The band 10,000 Maniacs has covered a lot of ground during its 40 years together. From small niche market to international stardom, their current status is among the cornerstones of alternative music.
The band’s live show celebrates their musical legacy by embracing songs spanning its entire catalog and features a lineup still anchored by four of the six original members.
Viola player and backing vocalist Mary Ramsey began touring and recording with the Maniacs more than 30 years ago. She assumed the role of lead vocalist shortly after the departure of Natalie Merchant. Ramsey’s first album fronting the band was 1997′s Love Among The Ruins. The album featured the group’s ethereal take on the Roxy Music hit, “More Than This.”
The band will play will perform selections from their vast collection of hits at 7 p.m. April 26 at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe. Listeners can expect a few surprises during an intimate performance.
Fans can enjoy songs like the aforementioned “More Than This” as well as “These Are Days,” “My Mother The War,” “Rainy Day,” and “Because The Night,” the Patti Smith classic that became a monster hit for the band during its MTV Unplugged special.
10,000 Maniacs is Mary Ramsey (vocals, viola), Steven Gustafson (bass), Dennis Drew (keyboards), John Lombardo (guitar, vocals), Jeff Erickson (lead guitar) and Jerome Augustyniak (drums)
I recently spoke with vocalist/viola player Ramsey about the show and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the 10,000 Maniacs’ performance at SteelStacks?
Mary Ramsey: We have a variety of tunes from the Maniacs catalog over the years to choose from. We’ll be playing the hits as well as a few surprise covers. There’s a song John Lombardo will sing called “My Mother The War,” which goes way back. I have an electric five-string Zeta viola I play so we’ll do some Celtic tunes here and there as well. It’s an interesting blend of different sounds that work nicely together.
The band has been celebrating its 40th anniversary and you’ve been with them for more than 25 years. Can you give me some of the backstory on how you came to join the group?
I suppose it was all fate, John Lombardo had left the group for a while in the 80s and the two of us met and started a duo called John and Mary and were signed to Ryko Records. In 1990, 10,000 Maniacs released the Hope Chest CD. Some of John’s contributions to that CD were a few of the first songs the band had written, and they asked us to open for them. That was when Natalie [Merchant] asked if I’d like to sing background vocals and add strings to their set. That’s how I got on the MTV Unplugged performance. It was a thrill.
Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical, “Hairspray,” is on a 60-city U.S tour including two performances at Easton’s historic State Theatre on April 16.
The production is under the original guidance of director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell.
The show tells the story of 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad in 1960′s Baltimore as she sets out to dance her way onto TV’s most popular program and winds up changing the world. It features a score of hit songs, including “Welcome to the 60′s,” “Good Morning Baltimore,” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
The touring version of “Hairspray” stars Andrew Levitt, who fans know as Nina West (from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”), as Edna Turnblad. The ensemble cast also features Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad and Sandie Lee as Motormouth Maybelle.
I recently spoke with Metcalf about the show’s themes, big hair and more in this exclusive interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the upcoming performances of “Hairspray?”
Niki Metcalf: “Hairspray” is about a lot of things. There’s love, acceptance, dancing and singing as well as a lot of fun, laughs and joy. It’s got something for every kind of audience member. I play Tracy Turnblad. She’s a sixteen-year-old who has big dreams, a big heart and even bigger hair [laughs].
We start off the show with Tracy wanting to be on the Corny Collins show in 1960′s Baltimore. Then she meets a community of incredible people who teach her how to change the world for the better and stand up for what is right.
For more than five decades, the multiplatinum selling group America (featuring founding members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley), has been captivating audiences with their ubiquitous blend of acoustic-driven, harmony-rich sounds.
Some of their biggest hits, including “A Horse With No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair,” and “I Need You,” have gone on to become staples of classic rock radio.
Following their eponymous #1 debut album and winning Best New Artist at the 1973 Grammy awards, America went on to work with famed Beatles producer George Martin on a string of hugely successful albums. They’ve toured the world multiple times, performed the musical score for 1982′s “The Last Unicorn,” were inducted into the Vocal Hall of Fame in 2006, and received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.
