BEST OF 2018: Stanley A. Johnson’s Top 10 Concerts (And More)

Lakou Mizik
Dance Party of the Summer: Lakou Mizik @ Music Haven, 7/29/18

By Stanley A. Johnson

My favorite thing about 2018 was that I was around to experience all of its’ good, bad and ugly glory. For me, this list is split between old favorites and previously unheard artists – and I love not knowing what to expect and being joyously surprised.

Here, in chronological order, are the Top 10 concerts and shows which replaced the anxiety and worry in the front of my consciousness with joy, singing and dancing:

Gov’t Mule @ the Palace Theatre, April 26
After years of familiarity with Warren Haynes, I’m usually confident that their performances will be unique, interesting and hit those notes almost no one else can.

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Wheels of Soul Tour @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, July 3
After years of familiarity with Derek Trucks, I’m usually confident that their performances will be unique, interesting and hit those notes almost no one else can.

Lakou Mizik with Bongo & the Vodou Drums of Haiti @ Music Haven, Schenectady, July 29
The dance party of the summer.

Kara Grainger @ Canajoharie High School’s Arkell Theater, Canajoharie, August 7

Toronzo Cannon & the Chicago Way with Matt Mirabile @ Music Haven, Schenectady, August 19
Not only a terrific bluesman, but also one of the few people I’ve heard play Jimi Hendrix and actually sound like Jimi.

Blue Oyster Cult with Kristin Capolino @ Empire State Plaza, Albany, August 23
They’ve become a favorite through their persistence and, this year, with considerable goosing by perky fireball Kristin Capolino, rose above expectations.

Mike Stern at the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival @ Jennings Landing, Albany, September 8
The guitar great and his band likewise transformed what could have been just an average jazz festival (which is not a bad thing, by the way) into a triumph of virtuosity and just plain fun.

Charlie Supulveda & Jason Miles’ Tribute to Weather Report at Jazz at the Lake @ Shepard Park, Lake George, September 15
Charlie Supulveda’s band rescued the Lake George fest from being average and, during a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” focused the entire crowd on how exciting jazz can be. Jason Miles’ Tribute to Weather Report continued the excitement with players who were there not to play covers, but to push the music further.

The Outlaw Music Festival @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, September 23
Just plain great from start to finish, with wonderful performances by Willie Nelson & Family, Neil Young, Sturgill Simpson and Nathaniel Rateliff.

The Music of Cream @ The Egg, October 21
The Music of Cream was one that straddled the line between old and new. The band – made up of Kofi Baker (Ginger’s son), Malcolm Bruce (Jack’s son) and Will Johns (Patti Harrison’s nephew) – had just the right jazz and blues experience to do this body of work justice. I expected a by-the-numbers tribute, but, rather, got the real thing.

A few brief comments about the venues:

I did some complaining about SPAC on Nippertown this year, but most of my issues were about the security, the cost and overcrowding. SPAC is still the region’s best big venue.

Music Haven’s summer schedule continues to be the best line-up in the region, thanks to Mona Golub and staff. And thanks to corporate and private donors, it continues to be FREE!

The Egg – both the Hart and Swyer theatres – continues to be the best small-to-medium size venue in which to hear and see a concert anywhere in the world.

A special nod to Canajoharie’s Music on Mainstreet series for drawing me out west more than once during the summer.

The Empire State Plaza, while having the worst lighting of any venue in the area except perhaps the Van Dyck (sorry, but that’s the photographer in me who’s bitching), still manages to be the most spectacular setting for a show.

Okay, two more brief entertainment categories (I’m skipping favorite books, because if you don’t already read for fun, then it’s your own damn fault):

BEST TV SHOW: This year my viewing habits have changed in a big way, largely with the help of Roku, YouTube and a wireless, smart TV. “The Walking Dead” has been replaced by Rachel Maddow. If you can’t figure out why, then it, too, is your fault.

BEST ALBUM: The Beatles (White Album) Deluxe. Recorded a half-century ago, it is still the most varied, exciting, calming, interesting and political album ever made by anyone anywhere. Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?

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