When I started thinking about end-of-the-year music coverage, I realized my listening habits in 2017 haven't been quite as varied as usual. There was a lot of '80s-inspired pop (very big right now), a solid amount of "Hamilton" (for the third year), and lots of time spent listening to Taylor Swift (I'm not sorry). But thinking back on my musical experiences of 2017, it was the live shows I attended that stood out.
Some big names, some nostalgic moments and some new encounters culminated in a concert palette I'm pretty proud to have experienced these last 300-plus days. So instead of my opinion on the best albums I listened to this year, I'm sharing with you the best concerts I attended in 2017. All these shows happened in Northwest Arkansas, so many of you may have attended one or more. And if not, you now know these artists will travel to our corner of the state and can keep your eye on future tour schedules. The shows listed are ordered chronologically only because each experience was so different, it would be nearly impossible for me to choose the "best" musical performance I saw in 2017.
Because I can’t resist picking out a few, here were some of my favorite songs released this year:
• “Vacation” — on Superfruit’s “Future Friends,” Sept. 15
• “Feel It Still” — on Portugal. The Man’s “Woodstock,” June 16
• “Broken Halos” — on Chris Stapleton’s “From A Room: Volume 1,” May 5
• “Up All Night” — on Beck’s “Colors,” Oct. 12
• “Great Divide” — on Ira Wolf’s “The Closest Thing to Home,” Sept. 9
• “Yours If You Want It” — Rascal Flatts’ “Back To Us,” May 19
• “If We Were Vampires” — on Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s “The Nashville Sound,” June 16
• “Woman” — on Kesha’s “Rainbow,” Aug. 11
• “You’re Drunk” — Brandy Clark
• “Gorgeous” — on Taylor Swift’s “Reputation,” Oct. 10
Some of the shows I’m most looking forward to in 2018 include:
• Judah & the Lion, George’s Majestic Lounge, Jan. 31
• Donny McCaslin, Walton Arts Center, Feb. 10
• Moon Taxi, George’s Majestic Lounge, Feb. 14
• Jason Mraz, Walton Arts Center, March 30
• Kesha and Macklemore, Walmart AMP, June 25
• Niall Horan, with Maren Morris, Walmart AMP, July 21
Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster
Stage Eighteen in Fayetteville
With Adam Torres
JPKS had one of my favorite albums of 2016 with the release of his first solo venture, "Constant Stranger." Lucky for us, the musician that is half of Mississippi folk/rock band Water Liars has transplanted to Northwest Arkansas, so hopefully we'll get to experience his poignant performances a little more often. The haunting twang of Kinkel-Schuster's voice wraps around images of family and lovers while grasping at both unrest and romance in his poetic writing. Paired with the beautiful, delicate music of Adam Torres in early February, the two put on an intimate and moving, acoustic-driven show to some 100 people at Stage Eighteen that made for an affecting night of music.
ADA's Kiss a Pig Gala in Rogers
The Northwest Arkansas chapter hosts the largest charity gala nationwide for the American Diabetes Association and the largest charity gala of any in the state of Arkansas. The event -- held at the John Q. Hammons Center -- welcomes special guests, holds immense silent and live auctions and hosts a musical performer as part of the evening's entertainment. Though supporting the local chapter of the ADA is the focus, the chance to see exciting performers at a comparatively intimate venue is a particular treat. Alternative pop-rockers American Authors performed at this year's gala with a dynamic set of their biggest hits. The group's energetic and anthemic songs provided one of the most joyful performances I saw this year.
Train, O.A.R. and Natasha Bedingfield
Walmart AMP in Rogers
On a mellow and breezy early summer night, iconic pop/rock group Train made its debut at the Walmart AMP with a cheerful and fan-pleasing romp through the band's biggest hits, and new songs from the 10th album and January release, "a girl a bottle a boat." Sure, it wasn't the most earth-shattering performance I've ever seen or the most impactful lyrics I've ever heard, but Train and lead singer Pat Monahan have been catering to their audience for more than two decades and know how to put on a show that is exactly what their fans want. The concert was the radio-friendly production with generous interaction that the multi-generational crowd came for and was a spirited kickoff for summer. The show was also my first time seeing Ohio rock/jam band O.A.R. and the bubbly Natasha Bedingfield in person. The two acts rounded out the concert nicely with Bedingfield's impressive vocals as she bounced through her well-known hits of the early 2000s, and O.A.R. amazed the crowd with their musicianship and contagious energy.
