This week, South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas offers attendees the opportunity to explore the future of the music industry by giving a platform to over 2,200 music acts on over 100 stages. As SXSW kicks off, AARP has started developing several exciting music projects for launch in 2014. One of the projects, "Concerts for All Ages," will bring music lovers great new music in an online series. The list encompasses some of the dream bands for the inaugural season of the show and some of the best new music to fall in love with this year. Stay tuned on the @AARPMedia twitter feed, to find out more about the upcoming series.
This list contains only twelve extraordinary bands and musicians. Since everyone has their own opinion of what constitutes great music, please share yours with AARP on twitter by tweeting to @AARPMedia or in the comments section below, and your choices may be featured in a future AARP endeavor. Many of the finds came to us from NPR Music, Paste Magazine, the Newport Folk Festival and SXSW. Here's the list in alphabetical order:
ONE: Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers gained attention with fantastic video cover songs recorded in their van, the most popular of which has landed them plaudits from the duo they covered, Hall and Oates. But they have evolved into their own California band with the country-rock sound made famous by such stalwarts as the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Jackson Browne. In 2013 they put out their first full length, self-titled album. It'll no doubt be the first of many more albums.
TWO: Hurray for the Riff Raff
After listening to Alynda Lee Segarra and her band play the Newport Folk Festival online then saw them live at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage in 2013, I realized how phenomenal they were. The Bronx born Segarra, a singer-songwriter of Puerto Rican descent, who ended up in New Orleans, has taken folk and Americana and turned it on its head. When I saw her at the Kennedy Center she talked about folk music history and then played a traditional "murder ballad" she had written from a different perspective than the folk music tradition normally demanded.
The first time I heard this band, I had been checking out the lineup for the Newport Folk Festival for 2013, and they didn't quite click for me. But I had just seen a web video that wasn't their best work. Segarra looks a bit like comedian and actress Aubrey Plaza, known for playing the character April Ludgate on the hilarious television show Parks and Rec. But there's nothing funny about the gorgeous sounds her band of riff raff have created. Buy their music here.
THREE: Jay Z
My dad, a Brooklyn born AARP member and music lover, is a Jay Z fan. Like me, he has no sense of rhythm. But Jay Z, also known as HOVA, the Jigga man, and a few other names, moves him. He also moves me. As he matures and grows, even as he embraces performance art, becomes more of a businessman, gets known as a family man, rather than a just as a young rapper with some sweet rhymes from the Marcy Projects, his music remains filled with beats and rhymes that many can get behind. As 2014 passes and Generation X begins maturing to their AARP eligibility age beginning in 2015, I suspect Jay Z's music will be present, even if his rhymes touch on artists, turkey bacon and family instead of just drugs, girls, and bragging.* Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay Z's 2013 album, remains, like Jay, solid, and something great to listen to. He'll also reportedly be at SXSW this week.
*Beyoncé, Jay's spectacular wife, with whom he fell crazy in love almost ten years ago, will always be welcome at AARP too--any time she'd like to come by. There's definitely an argument to be made for the lady also known as Queen Bey here on this list as well.
FOUR: Lake Street Dive
Like Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, Lake Street Dive gained popularity through videos of cover songs and have a lead female vocalist. But the comparisons stop there. NPR says "this classically trained band blends jazz, folk, and pop in dangerously charming fashion." That's about as accurate as can be. Lake Street Dive plans to release a new album in 2014, but for now you can check out what they have to offer in their store.
FIVE: John Legend
I first saw John Legend in Boulder, Colorado in 2007. The now somewhat famous Robin Thicke opened for him and the contrast could not have been starker. Thicke's voice cracked and he looked like someone doing an incredibly poor imitation of Mr. Legend or another talented singer. Then John Legend came on stage and just made Mr. Thicke look like he might just want to look for a new career. But it was never a competition. Even though Mr. Thicke had a poppy number one song this year that at a minimum lifted heavily from a Marvin Gaye influence, Mr. Legend continues to churn out songs that should stand the test of time as his talent will undoubtedly do.
In 2013 Legend released a new record, "Love In The Future," and it's fantastic, just as his fans have come to expect. Though Mr. Thicke may have gotten slightly better since that night in Boulder, it shouldn't be too long before the likes of Robin Thicke look to lift riffs from the likes of John Legend. Legend's Love in the Future builds upon his impressive catalogue.
SIX: The Lone Bellow
Fans might as well have been seeing the Beatles for the first time on both occasions I saw this band in 2013. From kids to people who could have been AARP members, lots of folks literally became fanatic while watching the Lone Bellow perform. The core band members, lead singer and principal songwriter Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipkin, had just as much energy as the fans.
The trio, who sound a bit like popular folk-rock-Americana artists The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers, and Mumford and Sons seem destined to vault to similar popularity. When they played at Wolf Trap as an opening band this past summer they came off stage to speak to fans at the end of their performance and the line to spend a moment with the trio stretched around the a good bit of the large outdoor venue. Next summer they may not have time to meet every fan as their popularity grows, but I suspect they'll try to. Their self-titled album is available anywhere you can find music. Get it and enjoy it as much as I do.