Their most recent project is the 50th-anniversary box set, aptly titled, “Half Century,”
The group is currently back on tour, with a lineup that includes Richard Campbell (bass/vocals), Ryland Steen (drums/percussion) and Steve Fekete (guitars/keyboards/vocals). They’ll make a stop at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe 8 p.m. Saturday.
I recently spoke with Dewey Bunnell about the band’s longevity, songwriting and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: America recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Looking back now with all this perspective, what thoughts come to mind?
Dewey Bunnell: I don’t think anyone could have expected the kind of success we had in that first decade or how it’s lasted so long. We believed in ourselves and were expressing lyrically some themes and topics that were relevant to ourselves, our generation, and the times. Now we have multiple generations of fans who are still appreciating the music and showing it by coming to shows and listening to the music.
You and Gerry were teenagers when you wrote some of your early hits. How did the songs “A Horse With No Name” and “Ventura Highway” come about?
There’s really no hidden meaning behind “Horse …” It’s a travel log about finding oneself in an isolated place, like the desert. Growing up, our families were in the Air Force, so we traveled a lot as kids. I gravitated toward places like the wilderness, rivers, lakes, and the desert and was trying to capture that. There’s a lot of self-study and figuring out what you want to do with your life when you’re nineteen or twenty and right out of high school. It’s a song about introspection.
“Ventura Highway” was similar in that the lyric was about travel to some degree and about seeing the west coast for the first time. It was the ‘60s when my family lived there, which was a very impressionable time for me. At the time, the surf scene was blowing up; The Beach Boys, sun and surf, free wind blowing through your hair. All of that imagery was what I was trying to capture in that song.
Known for her catchy pop tunes with a tongue-in-cheek take on domestic life, singer-songwriter and actress Brooke Josephson is showin’ up for another round of infectiously honest and hook-laden material.
Josephson’s new EP, Showin’ Up, is the follow up to her acclaimed and female-empowered Sexy & Domesticated, and features introspective songs discussing the shifting energy and acceptance of who we are, the importance of the creative journey and making a difference, and the profoundness of lost relationship.
Self-produced by Josephson, Showin’ Up was mixed and mastered by Grammy winning engineer, Brendan Dekora (Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, Anita Baker) and features musicians like guitarists Chris Nordlinger,Tim Pierce (Goo Goo Dolls, Crowded House, Phil Collins) and drummer Seth Rausch (Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow, Little Big Town). The EP also includes Josephson’s spin on the Bonnie Raitt classic, “Love Me Like A Man,” and features a radio single as well as an extended jam.
I recently spoke with Josephson about the new EP and more in this exclusive new interview.
How would you describe Showin’ Up in terms of its sound, and maybe how it relates to some of your previous work?
Josephson: I really leaned in with guitars on this one with Chris Nordlinger. When I think about the progression, both artistically and in my life, there’s been a lot of growth. This one definitely has more of a grounded, rock and roll sound.
What was the writing process like?
Josephson:I actually wrote all of the songs before the pandemic and was performing them live for about six months. It started with lyrics and then I put the music down in my home studio, gave it to my band, and the songs grew every time we played them live. Then we had our opening show at The Whisky in January of 2020 and everything came to a halt. I’ve been sitting with these songs for a bit, and they’ve taken on a whole new meaning from when they were first inspired.
Let’s discuss a few of the tracks, starting with “Rainbow.” What can you tell me about it?
Josephson: “Rainbow” was another one of those songs that was inspired by my daughter. I had picked her up from school one day and she seemed really upset. She put a smile on her face, but I could tell she wasn’t ok. It wasn’t until bedtime that she started crying and said that one of her closest friends had told her to find new friends. It was heartbreaking. So I told her the story of my brother who had a similar issue growing up. Then I remembered that Harry Chapin song, “Flowers Are Red,” and about owning your own color and what makes us special and unique. When she went to sleep I went in and started writing. I wrote it from that perspective and originally planned to release it in 2020. But then the George Floyd trial and Black Lives Matter happened. It was a dark time but there’s been a shift of energy, so when the single finally come out people were ready for something cathartic and bright. It’s a mindful awareness of the differences between us and the humanity that bonds us.