Jason Isbell and Sheryl Crow
With Willie Nelson & Family, Margo Price, Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real, and Particle Kid
On the week of July 4 Willie Nelson and Blackbird Presents brought a full-on, one-day music festival to the Walmart AMP. Started last year in Scranton, Pa., the Outlaw Music Festival grew up to be a touring production of rotating Americana and country acts and brought a phenomenal lineup to Northwest Arkansas. Nelson and his family band have performed at the AMP before, but this time his two sons' bands -- Micah's Particle Kid and Lukas' Promise of The Real -- joined him on the ticket, as well as rising Americana star Margo Price, roots rocker Sheryl Crow, and the Americana/rock of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. I'll confess I was only able to catch Crow, Isbell and Willie as the show was in the middle of the week, but Crow and Isbell alone would have been worth a tired day at work. After 10 albums and more than 20 years of performing, Crow is still seriously rocking. I wasn't the only person in the crowd impressed by her vocals or her guitar chops. But I've got to say Jason Isbell was the standout of the festival. The depth of Isbell's soul-tinged Southern rock and the simple lighting on stage gave the concert an intimate feel, and his expressive songs made for a performance I won't soon forget.
With Counting Crows & Rivers and Rust
I said at the beginning I couldn't choose a favorite performance of 2017, but if I were absolutely forced to, Matchbox Twenty might be it. Before arriving at this show, I remember thinking, "Sure, Matchbox Twenty. I like them when they're on the radio." But I didn't realize how good they really are. In truth, the band and lead singer Rob Thomas blew me away. The vocals were every bit as strong as the recordings, the talent of the musicians was abundant, and their stage presence was exuberant. The massive light effects enhanced the performance, but Thomas and the three other musicians would have been just as captivating without them.
Symphony of Northwest Arkansas
I'm not sure if one of the most memorable performances I saw this year would be considered more concert or film, but live performance was involved, so I count it. In October, an 82-piece orchestra -- primarily from the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas with some additional musicians from New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, Kansas City, Tulsa, Okla., and Eugene, Ore. -- performed the score of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on stage at the AMP in front of a huge projection of the film. The audience was encouraged to cheer, boo and otherwise react to our favorite characters and moments in the film, promoting a camaraderie among us you usually don't get at a movie. The orchestra was difficult to see from my blanket on the lawn, making it easy for them to fade into the background, but the flawless performance made it that much more impressive each time we were reminded of their presence. It also doesn't hurt that the score by John Williams is one of my all-time favorites, making the experience all the more magical. The second and third films in the franchise are also part of the "CineConcerts" program and will be touring the country in the future.
Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville
Walton Arts Center jazz curator Robert Ginsburg makes a point of stacking the Starrlight Jazz Club Series with innovative and stirring jazz performers, who both fit traditional conventions of the genre and discard them completely. New York-based, (mostly) Ohio natives Huntertones -- who performed at Starrlight Theatre inside the Walton Arts Center in October -- meet both those standards, in a way. To call the group simply a "jazz ensemble" doesn't do it justice, but at the same time, the six-piece invokes the elements that historically made jazz a "social event": improvisation and interaction. And I'll say this for them: I've never seen a show like Huntertones. Watching videos on YouTube, listening to their recordings, doesn't begin to encompass the high-spirited energy and interplay between instruments as you experience at the live show. Watching a group of musicians this young, talented and joyful on stage had me enthralled, my cheeks sore from smiling. The excitement in the audience was palpable. It's refreshing to encounter the unknown and be at once thrilled and fulfilled.
NAN What's Up on 12/31/2017
Print Headline: The Revue Review