Westport may not be the center of the musical universe.
But last night, it sure came close.
Darlene Love’s first live performance in 2 years thrilled a sold-out Levitt Pavilion crowd.
The Levitt Pavilion was packed, on a beautiful evening. (Photo/JC Martin)
The singer — who turns 80 this month — gave one of the most memorable performances in the outdoor venue’s 47-year history.
Mixing her Phil Spector hits with gospel and more recent Stevie Van Zandt songs, she owned the stage with a powerful, wide-ranging voice and engaging banter.
Darlene Love in action. (Photo/JC Martin)
As befitting a former backup singer — if you haven’t seen “20 Feet From Stardom,” why not?! — she gave extended solos to a pair of future stars.
Darlene Love’s backup singers got their own star turns. (Photo/JC Martin)
Darlene Love was clearly delighted to be back on stage. And — because there are always Westport connections beyond the obvious — one of the key members of her rock-the-house band was our neighbor, saxophonist Crispin Cioe.
Saxophonist Crispin Cioe (left) is a huge Darlene Love fan. (Photo/Dan Woog)
He once called Darlene Love his “soul and inspiration.” He’s played with her for over 30 years.
And yes, they both gave a rousing rendition of that Righteous Brothers/Phil Spector song of the same name last night.
A pre-show announcement warned concert-goers that, because of COVID, there would be no dancing in front of the stage. So these fans — all probably born years after Darlene Love sang with the Crystals — danced in their own pod. (Photo/JC Martin)
Meanwhile, an hour or so earlier and a couple of miles away, Soundview Drive was the stage for a concert of a different kind.
More than half a dozen Broadway stars sang from the front lawn of Karen Elizaga and her husband, Jay Ptashek.
Broadway stars on Soundview Drive. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)
Mixing familiar show tunes with humor — it’s not every day that cars and trucks pass between singers and audience — the singers wowed a crowd arranged in beach chairs, across the street on Compo Beach.
6-year old Chloe Silverstein, and a small part of the large crowd on Compo Beach. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Among the performers: Staples High School graduate Mia Gentile (“Kinky Boots”) and Karen and Jay’s own daughter, Sloane Ptashek.
Mia Gentile, a proud Staples Players alum. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)
Admission was free. But anyone could make (and still can!) donations to Broadway for Arts Education. The non-profit provides arts education to underserved youth in New York, Haiti and India.
Host Karen Elizaga and her husband, Jay Ptashek. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)
Only a few tickets remain for Darlene Love’s sure-to-be-great benefit show tomorrow night (Friday, July 16, 7:30 p.m.)) at the Levitt Pavilion.
She’s a legend. Under Phil Spector, she sang lead on the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel.” She worked with everyone from Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick and the Beach Boys to Elvis Presley, Tom Jones and Sonny & Cher. She performed on Broadway (“Hairspray,” “Grease,” and as herself in the first jukebox musical ever, “Leader of the Pack”), then won a Grammy for her featured role in the Oscar-winning “20 Feet From Stardom,” about backup singers.
She’s ranked among Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers. And in 2011, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
As an added attraction, she’ll be joined by Westport’s own Crispin Cioe. A legend himself — he’s a renowned music director, saxophonist, composer and songwriter who has played and recorded with James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Ray Charles and the Ohio Players — he calls Darlene Love “my soul and inspiration.”
The 2021 Emmy nominations are in. And at least 3 have Westport ties.
Two nominees are from the very same Staples High School class. Kerri Kenney-Silver is up for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series for her role as Deputy Trudy Wiegel in “Reno 911!”
Here 1988 classmate Eric Beetner was nominated for Outstanding Picture Editing for a Structured Reality or Competition Program. He edited “The Amazing Race.”
Up for an Emmy for Outstanding Music Supervision for “Halston” is Amanda Krieg Thomas. Her father, Peter Krieg, graduated from Staples in 1969.