Josephson: I was at a songwriting conference and one of the inspirations was for us to think about writing a song to open our shows with. I thought about what makes doing a live show or going to a show so special, and it’s really all in the power of showin’ up. Not just the audience coming to be present but also as an artist. From the time you pick up your instrument for the first time or start wiring. Having to show up for yourself even when no one else is watching. It leads to the moment when everyone can come together. It’s another song that took on new meaning when I watched the heroes of the pandemic and the essential workers showing up to save lives while we were all stuck at home. It went from a performer’s point of view to something much bigger.
Josephson: That was inspired after my parents divorced after thirty-five years of marriage. Even though I was an adult, it affected me profoundly. My brother and a few close friends also went through divorces well. It’s a song about change but still wanting to hold on to what was. It was my way of writing a song for them.
What made you decide to do a cover of “Love Me Like A Man?”
Josephson: I’ve always been a fan of Bonnie Raitt. That song has so much grit and I’ve always performed it live. In my head I started hearing it with a different rhythm, sort of like the Nine Inch Nails song, “Closer.” We were having so much fun with it in the studio that I just let it keep running. That’s why there’s a radio version and an extended version on the EP. It wasn’t ego driven, we were all just in the groove.
Are there any other projects you’re currently working on right now?
Josephson: In addition to being a mom I’ve been booking things around music and live shows, including acting opportunities that have been popping up. I’ll be in New York in March to film a thriller that centers around the murder of my character. I’ve also been doing the voice of a fairy in a Disney feature that I’ve recently recorded.
Was there something you learned about yourself during lockdown, or a philosophy you’ve taken away from not being able to do the things you normally would?
Josephson: I’ve really had to recognize my struggle with perfectionism, and I didn’t realize how hard I was on myself. I like being productive but also had to be sensitive with two kids taking school on Zoom and my husband, who was also working from home. I’ve been leaning into self-compassions and, in doing so, I have more compassion for others. That was a big takeaway for me.
Now that we’re starting to slowly come out of the pandemic what are you most looking forward to about the future?
Josephson:Collaborating. I still remember when I walked on set for the “Rainbow” music video and saw my band for the first time I was laughing and crying. We were all together making music in the same room again. I’d love to work with other artists, whether it’s writing with them or having other songwriters who are looking for an artist to record their song. I’m really looking forward to collaborating and just being with people.
For three decades, electronic pioneer Howard Jones has been a regular presence on the international touring scene. He’s been performing his arsenal of hits and fan favorites, like “No One Is To Blame,” “New Song,” “Hide & Seek,” and “Things Can Only Get Better” in various band configurations, including his high-tech electronic setup.
But perhaps there is no better way to appreciate the foundational impact of Jones’ music than when it’s stripped down to its barest of bones. Jones will do just that when he brings his acclaimed Acoustic Trio Tour to The Sellersville Theater at 8 p.m. Feb. 20.
Joining Jones on stage that evening will be two of his longtime friends, Nick Beggs and Robin Boult, for an evening of musical fellowship.
Jones will certainly have no shortage of stories to tell. Since bursting onto the contemporary music scene in 1983, he’s sold more than 8 million albums. His monstrous 1985 album alone, Dream Into Action, went platinum in the US and featured four smash hits, including the aforementioned “No One Is To Blame” and “Things Can Only Get Better.”
A few of his other credits include performing solo at the piano at the Live Aid festival in 1985 and touring as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.
I recently spoke with Howard Jones about this and his upcoming performance in Sellersville.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from your upcoming performance in Sellersville?
Howard Jones: We had been halfway through an original run of the trio tour when COVID struck. Everything was being canceled and we had to get home pretty quick. These dates are fulfilling the ones we didn’t get to do. It’s the trio tour with Nick Beggs on the bass end (he plays an instrument called the Chapman Stick and double bass), Robin Boult plays guitar and I’m on piano and vocals. Nick and Rob are two of my best friends in the world. Touring with them is a total pleasure and I hope that gets reflected in the music that we present. It’ll be the three of us enjoying ourselves on stage.
