Music Caf Jay Meehan
As a creature of habit, each January when the Sundance Film Festival looms, there are two informational spheres to which I must become privy. One would be a complete listing of all the documentary films screening at the festival and, the other, a complete schedule of all the performing artists on ASCAP’s docket for the Music Caf . And, if the truth were known, over the past couple of years, it’s become the daytime music events at John Sutton’s Star Bar on upper Main Street that have most triggered the cultural juices. Not that I’ve become any less of a "doc head," it’s just that the quality of ASCAP’s programming coupled with the intimacy of the "caf " has proven to be a pairing too difficult to ignore. For most annual attendees anyway, the Sundance Music Caf drill over the years has always been to, first of all, acquire a festival credential so as to have daytime entr e to the venue — and then select a day when that act you thought you’d never see is booked. This year, however, it is quite possible that ASCAP is loosening-up their daytime Music Cafe admissions policy. The festival Film Guide puts it this way: Open to all Festival credential holders and the general public as space allows (must be 21 or older). The crux phrase here, of course, is "as space allows." But it’s a start, a nod toward "inclusivity," as it were — and something Sutton has been pushing for since the Caf bolted from the Elks Lodge down the street and took up residence in his subterranean digs. It will be interesting to see how it all works out, but even if the upshot of this new policy is only that a few more Park City locals gain access to the shows each day, well, that’s a good thing. Since its inception, the daytime Music Caf has introduced unimaginable levels of alternative performance art mostly in the acoustic singer-songwriter vein. It is ASCAP’s uncanny ability to recognize talent on its way up, due in part, of course, to their positioning in the industry, that makes these performances the non-film jewel of the festival. The overall success of the endeavor, however, is due in many ways to the inclusion of those artists who already have claims to fame. Most often they are the attraction that brings you out in the first place. And that’s how it works downstairs at the Star Bar. You go to see an old favorite and come away with three or four others that you talk about for years. And without this most welcome intrusion into your artistic sensibility by the programmers at ASCAP, getting "hipped" to what’s new on the current alternative music scene would be a much longer process. The examples are endless. You drop in to see a John Hiatt, a Tim O’Brien, an Emmylou Harris, or a Guy Clark and you come away with a Buddy Miller, a Mary Gauthier, a Joseph Arthur, the Kings of Leon, or a Los Pinguos. And then there are Edie Brickell, Charlie Sexton, John Doe, Jonny Lang, and Shawn Colvin bringing you Joseph Arthur, Clem Snide, Daniel Lanois, the Old 97’s, and Joe Jackson. And, no doubt, it will be a very similar situation over the nine days the daytime Caf is open this year. As usual, many name acts are scheduled along with a slew of artists on the way up. But, as has been stated previous, it really matters not which day you attend. ASCAP has a long history of putting these matinees together and they give great "mix." To use a stream-side metaphor common to these parts, this year there are "attractor flies" aplenty. Rufus Wainwright, Bruce Hornsby, Judy Collins, Rodney Crowell, and Sharon Stone are a few whose name recognition factor should serve as a draw. Wainwright, the brilliant songwriting son of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle is a wide-ranging sort. He is an opera buff, digs Edith Piaf, Al Jolson, and Judy Garland, and pens some of the "headiest" tunes around. A quite accomplished pianist, he is also a strong guitar picker and vocalist with a great live act. Hornsby needs no introduction here or elsewhere. His keyboard driven vocals are celebratory and, to a great extent, involve the audience oftentimes, if it’s big enough, on stage. His following, originally based on his long collaboration with the Grateful Dead, seems to grow exponentially each year. Judy Collins morphed from a child classical piano prodigy into a folk-icon of the ’60s in the blink of her deeply blue eyes. Her interpretations of poetic lyricists of the day, such as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Sondheim, and Bob Dylan, among others, became the stuff of legend. Rodney Crowell last played the Caf in its previous digs down at the Elks building on a bill with song writing guru Guy Clark. Back during the "new traditionalist" movement of the mid-’80s, he became a cohort of both Clark and the late Towns Van Zandt. His roots and ambitions extend far beyond "movements," however. As far as Sharon Stone as an alternative performing artist goes, her basic instincts have obviously grown. The fact that she was a late addition to the daytime Caf schedule, and booked as "Sharon Stone & Friend," has, as you can imagine, generated a bit of buzz around the old mining camp. As mentioned earlier you never know what’s going to turn your crank when you attend these functions all you know for sure is that someone on the Music Caf stage will be part of a very personal musical epiphany. Last year it was Mary Gauthier. The depth and brilliance of her art left me stunned. I have yet to recover. All you can do is pick and choose a day that appears artistically friendly to your muse and attempt to meld that space-time continuum with the rest of your life. It is very much worth whatever sacrifice you offer up no matter who is on the bill. One act on this year’s daytime schedule that has piqued my interest is "Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion." Sarah Lee is Arlo’s daughter and, obviously, Woody’s granddaughter and, it is said among those in the know that their harmonies call to mind Johnny Cash and June Carter, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Now, that’s pretty tall cotton. And, if that weren’t enough, there is also a Nighttime Music Caf at the Star Bar featuring "sponsor concert nights" with a slug of talent and you don’t need a credential to make it past security. All that is required to enter is a ticket to what will, no doubt, be the edgier musical segment of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. SubPop Records kicks it off on Sunday night with "Iron and Wine," "The Fruitbats," and "Band of Horses." Then, on Tuesday, the festival film entry "American Hardcore" presents "D.O.A." and "The Circle Jerks." Wednesday has the full "Rodney Crowell Band with Garland Jefferies." ASCAP Los Angeles present "Ashley," "Giant Drag," and "Foreign Born" on Thursday, and the week winds up with the StarBarAssociates showcasing "Camper & Cracker" and "The Gourds." Day or night, the Music Caf at the Star Bar is ground zero for musical satisfaction during the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. ASCAP only comes once a year with this high-art shtick of theirs and all those in need of auditory massage therapy should partake as often as they can.
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