I am sure there are plenty of other Emmy nominations with Westport connections. Email email@example.com, and I’ll give them their due. (Hat tip: Bonnie Erickson)
Kicking + Screening may be the world’s biggest celebration of soccer culture.
Since 2009, the gloriously named organization has screened hundreds of soccer-related films, raised thousands of dollars for soccer charities, and organized panels, parties, soccer poetry readings and soccer art shows.
Kicking + Screening has (of course) strong Westport roots. Co-founder Rachel Markus — a former “ruthless striker,” and 20-year film industry veteran — lives here.
(Co-founder Greg Lalas — brother of former national team star Alexi Lalas — has been MLS vice president of content and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated and The New York Times. He is on the board of Soccer Without Borders.)
COVID brought a halt to in-person movie showings. But Kicking + Screening is ready to start up again.
And their first show is right here in Westport.
The North American premiere of “Men of Hope” is set for the Westport Library on Thursday, July 29 (7 p.m.). The fascinating-way-beyond-soccer documentary follows the Afghanistan national team, as it attempts to qualify for the Asian Cup. Challenges include war, political squabbling, corruption — and some formidable opponents.
For a while, Earthplace has struggled to raise money to feed and support its animals. The need is great, for everything from weekly produce for Animal Hall ($50) to a month’s supply of food for the bald eagles, Cerena and Chatty ($250).
Now — in the midst of a fundraising drive — several donors have stepped up. They’ll match all pledges up to $20,000. That would cover the animal program’s cost for a full year. Click here to help.
Cerena, one of Earthplace’s 2 bald eagles, can’t go hungry!
Earthplace does not feed bears. But — as part of their educational mission, particularly during this summer when several Westporters have had close encounters of the ursine kind — the Woodside Lane center is sponsoring a free program about bears.
On Wednesday, July 28 (7 p.m., Earthplace amphitheater), Connecticut master wildlife conservationist Felicia Ortner will provide “bear facts” — and dispel myths and misunderstandings.
This was the scene recently, off Weston, (Photo/Denny Galindo)
Jeffrey Evans died peacefully in the company of family in Cumming, Georgia on Sunday. He was 64., and lived in Westport for over 35 years.
A graduate of Staples High School, Jeff had a successful career in communication technology sales.
Jeff was known for his ready smile and constant humor. He was an excellent golfer and dancer. He enjoyed music, and went on many travel adventures with his wife.
He is survived by his wife, Diane Evans; daughters Adriana and Theresa of Connecticut; stepdaughters Brandi Garner and Kristin Baxter of Georgia; sister Valerie Russell of North Carolina, and 8 grandchildren. His family says, “His generous heart and wonderful spirit will be deeply missed by all who knew him.”
A memorial service will take place at Christ Church in Greenwich on Sunday, July 25 (2 p.m.). In lieu of Flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Jeff’s name to your favorite non-profit organization.
“By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong …” Joni Mitchell sang.
Not quite. But a ton of people were at Yasgur’s farm, 49 years ago this month.
There won’t be quite as many at Weston’s Coley Homestead (104 Weston Road) on Saturday, September 15 (2 to 8 p.m.). They won’t get naked, sleep in the mud, and hear Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Country Joe rock America.
Hey, this is 2018, not 1969. But it will still be very, very cool.
The festival is the finale of the Weston Historical Society’s summer-long retrospective of ’60s music. Exhibits, concerts and forums have explored the impact of rock, psychedelia, folk, Motown, soul and more on our country — and our little slice of Fairfield County.
Like Woodstock though, Westonstock is about more than just music. There’s a ’60s car show, and kids’ activities too. (Those kids are of course the grandchildren of people who were stardust, golden children of God, back in the day.)
But music is key. Westonstock features Old School Revue — the popular local band fronted by 1966 Staples High School graduate Roger Kaufman. The Saugatuck Horns — a 6-piece R&B band — will be decked out in vintage ’60s attire.
