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THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

A.J. Croce | Aaron Neville | Mike Farris | Natalie Douglas |Steve Tyrell | Ken Lavigne

Pawleys Festival of Music and Art opens 25th season

After a weekend of art and Squonk Opera in Downtown Georgetown, the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art moves under the tent at the Reserve Golf Club for the next three weekends of performances.

Among the highlights are the return of two performers, Steve Tyrell and Ken Lavigne, both smash hits in prior visits. Others to tempt the musical appetite are singer/pianist A.J. Croce, legenday doo-wopper Aaron Neville, Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue, the jazzy Natalie Douglas, Davis and Johnson and the Fabulous Equinox Orchestra, and for the finale “So Good for the Soul: A Tribute to Motown.”

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A.J. Croce: Genres blend, but the music stays soulful


By
Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

A.J. Croce calls his work “American music,” but with his own twist.

“I sing soul music. Anything soulful I’m interested in, whether its country or pop or blues or rock and roll,” Croce said, from his new home in Nashville. He and his wife moved from their long-time residence in San Diego this summer.

The son of the late Jim Croce, A.J. performs his own original music, he said, and each of his seven albums is a different genre. The versatile artist is not sure what mix of music he will perform when he appears at the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art on Oct. 2. He decides at the last minute.

“Every concert performer plays at least one song by someone else, maybe I’ll do a Hank Williams or a Beatles song, or a brand new song by a pop artist. It depends on the moment,” he said.

He may play some of his father’s “stuff,” he said. “It depends on the show. A certain part of the audience appreciates that and I’m there to make them happy.”

Croce doesn’t remember his legendary father who died in a plane crash in 1973 when he was just a toddler. “I had a violent childhood after my father’s death, and due to that trauma I lost my sight when I was 4. I eventually did get it back in my left eye when I was around 10. You don’t want to drive with me.”

Croce, 44, learned to play the piano during his blindness by listening to recordings and the radio. He calls himself first and foremost “a piano player.” He also strums guitar and has a captivating and unique singing voice. He writes music and practices piano daily, always seeking new ways to express himself, he said, noting that A.J. stands for Adrian James. “Only my grandmother calls me Adrian,” he said.

His career highs include playing with some of his heroes, like Ray Charles, James Brown and B.B. King, who, he said, was the person who discovered him and put him to work at age 18. In the span of his 20-plus-year career, A.J. has headlined festivals, concerts and major listening venues worldwide. He has been seen and heard on shows including Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Austin City Limits, Good Morning America, E! and CNN, and he has shared the stage with an innumerable list of eclectic artists, ranging from the likes of Willie Nelson to Rod Stewart.

“But what is really amazing is to hear your music on Muzak while going down the grocery aisle. What a trip!” he said.

Croce’s had many great opportunities in his life and he pursued them. “I’ve had a great adventure and a great life in music,” he said.

His advice to young musicians: “The key to becoming good at anything is to have an open mind. Listen to every kind of music you can as a musician, every genre. And attempt to play it even if it is outside of your comfort zone. Push yourself and by doing that you learn something. Even if you don’t apply it in your own music, it provides a deeper well to pull from when you write, perform, play or record. An open mind is really the key.”

If you go

When: Oct. 2, 7 p.m.

Where: Reserve Golf Club

How much: $45, $35, $25 at pawleysmusic.org or 843-626-8911

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Aaron Neville: Close harmony that’s bred in the bone


By
Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

As a child he sang on the street corners of New Orleans. Today, Grammy winner Aaron Neville performs all over the globe. He and his quintet headline the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art on Oct. 3.

Most of us recall Neville singing New Orleans style R&B with his brothers, The Neville Brothers. “They used to run me away, until they figured out I could hold a tune and then they let me join in,” he said.

And what of his brothers?

Formed in 1977, The Neville Brothers have a group history encompassing more than 35 years of performing, writing and recording together and apart. Although each of the four brothers pursue their individual projects, family brings them together and they occassionally still perform their iconic New Orleans style soul, seasoned with Cajun and Creole influences.

