Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The 17th Annual Appel Farms Arts & Music Festival - June 4, 2005

For the sixth consecutive year my wife and I volunteered at The Appel Farms Arts & Music Festival in Elmer, NJ where we have witnessed some great music. In the past Appel Farms top notch lineups have included Mary Chapin Carpenter in 2000, Jackson Browne in 2002, and Los Lonely Boys last year. In return for volunteering admission is free for the all day lineup of musical events. Our shift schedule and the weather have often prevented us from participating in the full day of concerts but this year we saw more music than ever before. The weather was on our side.

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.


  1. Your new blog format looks really great. Thanks for the Appel Farm review - I've always thought about attending but never have. Although Aimee Mann is an old favorite of mine, I'd have to agree that her work now is boring, boring, boring. That combined with a seeming lack of enthusiasm in live performance is a deadly combination for any artist. I haven't watched the dvd version of her last live release, Live at St. Ann's Warehouse, but from listening to the audio CD she sounds like she may be bored herself. Pity that, because her first two solo albums, Whatever and I'm With Stupid have a songwriting and performance excellence that places them high on my all-time by anybody list. I had hopes that by employing Joe Henry to produce her newest album, The Forgotten Arm, that new life would be injected into the proceedings, and while the sound of the production has been revitalized a bit, the songwriting, sadly, is still pretty boring.

  2. While helping the record company promote her first album, Aimee Mann and I became acquainted. She would stop by the station and along with Cindy, the music director, the 3 of us would often sneak off to some hidden cafeteria or small restaurant to have lunch and so she could get away from the music scene for an hour or two. However, it was pretty obvious by the way the 3 of us looked, (she with platinum white hair and Cindy and I with Joan Jett type hairstyles) we got a little noticed.

    I've always loved her strong, melodic voice with Til Tuesday, and she made a name for herself in music history with her unique style. I believe where she's been away from the scene for sometime, she's making an effort to reinvent herself as a former new wave artist to "just Aimee." I have not heard her new album yet, but I will say she is quite a talented woman and I give her an A just for trying.