Al Franken is a comedian, New York Times bestselling author, radio host, political activist and, perhaps most notably, former United States Senator — where he served on the Judiciary, Energy and Indian Affairs committees.
Franken was also one of the original writers for “Saturday Night Live,” where he scored 15 Emmy nominations [winning five] as both writer and producer.
Now, four years removed from his position as Senator of Minnesota — and noncommittal when it comes to the idea of another possible run — Franken is on the road with his stand-up comedy show, “Al Franken: The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour.”
His show promises to feature unique satire, candid conversation about what’s going on in the world, and stories about his time in the Senate.
I recently spoke with him on the phone about his upcoming appearance at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe (8 p.m. Feb 18) and more.
James Wood for The Morning Call: How would you describe your style of comedy?
Franken: It’s satire to some degree and a lot of it is about politics. I was a big fan of guys like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and all the other comedians who’ve talked about satirical comedy and commentary. It has a point of view, but the emphasis is really on laughs.
What else can fans expect from your appearance at SteelStacks?
I do about an hour and a half of standup and really enjoy the craft. I used to have a partner, Tom Davis, who would go out on the road with me. He and I were two of the original “SNL” writers.
It’s a little different now going out single. For this tour, I started working up a show at the Comedy Cellar and talk a lot about what’s going on right now and about my experience in politics. I also talk about running for the Senate and having everything I’ve ever said as a comedian, ironically or satirically, used against me and put through the de-humorizor [laughs].
The show is a lot of fun for the audience and for me. I originally did a run of 15 cities, and we’ve just added 16 more.
Known for pioneering the classical-crossover music movement and for amassing an arsenal of album sales — including 40 million from The Phantom of The Opera soundtrack alone — Sarah Brightman has wowed audiences with her incredible three-octave vocal range and charismatic beauty.
Last year, while the world was in lockdown, Brightman put together and streamed her first-ever Christmas concert, “Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony.” The worldwide response was so overwhelming that this year she is bringing her Christmas Symphony Tour to America.
Perhaps there is no more fitting place for her to kick off her holiday tour than The Christmas City’s Wind Creek Event Center on Friday, November 26.
Accompanied by orchestra, choir and a dazzling light show, Brightman’s show will feature renditions of classics from the Christmas canon, holiday favorites, and a selection of her greatest hits.
I recently spoke with Brightman about her upcoming performance in Bethlehem and much more in this exclusive interview:
James Wood for The Morning Call: How did your seasonal Christmas Symphony show come about?
Brightman: When we were in lockdown last Christmas it was a fairly miserable time for everyone worldwide. I decided to stream a seasonal Christmas show for any fans who cared to watch and listen. So, I employed some musicians who needed the work and we put it all together. There was an overwhelming response which is why, when things started moving again, I decided to turn it into a proper seasonal show for the theater. It’s something I’ve never done before in America.
American alt-rock band Gin Blossoms first broke into the mainstream with their infectious 1992 album, New Miserable Experience. Songs from that album, which eventually went on to sell four million copies, included the jangle-pop and radio friendly “Hey Jealousy,” “Until I Fall Away,” “Found Out About You,” and “Allison Road.” These cemented the band as one of the early 90s best-selling acts.
The band abruptly broke up in 1997 only to reform five years later and have continued to record and perform as many as 120 shows a year. Their 2010 release No Chocolate Cake shot up to #1 on Amazon and reached #14 on the Billboard Indie Chart. The band’s 2018 follow-up Mixed Reality, is reminiscent of the group’s earlier days. Vocalist Robin Wilson called it a companion to New Miserable Experience and an album the band would’ve wanted to make in 1990.
Fans of the Gin Blossoms — featuring Wilson, Jesse Valenzuela (vocals and guitar), Scott Johnson (guitar), Scott Hessel (drums), and Bill Leen (bass) — can relive the magic of the 90s when the group performs at SteelStacks’ Musikfest Café at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9.