Neville gives his brother Art credit for encouraging his career and praises New Orleans for infusing its music into his soul. Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter and Pookie Hudson also inspired his musical journey, he says.

Away from his brothers, Neville has soared solo, singing every genre from country/western to gospel to pop. His career spans five decades.

His first hit single “Tell It Like It Is” was number one on the R&B charts for five weeks in 1967. He went on to win Grammy Awards for his triple-platinum 1989 collaboration with Linda Ronstadt “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind,” and reached the Country charts with the title track of 1993’s “The Grand Tour.” A member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, his most recent gospel project in 2010 was the album “I Know I’ve Been Changed.”

Neville’s concert will be a blend of all of his styles and likely to include some doo-wop. His latest album “My True Story” pays tribute to that hip era, featuring twelve classic doo-wop numbers, like “Tears on My Pillow,” “Work With Me Annie,” “Money Honey,” “ Under the Boardwalk”and “This Magic Moment.”

“Doo-wop started with five guys, like the Clovers – or five girls, like the Chantels or the Shirelles – singing harmony together on a bench or a stoop,” he said. “My own favorite place was the boys’ bathroom at school, because it had such great acoustics.

“Those song are all dear to my heart, and they rode with me, in my bones, through all these years,” said Neville, a father of four, who now resides in Manhattan. His home in New Orleans was destroyed by Hurrican Katrina.

Neville, 74, of African-American and Native American descent, is a devout Catholic, with a passionate devotion to St. Jude, to whom he has credited his success and survival. He wears a St. Jude medal as a left earring.

He advises young, up- and-coming musicians to follow their heart, not the money.

If you go

When: Oct. 3, 7 p.m.

Where: Reserve Golf Club

How much: $45, $30 at pawleysmusic.org or 843-626-8911

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Mike Farris: Music from the rough side of the mountain


By
Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Singer/guitarist Mike Farris, raised in Nashville, believes spiritual music was “always in him.” He describes his style as “simply soul music.”

But Farris didn’t find his soul until age 21.

“I was already a drug addict and alcoholic when I was 15. I was running cocaine over the state lines from Huntsville, Ala. In and out of jail already, just a broken boy trying to find his way,” he said. He almost died from an overdose.

“Then I woke up one day and a full song came into my head. And I’d never written a song before. You see I’d been praying to God to show me a purpose. I was a young man with no vision. And I was alone. But that day, God revealed my purpose,” he said.

Farris was convinced that God had placed music in his path and he’s been performing ever since.

“Well, I took a few years off for rehab to get clean,” he admitted by phone from Nashville, where he resides with Julie, his wife of 20 years.

In the 1990s he went on to perform as lead singer with the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies. When they broke up he toured with the blues band Double Trouble. Eventually he went solo and began to rediscover and reinterpret gospel and traditional black spiritual music by adding his own mix of vintage Southern soul.

He recorded “Salvation in Lights,” and for his efforts Farris won the prestigious 2007 Americana Music Award for Best New and Emerging Artist and a Dove Award for Best Traditional Gospel Album of the Year.

Farris has appeared at multiple festivals, including Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Merlefest, Telluride and Bonnaroo, electrifying audiences with the impact of his live performance. He was also the featured performer in 2011 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 16th annual American Masters concert. In February, his “Shine for All People” recording won the inaugural Grammy Award for Best Roots Gospel Album. He names his Grammy win and a gig at the Hollwywood Bowl as career highlights.

For his Oct. 8 visit to Pawleys Island he’ll bring the Roseland Rhythm Revue: two horn players and two backup singers. His program will include a combination of his original soul and also some old songs rearranged. A favorite, he said, is “Precious Lord Take My Hand.”

He’s eager to visit the area. “You have such a rich history of music in your area. Soul and blues. That’s what I grew up on,” he said.