Other performers include local favorites (and talented neighbors) Chance Browne, Rob Carlson, Crispin Cioe, Chris Coogan, Tim DeHuff, Charlie Karp, Jeff Southworth and David Weber.
All have long and storied musical pedigrees. They’ve played with the Rolling Stones, Buddy Miles, Jimi Hendrix (though not at Woodstock) and many more.
Roger Kaufman (center, with hat) and his Old School Revue.
The cars, meanwhile, will take you back to the days of listening to great music while cruising (or “watching the submarine races”). Many are on loan from Dragone Classic Motors.
There are also ’60s music trivia contests, and ’60s dance demonstrations.
Jr’s Hot Doggin’ Food Truck and Olive & Julep Craft Cocktails head the list of food and beverage suppliers.
Whether you recall the ’60s, can’t remember them (“if you do, you weren’t there,” Grace Slick or Timothy Leary or Robin Williams supposedly said), or were not yet born, Westonstock is for you.
All you need is a blanket, a lawn chair and some patchouli.
(Click here for tickets and more information. They’re also available the day of the event. Proceeds help renovation projects at Coley Barn and Coley Farmhouse.)
So mark next Wednesday, March 21 (7 p.m.) on your calendar. Michael Friedman’s Gallery in Bedford Square is the site for one of Westport’s liveliest musical events ever.
The owner’s stunning photographs of everyone from Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger to the Band and Johnny Winter (another former Westporter) serves as a backdrop for a Moth-style session about rock ‘n’ roll.
Among the storytellers:
Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band organist, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Mark Naftalin.
Mark Naftalin: A keyboardist, recording artist, composer and record producer, he and his fellow Paul Butterfield Blues Band members are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Crispin Cioe: A sax player and songwriter, he’s played and recorded with James Brown, the Stones, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Ray Charles and the Ohio Players.
Roger Kaufman: A noted local performer with the Old School Revue, Roger worked last year with the Smithsonian Museum to archive, preserve and pay tribute to Steve Cropper, the legendary Stax guitarist who played on classic songs like “Knock on Wood,” “Midnight Hour” and “Dock of the Bay.” Soon, he’ll archive materials with Weston’s own Jose Feliciano.
Rob Fraboni: A producer and audio who worked with Bob Dylan, the Band, Eric Clapton and the Stones — and who as vice president of Island Records oversaw the remastering of the entire Bob Marley catalog. Keith Richards called him “a genius.”
David Bennett Cohen, with Country Joe and the Fish.
David Bennett Cohen: The original keyboardist, and also a guitar player, for Country Joe and the Fish.
Wendy May: She’s spent the last 20 years performing with Charlie Daniels, Kenny Chesney, Mark Chestnut, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Marty Haggard and many others.
Dick Wingate: In a long career with labels like Arista, PolyGram, Epic and Columbia Records, he worked closely with Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, Peter Tosh and Pink Floy, among others.
Michael Friedman: In addition to photography, he worked as a publicist with the Mamas and the Papas, Bee Gees, Herman’s Hermits and Glen Campbell, and was an artist manager for Dylan, the Band, Janis Joplin, Gordon Lightfoot, Todd Rundgren, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.
Rusty Ford: He co-founded Lothar & the Hand People, the psychedelic band that was the first to use a theremin and Moog synthesizer in live performances. He also played bass with the Beach Boys.
Lothar and the Hand People
Also on the bill: Bari Rudin and Caissie St. Onge, comedy writers who have worked with David Letterman, Phil Donohue, “Saturday Night Live,” Rosie O’Donnell and Joan Rivers.
Incredibly, every storyteller is a local resident. This area remains rich in rock history. We don’t have to ship in stars. They’re right here, living as our neighbors and friends.
They’ll each speak for about 8 minutes. Every one though has a lifetime of stories to tell.
* Let’s not forget the Hall & Oates “concert” too.
