meadow Stage. We then moved on to the more intimate, tree-lined Grove Stage to see Loudon Wainright III whose show was already in progress. As usual Wainright's odd sense of humor and cynicism were in tact and his performance was better than the last time I saw him because he seemed to be in better voice. Wainright made his performance a family affair as he brought out daughter Lucy and his son Rufus, this year's headliner, to sing three songs with him.
When Wainright was finished we went back to the Meadow Stage for a singer I would have paid to see, Madeleine Peyroux. The great jazz and jazz-folk singer, who sounds too much like Billie Holiday to please some, became a favorite of mine after her debut CD in 1996. Unfortunately she took eight years to release a followup, Careless Love, in 2004. She sang most of the album with a five piece band, including a "hot" pianist and a drummer, who managed to lay down a solid backbeat without pumping up the volume. I'd like to see Peyroux in a smaller venue such as a jazz club or a cafe style music house. She would definitely be worth the money.
Now for a big let down back at the Grove Stage. Aimee Mann, wife of singer Michael Penn, and sister-in-law of the famous actor Sean Penn, is a crashing bore. Mann has a great voice but she does nothing with it. Her songs have no melody and her dour expression matches her dour songs and performance. We left early to secure good seats for the headliner, Rufus Wainright.
Unlike Loudon who only plays guitar, Rufus possesses a better voice and plays nice keyboards along with his guitar. His songs don't seem to have the nasty streak that has become standard in his Dad's work. Rufus played some of his better known material, including "Hallelujah," the cover of the Leonard Cohen song most of the crowd came to hear. Just as his father did Rufus made his performance a family affair by introducing Loudon and his sister Lucy. The strange thing about this trio appearing together again at this time is that they performed the same three songs they sang on stage with Loudon just a few hours earlier.
One of the things that came out of the day was the discovery that I need to dig into the work of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, someone whose music has remained unfamiliar to me over the years. In addition to "Hallelujah," which I mentioned was covered by Rufus Wainright, Madeleine Peyroux played my favorite song from Careless Love, Cohen's "Dance Me To The Edge Of Love." Perhaps I've been ignoring an artist who shouldn't be missed.