Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Not Meeting Marcia Ball

Towering nine stories above the Pawtucket Canal, we reveled in the Venice of America. We were there also to revel in Marcia Ball's music.

We might have met her, but didn't.

Pretension Note: Numerous other U.S. cities have subsequently claimed Venice of America. They include Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Venice, California. However, with the completion of the Pawtucket Canal, as a detour around the waterfalls, at the close of the 18th Century, Lowell laid claim first. This joined with the Merrimack Canal to run the nearly 30 miles to Charlestown and create the fastest, cheapest way to move raw material and manufactured goods in the region.

As part of a prolonged birthday celebration, my wife got tickets for the July 3rd Marcia Ball concert. She's a sizzling blues singer, who seldom visits New England. She's from Louisiana and the T doesn't have a local stop there. The last time she was at Johnny D's in Somerville, her tickets sold out faster than I could get two.

Now the disclaimer, she and I are likely no relation. Ball is a pretty common last name in England and the United States. As she's from left of the Delta region and my family came into Virginia early, we may well have no common ancestors. We sure don't look anything alike. She's long and lanky. I have a chest and forequarters like a draft horse.

Nevertheless, I like to feel a link to a great blues singer.

We became aware of her through the annual Lowell Folk Festival. We interrupt this rambling rant to urge you to attend the festival. We never leave without discovering someone fabulous that we didn't know before. We always have a fresh CD in hand.

Oh, and if you need any other incentive, be aware that it is free. A whole day of music on multiple sound stages simultaneously is free. Whether you like whiny hillbilly, Cajun, Chicago blues, World, bluegrass, Irish or whatever, they have it. At any moment, something you'll love is playing. And, by the way, it's free.

Marcia has been at the festival numerous times. Also, lately she has been donating proceeds to Katrina victims in her own area. This week, she gave her concert as a fund raiser for the Folk Festival.

The concert was at the Boardinghouse Park, a great outdoor venue for live music. We left from where I work in South Boston and got to the DoubleTree on the canal in time for dinner before the 7:30 event.

For those who don't know Lowell, there is little fancy there. It is an industrial town, one that can deserve the term gritty. It was a key battleground for the American labor movement. Today, it has many earnest lefties, like Dick Howe of the Democratic City Committee and of course, everyone's favorite rabble rouser, Lynne at LeftinLowell.

Its compact little downtown also has a lot of pub-type restaurants, plus a few yuppie, veal-piccata ones and several Portuguese havens. It turns out that Lowell is closed on July 3rd and 4th. I guess folk go to Boston for the Pops, because they weren't there.

Most restaurants were closed. Fortunato's was jammed and the waitron said service would take a long, long time. We ended up at the nearby Bombay Mahal, very good food, accurately spiced to order, and with excellent service, as we were at one of two occupied tables. The owner said he had been there for 16 years and had gotten used to the town being deserted on the Fourth of July. He didn't know where people went, but it wasn't to restaurants and wasn't to downtown.

Anyway, we got served in time to walk the three blocks to the park and settle in before she started. The area was pretty full, but for some reason, there were a dozen or so empty places on the grass up front outside of the reserved for big spenders (the $50 tickets instead of $20 ones) area. We put it down 25 feet from the stage.

It was good to be close. She travels with a guitarist, bass guitarist, sax player and drummer. She brutalizes and persecutes her electric piano to great effect. So, it was not the type of concert that relies on hugely amplified speakers to cover for the meager talents of the band. Closer is better with Marcia Ball.

As always, she got people screaming, dancing and shaking. That's a bit deceptive in that she is not a huge stage presence like some second and third-rate musicians. I think of seeing the Four Seasons, Frank Sinatra and Wayne Newton. None of them was ever all that good musically or vocally, but they gave a great show, they dominated the room and you left feeling you have really been entertained.

Marcia brings it right to your ears. She pounds the keyboard like Jerry Lee Lewis (but a better player) and she delivers passion and humor with vitality.

She did a double set and covered about everything I love from her CDs. Up top, she used her classic Redbeans, she tore into Soulful Dress, and just when I thought she'd leave off my beloved Let Me Play With Your Poodle, she ended her second set with it.

We went back to the hotel, towering nine stories above the canal, rocking and happy.

The next morning, we had breakfast in the hotel before heading back to the visiting relatives we had abandoned in our Boston house. Checking out, we told the desk clerk who was curious why we were there for one day from Boston that we had come up for that concert.

She asked if we had seen her, that the band was on the same, small floor of the hotel. Not only had we not seen her, they must have come in either very late (unlikely in Lowell) or very quietly. We weren't roused.

Our folk were expecting us and there was no time to hang around in hopes of running into an almost certainly non-relative to heap praise upon her.

So, we heard Marcia Ball again and sat at her feet. We'll have to make sure we say, "Hey," the next opportunity.

On the way out, my wife called to the clerk, "Tell her that her cousin said, 'Hello.'"

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michali said...

sounds like a fun 4th of july weekend. It seems so interesting that she would have the same last name as you. I didn't think that your last name is so common (like Smith).

Send me your favorite some in mp3 to listen to. I wonder if I will like her too :-)


Mass Marrier said...

It's funny about the name frequency. Ball is pretty common. You can see it if you pick up a white-page directory in any city.

The U.S. Census also keeps tabs of last names. Out of the nearly 89,000 it records, Ball is 320. This puts it above such names as Keller, Chandler, Leonard, Welsh, Lyons, Wolfe, Benson, Baldwin, Griffith and on and on and on.

I'd bet a lot of money though that it would rank pretty damned low in Tel Aviv.

I'm not close to a Marcia Ball CD, but you can hear snatches right away on her site. Click on an album on the left and a tune. She's raw and fun.