(Tickets for “Rock & Roll Stories” include food, beer, wine and an auction. It’s part of the Westport Library’s week-long “Flex” series, which features a celebrity lunch with Sam Kass and Jane Green, a conversation with Ruth Reichl, movies, a dance-a-thon, a family day, gala party and much more. Click here for information and tickets.)
When Westport’s own Jane Green started planning a David Bowie tribute concert, she envisioned an intimate gathering at the Westport Country Playhouse barn. She hoped to snag a couple of acoustic guitarists who’d play as his dedicated fans stood around singing, lost in a sea of nostalgia and love.
Crispin Cioe wails tonight.
The list of performers now include stars who have performed with — among others — the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, James Brown, Tom Waits, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Nicks, Coldplay, Wyclef Jean, Aretha Franklin, Joe Cocker, Lou Reed, J. Geils, Orleans, Hall & Oates, the Indigo Girls and Carole King.
The wait list has swelled to 150 people. To share all that donated time and talent with everyone, Jane has arranged for the concert to be live-streamed. Wherever in the world you are at 8 p.m. (EST) tonight, click on www.twitter.com/janegreen. The link will go up when the music begins.
“Tonight we celebrate David Bowie — the man, his music, and what he meant to us,” Green says.
“We hope a little bit of his magic may sweep you back to your teenage bedrooms, to a time when we all thought we could be heroes too.”
NOTE: The poster says 7 pm. That’s for drinks. The music (and livestream) begin at 8.
The 7th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival rocks Westport this weekend. Get ready for a kick-ass lineup of blues, rock, brass and funk music — plus fantastic food, and tons o’ stuff for the kids.
The Spin Doctors and Rick Derringer headline the stage acts. How did they — and many other Big Names — come to town? Westporter Crispin Cioe played a huge role.
Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.
Soon after he and his family moved here 13 years ago, Crispin met Bob Le Rose, The owner of Bobby Q’s and leader in the Downtown Merchants Association, Bob wanted to start a blues festival. Crispin — a longtime musician/ bandleader/ producer/songwriter — knew plenty of bands and agents.
Each year, the pair spends months discussing possible musical acts. They probably eat very well too.
When they hit on the idea of having the Spin Doctors star in Saturday’s show, Bob worried that the festival might stray too far from its blues-based foundation.
Crispin performed and hung out with the band in the 1990s. He knew they were “rootsy/funky/bluesy” — especially live — and that they’d gotten their start at the Wetlands club in Manhattan (a spawning ground for the jam band scene).
Listening to the band’s recent recorded work, they saw movement toward exactly the kind of music featured at Blues, Views & BBQ.
Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.
Likewise, several years ago Crispin and Bob were searching for a way to feature well-known musicians who grew up here, and still live in the area. “Guitar god” Charlie Karp — a Westport native who played with Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles — helped assemble the Westport Heritage Blues Band, a special treat.
This year’s treats include Raw Oyster Cult, a New Orleans supergroup; the high-voltage, horn-drenched street band Big Sam’s Funky Nation; perennial favorite and guitar star Anders Osborne; blues slide guitarist Ms. Rory Block, and the formidable Popa Chubby.
Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)
Crispin will play tenor sax with his old pal Bill Kirchen, guitarist and principal songwriter for Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. The friends go back to the University of Michigan, where Commander Cody was formed.
Lately, Crispin has been working with legendary local band Cracked Ice, vocal great Darlene Love and producer Steven Van Zandt. But on Sunday (August 31) he’ll be at Blues, Views & BBQ, playing alto sax with Rick Derringer on the classic instrumental “Frankenstein.”
If you like great music, excellent barbecue and plenty of fun in your own hometown, you’ll be there too.
(For advance tickets and more information on the festival — which takes place at the Levitt Pavilion and the grounds of the Westport Library — click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)
Bruce Springsteen’s current tour has gotten plenty of press. Playing MetLife stadium until 2 a.m. — after a long lightning delay — added one more chapter to The Boss’ legacy.
But Bruce isn’t the only longtime rocker still rockin’ stages. The J. Geils Band recently completed a fantastic East Coast tour.
