Jay Meehan: The joint’s-a-jumpin’
January 13, 2015
Most often when the Sundance ASCAP Music Café rolls around there are usually a half-dozen acts in their eight-day lineup with which I have at least a modicum of familiarity. That matters little, of course, because every year my favorite performing artist at the Café comes out of the "never-heard-of-them" pool.
This year I had to acquaint myself with, seemingly, the entire menu, the complete catalogue, the whole shebang. This bizarre state of cultural affairs, of course, speaks to both ASCAP’s agenda of staying well ahead of the musical curve by introducing newer acts and, for whatever reason, my own inability to keep my finger on that very same pulse.
No worries there, however, for the annual lineup at the Music Café continually appears to be assembled with the express purpose of rehabbing the culturally un-hip. And going back to when they first set up shop upstairs at the Elks Building on Main Street (now the Filmmaker Lodge), the long stream of performing artists who have graced their stages is impressive indeed. The Elks is where the Music Café, featuring the likes of Kelly Joe Phelps, Nickel Creek, the Old ’97s, Guy Clark, and Rodney Crowell, began to see the future.
That special afternoon at Sundance 2003, the first year they moved their venue up Main Street to the Plan B (later to become the Star Bar), comes quickly to mind, and not only because it took me most of Damian Rice’s set to locate the joint. Why hadn’t someone told me it was located in the old Cowboy Bar?
Anyway, I got there in time for Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, and Daniel Lanois to perform both individually and collectively and I’m still pretty much full of myself for having attended what turned out to be such a legendary event in the annals of Sundance.
And, once I correctly located Plan B geographically, the hits just kept on coming. Now we’re talking Tim O’Brien, Shawn Colvin, John Hiatt, John Doe, Joe Jackson, Joseph Arthur with Ben Harper, Edie Brickell with Charlie Sexton, Ricky Lee Jones, Nellie McKay, and a stunning performance by Mary Gauthier.
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The upper Main Street venue also hosted Kings of Leon, Rufus Wainwright, Darrell Scott, Bruce Hornsby, Judy Collins, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (from the film "Once"), Donovan, Jill Sobule & Julia Sweeney, and Sarah Bareilles.
As the years passed and the film festival continued to draw higher-profile musical acts, the joint continued to jump with the likes of Patti Smith and John Hisle with Neil Young and Graham Nash, ("Rockin’ in the Free World"). But that would be the Star Bar’s swan song as a Music Café venue.
Someone came up with the bright idea that building one of those structurally sound and enclosed tents and plopping it down in the middle of lower Main Street would solve whatever issues were developing at their longtime venue further up in Old Town.
For whatever reason, and it certainly wasn’t a boycott, since nothing trumps live music for me, my shadow didn’t fall across the tent flaps that year. And so I missed another event that surely would have made me full of myself: Howard Zinn’s "The People Speak," featuring readings by Benjamin Bratt, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Qorianka Kilcher, Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo. My bad! I did meet the late, great Mr. Zinn, one of my larger heroes, later in the Festival, however.
From the tent, which lasted only one year, the Music Café moved a short distance to its current location in the Stanfield Gallery on the west side of lower Main Street. And it has been within that cozy, but crowded, friendly confines that festival goers have been treated to Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, St. Vincent, the Civil Wars, the Low Anthem, Dave Mason, Blue Sky Riders (Kenny Loggins, Georgia Middleman, Gary Burr), John Batiste & Stay Human, Rodriguez, The Devil Makes Three and a slew of others.
Now, as far as this year’s ASCAP Music Café, knowing in advance my availability due to film commitments, I’m still scrutinizing and digging and learning and sifting and weeding and sorting and filtering and guessing and playing hunches. The difference from other years is that this time around I’m playing catch up. I’m somewhat clueless.
If any of my fellow film and music buffs out there find themselves in similar straits, I would recommend joining me on the Music Café schedule website, scroll to the day that interests you, and then click on the name of the performing act in question to learn more. (http://www.ascap.com/eventsawards/events/sundance/2015/schedule.aspx)
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.