This past weekend turned out to be “Focus on Somerville”, a little stomp around my old neighborhood. I mourn the loss of The Someday Cafe and cheap apartments (long, long gone), but some of the bohemia of yore remains, and there’s still cool stuff going on.

A Tribute to Jonathan Richman and Benefit for the Somerville Arts Council
May 2 – PA’s Lounge, Somerville MA

The Family Jewels perform at PA's Lounge

The Family Jewels perform at PA's Lounge

An inspired event, for a most wonderful cause. The Somerville Arts Council presents a wide range of programs, from Davis Square’s ArtBeat to the Illuminations Holiday Tour. They aim to connect Somerville’s lively arts community with the general population of the city and surrounding areas. Ben Morse and Lou Bunk, both members of the Arts Council board, organized and hosted this great musical event at PA’s Lounge. The show featured 11 area bands performing only Jonathan Richman songs (well, Asa Brebner and the Family Jewels cheated a bit and played covers done by Jonathan Richman, but he was forgiven, since he actually performed with the man. Speaking of Asa, it was a wonderful surprise to see him take part in this, and the place just exploded when he and his band came on stage. A truly fantastic performance.

The following is from my brief scribbled notes, and apologies to all the bands that came on after the Family Jewels, as I left shortly after that. If anyone reading this stayed later, please feel free to send along your thoughts and I’ll add them in!

I love how they organized this concert, with the “plugged in” bands on the main stage, and acoustic acts performing on the other side of the room in the corner, while each new band set up. Great idea, and it worked really well.

Merganser

Merganser

Merganser (Somerville). Performed “He Gave Us the Wine to Taste It” and a few others. Nice sound with standup bass and acoustic guitar. Good stuff. Introduced as “music for indie moms”.

Lou & Emily

Lou & Emily

Lou & Emily (on “acoustic stage”). I believe this was Lou Bunk, one of the organizers, and he named a band that Emily plays with, but I didn’t quite hear it. They played “Party In The Woods Tonight”, “I’m So Confused”, “Everyday Clothes”, and the absolutely brilliant “Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket” (with Ben Boris – sorry if I don’t have his last name just right). They were truly spectacular.

Hot Molasses

Hot Molasses

Hot Molasses (Somerville). Another wonderful band (no one was “just ok” – everyone who performed was fantastic). They did “Girlfriend”, “Pablo Picasso”, and “Roadrunner”.

Young and Old

Young and Old

Young and Old (Somerville). I see in my rapidly degenerating notes “REALLY GREAT!!”. So they were. I also scribbled down “guitar & drums”, and their MySpace page doesn’t really say anything more than that (and in fact, not even that), so I’ll have to investigate further. They performed Jonathan’s version of “Amazing Grace”, “A Higher Power” (wonderful), and “Fly Into The Mystery” (also wonderful).

The Family Jewels

The Family Jewels

The Family Jewels w/Asa Brebner (Cambridge). I already mentioned them, but I’ll gush a bit more – my god, they were amazing! Asa Brebner I’ve heard of frequently, living in Boston as I do, but have never seen him perform. Can’t imagine why not, and I’ll be sure to see him again! He’s hilariously funny and quite an amazing guitarist as well. Legendary as he is on the local scene, I really have no excuse for why I hadn’t discovered him up until now, but well, now I have. A very sweet guy, too. He and the Family Jewels performed “Pretty Little Girl” (by Eddie & the Starlites – I think), “Ka Ding-Dong” (by Boston doo-wop group the G Clefs), and “Roadrunner” to a wildly enthusiastic, adoring crowd. Fantastic.

Two Thieves get ready to perform for the assembled masses

Two Thieves get ready to perform for the assembled masses

Two Thieves These guys were quite good as well – two acoustic guitars and vocals. I didn’t write down all that they played (three tracks I think), but one was the very lovely “Lonely Financial Zone”.

If the flyer is to be believed, other bands that performed after Two Thieves included The Woodrow Wilsons, Ponies in the Surf, Hands and Knees, The Double-Stops, The Diamond Mines and Thick Shakes. If anyone out there saw any of these folks and would like to say a few words, please contact me! Great evening, terrific crowd, and fine, fine music.

Somerville Open Studios

Throughout the year, Boston and surrounds have “open studios”, where local artists open up their studios (most often it’s their homes) to the public, to display and hopefully hawk their wares. Last Saturday was Somerville’s turn (and I believe Brighton’s as well). This is a chance for Bostonians to support their community artists, and a chance for my confidence to be restored that Somerville hasn’t been entirely turned into a yuppie suburbia, and that there are still wildly creative, interesting people living within its borders.

Due to time constraints, we decided to focus just on Vernon Street Studios, which comprises over 70 artists. To properly view the works of the hundreds of artists who take part in this, you would need weeks and not just one weekend.

The range of creative expression and amount of talent displayed in this one building is breathtaking. I’m no art critic, but I felt myself transported into different worlds as I walked into each studio; from small rooms with a handful of works, to large elaborate spaces with large paintings, unusual sculptures, and even a few video installations. Realistic portraits, romantic impressionist styles, found objects, three-dimensional paintings, impressive tile work, abstract art, expressions of nature, and some sheer whimsy. What I really like about these open studios is that you’re able to see the works and meet the artists where they create, and not in some formal, austere gallery. Each space carries the essence of that particular artist, their influences, themes of their work, personality quirks. This I feel enhances the experience of what must be one of the most direct forms of self-expression.

My two personal favorites…

"Untitled (after Velasquez's Las Meninas)" and "The Unreliable Narrator" by Ann Hirsch

Ann Hirsch Sculpture and mixed media. Her three-dimensional portrayals of monks (resin, wood, and digital print) are startling, vivid, ancient, and timeless. She also has beautifully sculpted monk figurines and powerful, intense and somewhat disturbing figures called “watchers”. This is the one studio I felt compelled to return to.

Ann Hirsch's studio

Ann Hirsch's studio

Beauty and the Beasties / 2008 / oil, acrylic, and glitter on cut-edge panel / 79 x 126 inches / triptych (from resablatman.com)

Beauty and the Beasties by Resa Blatman (from resablatman.com)

Resa Blatman Paintings & works on paper. Resa specializes in birds of all kinds (and bats) presented in these spectacular swirling patterns that are at once ethereal and whimsical. “Beauty and the Beasties” (featuring a large ostridge) is especially wonderful. My reaction at seeing this one in person was to at first burst out laughing, and then be drawn into the fine details of  swirling patterns and other creatures that are woven beautifully into the design, including these “lacy bubbles” that appear throughout. For me, they seem like a sort of life essence that is oozing and dripping from her work. Very unique.

Somerville Arts Council | Somerville Open Studios< | Vernon Street Studios

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