And there — wailin’ on sax, as part of the 3-piece Uptown Horns section — was Westporter Crispin Cioe.
Crispin’s credentials are impeccable. He’s played and recorded with nearly every big name: from Coldplay, Wyclef Jean, James Brown, Aretha and Joe Cocker to Debbie Harry, Solomon Burke, Lou Reed, the B-52s and Ru Paul — plus Tom Waits, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Joan Jett.
He spent more than a year on the road with the Rolling Stones, during their famed Steel Wheels tour.
Crispin’s J. Geils connection goes back decades. In 1983 — during the band’s “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame” era — he toured and recorded with them.
In an industry famous for break-ups and lawsuits, the J. Geils Band has had more than its share. The latest tour, in fact, was almost derailed by fights over who owned the Geils name. The actual J. Geils was not around this time — but singer Peter Wolf carried the show.
He and his bandmates — along with 2 backups singers and the Uptown Horns — were in “great shape,” Crispin says.
Sets lasted well over 2 hours. They featured early, rootsy, blues-based music, segueing into later stuff. From “Give it to Me” — which Crispin calls “one of the first reggae/ska tunes done in rock and roll” — to “Love Stinks,” audiences responded avidly.
The J. Geils Band (without J. Geils). Crispin Cioe is 3rd from left.
Venues included state fairs, and smaller, intimate places like the House of Blues in Boston and Westbury Music Fair. Audiences included plenty of baby boomers, but quite a few Gen Xers — even younger, Crispin says.
Older fans remember J. Geils from their youth. Newer fans see the group as a bit “underground.” Crispin calls J. Geils “one of the greatest rock bands of all time.”
Touring can be grueling. “You play a show, get on the bus, drive 6 hours, check into a hotel at 6 a.m., sleep, then get up at 3 p.m. for a sound check,” Crispin says.
But he and the band were buoyed by audiences’ enthusiasm. “There was not one bad show,” Crispin notes. “And when everyone is so invested in it, that makes it all worthwhile.”
J. Geils will tour again this winter, primarily in the Midwest.
Crispin, meanwhile, prepares for his next project. He’s the musical director of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. It will be presented to Ellen DeGeneres October 22, at the Kennedy Center.
Crispin is writing original music for the show. “It’s totally different — and keeps me on my toes,” he says.
The same toes that tap while playing sax with one of America’s most legendary rock ‘n’ roll bands.
We’ve got McMansions up the wazoo, and a town-owned country club with a wonderful inn overlooking Long Island Sound.
Quite a place to sing the blues.
But the blues will be wailin’ this weekend — and down-home barbecue will be served — at (hey, this is still Westport) the Levitt Pavilion and library.
It’s the 4th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. And — believe it or not — we don’t have to import our bluesmen (and women) from the Delta. They’re right here in Fairfield County.
Many of them even have Westport ties.
Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.
There’s music all weekend long. But the highlight is Crispin Cioe’s Westport Heritage Blues Band (Saturday, 2:20 to 3:35 p.m.). A musician who has toured and recorded with the Rolling Stones, J. Geils and Albert Collins — and a 10-year Westport resident — Crispin has mined the local music scene for the best bluesmen, r-and-b artists and rockers.
And he’s put them all together in one band.
Charlie Karp dropped out of Staples to play with Buddy Miles, Jimi Hendrix and Love. It was a great career move: 40 years later, he’s still playing and recording, fronting great bands like White Chocolate and Dirty Angels.
David Hull is from Stratford, but lived for a while in Westport. He too played with Jimi and Buddy; he now plays regularly with James Montgomery.
Drummer Kevin Hupp has played here often, including the legendary band Slo Leak with Charlie Karp and studio legend/former Westporter Danny Kortchmar.
John “Ratso” Girardi owns a recording studio in Stamford, and is a Levitt Pavilion favorite.