His fans cover the spectrum. “One day I’m at a rock fest and the next a bluegrass fest. Then one week I’m performing at the Grand Ole Opry and the next day I might be singing at a church,” he said.

He’s been described as singing notes that would make Patsy Cline and Mavis Staples cry and shout. “He’s got it and that’s all there is to it,” one critic wrote. “He just keeps on doing his thing singing songs the way he feels them. He melts hearts.”

“My music has always been first and foremost for the downtrodden, the wayward … people who’ve had to go up the rough side of the mountain,” he said. “Even when it’s upbeat and inspiring, there’s always been an element of pain, because truth be told, we’re all flawed. Not everybody knows it, but we all are.”

If you go

When: Oct. 8, 7 p.m.

Where: Reserve Golf Club

How much: $45, $35, $25 at pawleysmusic.org or 843-626-8911

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Natalie Douglas: From Birdland with a detour at Dollywood


By
Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Songbird Natalie Douglas has been described as “a true force of nature.”

Her accolades include the 2014 Margaret Whiting Award, which she received on stage at Carnegie Hall from the Mabel Mercer Foundation and My Ideal Music. That same year her portrait was added to the legendary Birdland Jazz Club Wall of Fame.

“The first time I sang at Birdland was so fantastic,” Douglas said by telephone from the New York apartment she shares with her co-producer husband. “I grew up my whole life hearing about the Birdland Jazz Club and then I did a concert there and continue to perform there, even recorded a CD there.”

Douglas also lists her appearance at Carnegie Hall with Michael Feinstein as a highlight in her 25-year career. “Such an amazing experience singing the Great American Songbook with Michael,” she said.

Raised in Southern California, Douglas said it was her mother who taught her how to sing. Her first gig was performing a Christmas song on a local television station at age 4. Her first paying job was singing weekends at a steak house in Westwood, Calif., while studying at UCLA for a master’s degree in psychology. She went on to perform throughout the United States and across three continents.

Among her acclaimed shows is a tribute to legendary singer/activist Nina Simone and a showcase of the music of Dolly Parton. “I’m a Dolly freak,” she said.

She credits part of her success to the fact that she has a versatile style and remembers the words to more than 1,000 songs. “Knowing a lot of material is very helpful,” Douglas said.

She melds her singing with acting. “I can’t sing without acting,” she said, noting past acting roles in various media from television to stage.

But she’s a singer foremost and said she strives for an emotional connection to the audience. “That connection is why we’re driven to do what we do,” Douglas said.

For her Oct. 9 appearance at the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art, Douglas said she will likely do some jazz standards, maybe gospel, an Elton John number, maybe even some country tunes; some Dolly. “I don’t know precisely what I am going to do until a day or two before. We’ll rehearse certain things, but I’m open to inspiration and even during the show, I like to be spontaneous, flexible,” she said. “The audience for the festival is so diverse, I’ll craft something special just for you guys.”

While in the area, she will also visit Carvers Bay High School to conduct a workshop and concert with music and choral students. Douglas works with public and private schools throughout the country, as well as devoting time to private classes in New York. For the Carvers Bay students, she will introduce her “Generations” program, highlighting the role that music has played in families throughout the years.

If you go

When: Oct. 9, 7 p.m.

Where: Reserve Golf Club

How much: $45, $25 at pawleysmusic.org or 843-626-8911

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Steve Tyrell: God and Sinatra, not necessarily in that order


By
Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

As Steve Tyrell makes his third appearance at the Pawleys Island Festvial of Music and Art he recalls his last performance under the tent in 2012. “It was so hot. I was soaking wet,” he said by telephone from his home in Sherman Oaks, Ca.

But Tyrell is a cool dude. “It’s OK. I like your grits,” he said.

The Grammy Award-winning singer started his career in the studio, behind the scenes, producing for popular recording artists and movie soundtracks. He collaborated for Burt Bacharach, Rod Stewart, Dolly Parton, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt, Smokey Robinson, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Wonder and many others.