The rock band Lucius has received well-deserved hype from a multitude of music critics, none of whom have anything but praise to offer. The two identically attired front women, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, can belt them out. This fall they released their first full length album. I first heard them on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series and immediately viewed the brief set several times. Then I began showing it to anyone who would watch.
I saw them at a sold out show at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, DC, and they weren't exactly what I expected-- they were even better. They rocked when I expected them to have a softer sound, but for a grand finale they came off the stage out in to the middle of the audience and sang softly, without any microphones. No one seemed disappointed with any of their gorgeous songs judging by the throngs who flocked to buy the album, Wildewoman (pronounced Will-duh-woman) after the show.
At the show I met a woman who grew up in Texas with one of the three identically dressed guys in the band. She said that the band had stayed in her apartment until this trip when they'd visited DC. I hope they're already getting to live like the rocks stars they're destined to become. Get Wildewoman and other merchandise here.
EIGHT: Pearl and the Beard
I saw Pearl and the Beard open up for one of the bands my wife and I count among our favorites, The David Wax Museum, several years ago at the 9:30 Club and have been pleased to follow their progress. The Brooklyn based trio, Jocelyn, Jeremy and Emily all list their glasses as instruments on their Facebook page. Emily told me the three met at an open mic in Brooklyn but their sound and their bond onstage make them feel as though they met as kids.
What sets the three apart, aside from the possible rule that they don't allow each other to wear contact lenses, is the two women, one man harmonies. They plan on releasing a new album in 2014. Buy their current stuff here.
NINE: Shovels and Rope
My mother-in-law Valarie, a proud AARP member from New Braunfels, Texas, where she listens to KNBT radio and sees shows at least several times a week at Texas' oldest dancehall, Gruene Hall, told my wife and I about this husband and wife duo. As much as many of the other bands on this list are in synch with each other, these two Americana performers have amazing chemistry. But theirs is grittier around the edges, and their sound gives some listeners the feeling they may fall apart at the seams at any moment. Their single "Birmingham" is about their courtship and marriage to each other. Buy their music here.
TEN: Spirit Family Reunion
After also playing the Newport Folk Festival this past summer, this band went on a tour with Hurray for the Riff Raff sponsored by the outstanding Paste magazine, where the man who curates the Newport Folk Festival, Jay Sweet, also works as Editor at Large. I had a similar reaction to this band that I initially had to Hurray for the Riff Raff until I realized I couldn't get the song "I'll Find a Way" out of my head and I loved every second of it. The Spirit Family Reunion say they "play homegrown American music to stomp, clap, shake and holler with." I say next time they're in town, I'll find a way to see them.
I first saw the thirteen or so members of Typhoon in 2011, and then again in their hometown of Portland, Oregon in 2012 at the MusicfestNW. The musicians, who all attended high school together, build most of their songs from a whisper to a monsoon of instrumentation that includes horns, strings, multiple drummers, and often a toy piano. They released the full length White Lighter in 2013.
When seeing them on a computer monitor, you may wonder how they all manage to fit on the screen at the same time. The band has a momentum that propels their joyous music, often with sad lyrics, to excellence for your ears.
TWELVE: Walt Wilkins and the Mystiqueros
Another AARP member and music lover, my father in law Randy, who spends many of his evenings going to see bands with my mother in law, could not stop talking about Walt. AARP shot a pilot episode of the Concerts for All Ages series with Walt and his band that should be available in 2014. Filmed at the amazing Mansion on O Street, the band gave an intimate, incredible performance that sounded perfect. The front man Walt Wilkins has a passing resemblance to the character Jeff Bridges played, Bad Blake, in the hit film Crazy Heart. His talent and the Austin band's talents seem limitless.
Wilkins also writes and produces for other musicians as do some of the others in the band. Corby Schaub, who plays guitar, was in the movie Crazy Heart as part of the band backing the fictional Bad Blake. In 2014 I missed it but for the last two years, with my wife's family, I've seen Walt Wilkins and the Mystiqueros play a four hour set of originals and a few covers that run the gamut from rock to Americana to a little bit country on New Year's Day at Gruene Hall's annual Hair of the Dog celebration. The Mystiqueros also have a 2013 album called Wildcat Pie & the Great Walapateya, and in addition to Walt, many of the other guys have great side projects as well. Bill Perry, Jimmy "Daddy" Davis, and Ray Rodriguez make up the rest of the band in addition to Walt and Cory.
Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and Elton John
It's not like they need the publicity, but all four of these rock legends had new albums come out recently. Bruce has another new album that came out in January. All of them also recently toured, and they put on fantastic shows that didn't need any of the pyrotechnics that come as part of the package with a modern stadium show. The real fireworks came with their amazing song catalogues and the energy they had on stage for hours. These guys may have lost a step or two, but they've all still got it. If you've never seen them and you like their music, go see them when they hit the road.
The Milk Carton Kids
These guys had a new album out in 2013. Their voices sound so much like Simon and Garfunkel and their songs play so well, that if I had chosen thirteen bands, they'd have been on the list. Try the songs Michigan and Honey, Honey for an introduction to this phenomenal duo.