Special guest Rocky Lawrence is a Bridgeporter. But listen to this: He spent the last 10 years with Honeyboy Edwards, a Delta blues guitarist who died last month at 95 — and who played with Robert Johnson. Rocky will be featured in the Westport Heritage Blues Band’s tribute to that legendary bluesman.
The Buddy Miles Express plays Finnish TV in 1971. Charlie Karp takes a blistering solo around the 2:52 mark.
So is Westport ready to replace Mississippi and Memphis as a true blues capital?
Still, the musical spotlight shines here this weekend. And even thought it’s at the Levitt Pavilion, not some smoky juke joint, that’s fine.
“There’s a tradition of great blues musicians who developed here. Some still live here,” Crispin says.
“People are drawn to this music.”
Even if they drive Land Rovers, and park them in 4-car garages.
(The 4th annual Blues, Views & BBQ — presented by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — runs Saturday, Sept. 24 from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 25 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition to music, there are barbecue competitions for backyard chefs and kids; a food court; a “Kids’ Corral”; rib and pie eating contests — and pig races. Click here for more details, including ticket prices.)
A “Playboy After Dark” show. Charlie Karp is the very long-haired guitar player. David Hull is the American flag-shirted bassist. Hugh Hefner is the host.
Young, old, black, white, married, divorced, gay, straight — once a month or so, they all get together at a restaurant, theater or yoga studio.
They dance to great music, sing with the band, and have a funky time long past midnight.
It’s a movable Mix party. And it takes place not in the Meatpacking District. Not in Williamsburg. Not even New Haven.
It happens right here in Westport.
The Mix parties — or MIX, as the word appears on posters and the website — are the brainchild of Gene Seidman.
Gene Seidman dances with Dr. Barbara Siminovich, an Argentine living in Bridgeport who attends every MIX.
A graphic designer with an interest in eco-friendly products who’s directed projects for IBM, the New York Times, Verizon, UNICEF and the USTA — and held important posts at Priceline, MOMA and Unilever — Seidman started his after-hours events a year ago.
The Saugatuck Rowing Club wanted to attract more diners. Seidman proposed a dance party. Word-of-mouth advertising drew 135 people.
Seidman realized he’d found an unfilled need.
“We have a problem,” the longtime Westporter (and current RTM representative) said.
“Fairfield and South Norwalk are on the up-and-up. They’ve got more restaurants, more nightlife. There’s not a hell of a lot to do here after 10 p.m. We need to light a fire.”
The most recent event — held earlier this month at Kaia Yoga — featured a Cuban band from New York (and belly dancing). The after-party at Manolo lasted until 2 a.m.
The mix of people is key. The crowd skews over-40, but attitude counts more than age.
The MIX parties take place in Westport, but the crowd is more diverse — in terms of race, sexuality, even clothing styles — than you usually see here.
And everyone has fun.
For proof, check out the YouTube video. “The best bands and best music,” someone says.
“Dynamic people,” another offers.
“Kick-ass band.” “Everyone is smiling.” “I came by myself, and I’m dancing.”
A mix of a MIX.
“I love to dance,” Seidman says. “It’s a great way for people to interact. These days, people are so concerned about money and everything else. They text and email each other. But that’s not connecting.
“People have to get out. When you dance, you connect. When you dance, you’re beautiful and alluring.”
Lest you get the wrong idea, Seidman is married — and has been for 24 years.
“But I still want to get out,” he says.
Seidman works closely with MIX musical director Crispin Cioe. The Westport saxophonist/composer/producer has toured and recorded with the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits and Ray Charles.
Cioe’s classic/nouveau soul band — Cracked Ice — has also played at MIX parties.
This Friday (July 30), Cracked Ice plays at the Levitt Pavilion.
Seidman is organizing the after-party — from 10:30 p.m. on, at Manolo.
It’s not a full-fledged MIX. But everyone’s invited.
Provided you want to have fun.
(To find out more — and get on the MIX mailing list — click on www.mixct.com)
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