Blog: Poets House’s Poetic City with Suzanne Vega at River To River Festival
The warm months are finally upon us, New York City. It’s time to travel outside of the concrete slabs we all dwell in, and explore the majestic sights of the city we chose to call home. Fortunately for all of us the, “River To River Festival” returns for the 2012 season bringing with it a plethora of enriching and most importantly free events. All of these highly different yet original programs take place along Manhattan’s many river venues. On Tuesday night, the LocalBozo crew made our way to Rockefeller Park to check out an event called “Poets House’s Poetic City.” The evenings lineup featured an outstanding roster including poets Tina Chang and Paolo Javier paired with musical performances by Gabriel Kahane and headlined by New York singer and songwriting legend, Suzanne Vega.
Rockefeller Park is situated beautifully between the neighborhood of Tribeca and the Hudson River yielding great views in both directions. Guests had the option to sit in one of the many seats facing the stage or bring blankets for an after work twilight picnic. The event was introduced by representatives of the Poetic House and Thirteen Public Television, the evening’s sponsors. It was a enlightening to learn about how this free series of programs came to fruition. Shortly after, Brooklyn’s own Gabriel Kahane and his band took the stage. The band played an impressive set of tunes that could easily be enjoyed during any summer outing, perhaps best described as “Ben Folds,” but with a strong technical and classical jamming approach and structure. Kahane spoke to the audience candidly about each song, providing some humor along the way. Gabriel Kahane is most certainly an artist on the rise, mixing pop with substance.
The spoken word poetry part of the evening was up next, filled by two heavy hitters. First up was Queens Poet Laureate Paolo Javier, whose poems and stage personality are seamless. He is an outspoken young man with a body of work that speaks about topical issues- the harsh immigration policies around our country, for example. His voice not only projects but each word is layered with direct meaning with no punches pulled during his portion of the program. Javier was followed by Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang. Ms. Chang is a new mother. And, like any good artist she has incorporated her new life into her work. The way in which she wove the trials of motherhood into her poems made even non-mothers like me, understand where she was coming from.
This spectacular evening of music and poetry was headlined by the Upper West Side’s own Suzanne Vega. Vega has been a staple on the singer/songwriter scene for over thirty years and therefore her set featured a vast collection of well-known classics and new songs. As soon as she took the stage with guitarist Jerry Leonard, audience members were treated to a voice which was both invigorating and heartbreaking all at once. Vega has a brilliant set of pipes that few have. At the drop of a dime her vocals show off her incredible range to elicit certain reactions from each piece. One of the many set highlights included recent works, such as tracks from the play she co-wrote with fellow crooner Duncan Sheik called, “Carson McCullers Talks About Love”, about the life of writer Carson McCullers. The song, “New York Is My Destination” is a fun piece allowing Vega to use monologues mixed into the lyrics making it quite enjoyable to one’s ear.
Vega busted out plenty of her popular career-spanning tracks satisfying all in attendance, with many including myself singing along. “Blood Makes Noise” from her 1992 album ’99.9F’ was a happy surprise. It is a definitive 90s song featuring infectious guitar loops, fast spoken lyrics, and a killer hook. Like many of my fellow audiences members we really appreciate Vega’s amazing work from the 1980′s and she was more then happy to oblige, busting out “Left Of Center” from the ‘Pretty In Pink’ soundtrack as well as the heartbreaking yet beautiful mega-hit, “Luka.” Vega perfectly finished the set by donning a top hat singing her biggest hit “Tom’s Diner,” preceding it by saying, “This takes place on 112th Street and Broadway.” You really have to love songs about your city, while your actually living in it!
The, “River To River Festival” is chock full of free events ranging from music all the way to food tastings. You better hurry though, because everything wraps up on July 15! Be sure to check out their website for the full schedule of programs to help you see more, and learn more about NYC.
- Jay Rubin