It was after singing “The Way You Look Tonight” in the 1991 film “Father of the Bride” that he found his niche as a performer. His appearance pushed him center-stage as a vocalist, with live performances and a recording career of his own.

Tyrell, 71, has sung “The Way You Look Tonight” at both his daughters’ weddings. “’Father of the Bride’ changed my life,” he said. “I was so lucky being in that movie and had no idea of what my life would be after that. I’m so grateful.”

Indeed. He went on to make 11 successful albums thus far and has ideas for several more, perhaps highlighting the music of Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong. He just loves making music.

Texas born, Tyrell grew up on Ray Charles. “All those rhythm and blues singers had the biggest influence on me when I started singing in high school. The Drifters and Ray Charles and some country tunes,” he said. “But I’m also Italian and in my house growing up it was all about God and Frank Sinatra, and not necessarily in that order.”

At the request of the Sinatra family, Tyrell was the featured performer with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra at their season-opening concert in which Sinatra was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.

“That was a highlight,” Tyrell said. Others include playing Carnegie Hall twice; performing the past 10 years at the Cafe Carlyle in Manhattan, replacing the late Bobby Short’s annual two month Christmas holiday gig; and singing last year for Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.

Tyrell, a grandfather, has made two new albums since his last visit to Pawleys Island. He’ll blend some of the album songs with numerous classic American pop standards for his performance this year.

One of his new albums, “That Lovin’ Feeling,” is dedicated to the great songwriters of the early ’60s, the great rhythm and blues of that time. The other new release is called “It’s Magic” and features the songs of Sammy Cahn. “I’ll do some things from both of them,” Tyrell said. “I change my show every year or so.”

If you go

When: Oct. 10, 7 p.m.

Where: Reserve Golf Club

How much: $45, $30 at pawleysmusic.org or 843-626-8911

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Ken Lavigne: Encore between Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera


By
Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Ken Lavigne is back for an encore.

Called “Canada’s Pavarotti,” his talent is immense. And he’s bold. He’s the guy who raised $200,000 to perform at Carnegie Hall, where he earned three standing ovations. Now he wants to sing at the Sydney Opera House and is in the process of raising the $92,945 required to book the hall, hire musicians and pay airfare. PBS is interested in presenting his songfest, to include a full orchestra, on their network, hopefully in September 2016.

“I’m not afraid of challenges, and I am passionate about performing at great halls across the globe,” Lavigne said from his home on Vancouver Island.

A classically-trained tenor raised in British Columbia, Lavigne started singing in the cradle, he said. His first noteworthy appearance on stage was at age 9, playing the lead in a community theater production of “Oliver.” He began singing professionally after studying music at the University of Victoria. He has toured extensively, recorded five CD’s, sung for Prince Charles and soloed with several symphony orchestras.

The highlight of Lavigne’s past year was singing “Away in A Manger” with his 10-year-old daughter and a 45-piece orchestra for a Christmas concert in his home town for 1,200 people.

“It was very emotional,” Lavigne said. “I was reminded of the circle of life moving forward and I was passing on the incredible experience of performing on stage.”

When he returns to the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art, his performance will include everything from Pavarotti to Presley, he said, from familiar favorites to a few songs he’s written recently. And he’ll share some anecdotes and stories about what it is like to be a modern classical musician on the road. Lavigne delights in chatter.

Thanks to his concert here last October he also produces his own barbecue sauce. “I was inspired when I was in Pawleys Island last year and went to Hog Heaven and fell in love with their Southern barbecue sauce,” Levigne said. “So I went home and began smoking meat in a backyard smoker and then experimenting with sauce.”

Sales from the sauce support his efforts to perform at the Sydney Opera House. “I don’t really sell it at my shows, but maybe I’ll bring some down there,” he said. “Barbecue sauce from Canada.”

If you go

When: Oct. 15, 7 p.m.

Where: Reserve Golf Club

How much: $45, $25 at pawleysmusic.org or 843-626-8911

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