100815 News for Pawleys Island, Litchfield and Murrells Inlet
Welcome to Coastal Observer

Photo galleries
Send a Letter
Local Events
Ad Specs


Mike Farris | Natalie Douglas |Steve Tyrell | Ken Lavigne | Johnson & Davis | Motown Tribute

Pawleys Festival of Music and Art opens 25th season

A record-setting storm that struck South Carolina forced the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art to move its headline performance by Aaron Neville from its tent to the Waccamaw High Performing Arts Center. The Grammy winner packed the house for the concert during what proved to be a lull in days of torrential rains.

With clear skies in the forecast, the festival now moves back to the tent at the Reserve Golf Club for the next two weekends of performances.

Among the highlights are the return of Steve Tyrell and Ken Lavigne, both smash hits in prior visits. Others include the Grammy winner 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.”

Back to top

Mike Farris: Music from the rough side of the mountain

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

Back to top

Natalie Douglas: From Birdland with a detour at Dollywood

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.”

If you go

When: Oct. 9, 7 p.m.

Where: Reserve Golf Club

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

Back to top

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

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

Back to top

Ken Lavigne: Encore between Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera

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

Back to top

Johnson & Davis: School pals share stage with big band

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

The “fiery” 17-piece Fabulous Equinox Orchestra with Clay Johnson and led by Jeremy Davis mixes up the old with the new in Big Band swagger.

“We’re a load of fun, like dynamite going off on stage,” said Davis from his home in Savannah. “Everybody likes our music – old folks, young folks, country folks and city folks – because it’s fun. You haven’t seen a big band like us.”

Davis and Johnson put their own stamp on the Great American Songbook and add a touch of Motown, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Roy Orbison and others. Throughout the show, the duo incorporate some of their personal history as well as the history of many of the songs performed.

A favorite is “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” the Frank Loesser song from “Guys and Dolls.” “And everybody loves our New Orleans-style street parade,” Davis said.

The twosome are best friends. “We went to grade school in Louisiana together and then went to high school together. And in college we were roommates,” he added.

They also got married within weeks of one another, Davis said. Both families eventually left Louisiana and now reside in Savannah.

They call themselves “two sophisticated Southern gentlemen.” Davis leads the band, sings some and plays the saxophone. Johnson is the crooner. And a pastor. His love for the gospel has taken him all around the United States and the world to work with churches and communities as a minister and missionary.

The pals are “super excited” about their upcoming 90-minute special to be produced by PBS in the fall.

“PBS loved the Southern hospitality of the Equinox,” Davis said. “We’ve taken the classic big band and dolled it up a notch. You’ll see.”

If you go

When: Oct. 16, 7 p.m.

Where: Reserve Golf Club

How much: $75, $35, $25at pawleysmusic.org or 843-626-8911

Back to top

So Good for the Soul: Motown tribute pays attention to details

Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

We all have a favorite Motown ditty, like “My Girl”, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, “Shop Around”, “Dancin’ In The Street”, “Stop, In The Name Of Love”, “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing”, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).”

These songs, plus dozens of other nostalgic dazzlers are included in the repertoire of “So Good for the Soul: A Tribute to the Music of Motown,” the concluding program for the 25th anniversary of the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art.

“We’re sold out wherever we go,” said Gary Kupper, artistic director of the Motown tribute, from his office in New York.

Kupper is master of ceremonies for the hip showcase of seven singers and five band members who knock out the greatest hits by groups like The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Lionel Ritchie, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell and Stevie Wonder. A Michael Jackson segment is also featured, he said.

Their iconic 1960s Motown sound (a style of soul music with a distinct pop influence) emulates all the legendary music makers. “We do the music that is the only true, strictly American music,” said Larry Marshak, producer of the 10-year-old troupe, first assembled for a two year stint in Las Vegas.

The show celebrates the best from Berry Gordy’s Detroit hit-making factory. The look and feel of authenticity extends from its blingy costumes to its classic Motown choreography.

The high energy trip down memory lane will appeal to beach music enthusiasts, said Kupper. “I guarantee that we will have everyone dancing in the aisles. Everybody loves the Motown beat. They’ll have a real good time,” he said.

If you go

When: Oct. 17, 7 p.m.

Where: Reserve Golf Club

How much: $25 at pawleysmusic.org or 843-626-8911. (Reserved seating sold out.)

Back to top

[E-Mail Article To a Friend]

Buy Photo Reprints

ˆ€© 2015 Coastal Observer
Home | Photos | Obits | Classifieds | Local Events | Ad Specs | Subscribe