I spoke with Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela about the band’s Bethlehem show and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the Gin Blossoms upcoming performance in Bethlehem?
Jesse Valenzuela: We may have had a lot of time off and not touring as much as we used to but fans can expect to hear every song they want to hear. All of our hits will be represented. Then we’ll play some of the other material from our thirty-five years together. There’s a lot to choose from. It’s going to be a great time.
How did the band get started?
It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It took some starts and stops before we actually became a band. We all had grown up in the same college town working in different bands. We all knew about each other and eventually just started playing together.
Comedian Bill Maher has set the boundaries for humor and political talk.
First on the widely popular “Politically Incorrect,” which ran on ABC from 1993-2002, and for the last 19 years as host of his acclaimed HBO series, “Real Time” — where his combination of honesty and laughter has garnered more than 40 Emmy nominations.
On the show, Maher interviews some of the world’s most influential people while taking swings at both republicans and democrats alike. His criticism of people like Donald Trump is nearly equivalent to his concern about the over-extension of wokeism.
While taking a break from “Real Time,” Maher is currently out on the road performing stand-up. The comedian will make a stop at the Wind Creek Event Center, in Bethlehem on Sunday, Oct. 24.
I recently spoke with Maher about his upcoming Lehigh Valley performance and more.
James Wood: What can fans expect from your show at the Wind Creek Event Center?
Bill Maher: They can expect to laugh their ass off. That’s what stand-up comedy is supposed to be. If they’re people who watch “Real Time” then they’re familiar with the general things I’m interested in, which are not the trivialities of life.
I’ve always been interested in the big subjects going on in the world like politics, but I also like talking about my personal life too. Something that’s consequential and has nutrition in it. The bottom line though is people are hungry to laugh again and to laugh hard. That’s what I’m going to make them do.
How are you able to separate the format of “Real Time” from your stand-up comedy?
The great thing about stand-up is that it’s free form. What I’ve seen recently is an encouraging embrace of the point of view I’ve been putting across on my show. The greatest threat right now is from the right. We’re playing with fire with the Republican Party where they don’t believe elections are real. That’s a dangerous place to be and that has to be called out. But I also talk about what I think are the excesses of the woke and how wokeism is not really liberalism.
You may not agree with everything I say but most people can appreciate that I’m trying to be an honest broker and that’s a hard thing to do these days in America.
Heather Land’s smart-alecky wit and her filter-faced “I Ain’t Doin It” videos have become a worldwide sensation, garnering more than 300 million views. That was enough to make the one-time administrative professional and worship leader change roles and dive headfirst into comedy.
Land now performs shows across the country, regaling audiences with her humor on such real-world topics as failed diets, raising teenagers and holidays — as well as referencing her “I Ain’t Doin’ It” videos. Her specialty is finding the funny in the frustrating and reminding everyone that it’s ok to laugh at themselves.
Land is currently on the road with her “Age Gap Tour,” which makes a stop in Bethlehem at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct 17.
I recently spoke with Land about her upcoming performance and more.
James Wood for The Morning Call: How would you describe your brand of comedy?
Land: I’m definitely a storyteller. True stories I elaborate on along with a lot of self-depreciation. If we can’t laugh at ourselves then good grief, what are we even doing?
What else can fans look forward to with your performance in Bethlehem?
Most know me from “I Ain’t Doin It,” so there will be obvious references to that. People often ask how I can do it without the filter face but I’m there to make them laugh. A lot of times I’ll do music at my shows as well. It’s great to be back out and seeing people again.
Comedy wasn’t your original career goal, was it?
My original career goal was leading worship in church. I went to bible college and that’s where I landed for a long time. I thought that would be it but then I went through a divorce after a long marriage and had to switch gears. I started doing administrative work and making videos. All of a sudden, the videos started going viral and I suddenly found myself becoming a comedian.
Comedy wasn’t something I set out to do but I’m really glad I took the risk.