9 Tunes from Sousa to Shostakovich: The Southeast Iowa Band Sparkles in Fairfield, Iowa

Performing selections ranging from Sousa’s energetic The Thunderer march to Henry Mancini’s iconic Tango Americano and closing with the seductive Danzon No. 2 , the Southeast Iowa Band under the baton of Robert McConnell wowed its audience Sunday afternoon as part of the Sondheim Chamber Music Spotlight Series. First, a confession: I was unaware of the Southeast Iowa Band (SEIB) until I saw an email advertising this concert. I also had never set foot in the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover both the modern style and supurb acoustics of … Read more

Elvis Lives! Rockin’ with the Philly Pops, Dave Bennett, and Allison Blackwell

The King lived again in October as the Philadelphia Pops presented the World Premiere of “Elvis: The King’s Songbook” at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.  Featured artists Dave Bennett and his Quartet, along with vocalist Allison Blackwell, had the crowd singing and dancing along with their unique interpretations of classic Elvis tunes backed by orchestration performed by the superb Philly Pops’ musicians. When I learned about a month ago that one of my favorite musicians, Dave Bennett, would be performing an evening of Elvis tunes in conjunction with the Philadelphia Pops (and a “world premiere” performance to boot), … Read more

What’s all the Hullabaloo at the What Cheer Opera House?

  Built in 1893 and restored in the 1960’s, the Opera House in the tiny town of What Cheer, Iowa (pop. 646) continues to entertain audiences with a variety of bluegrass, country, and brass ensemble concerts. Driving into the small Iowa town of What Cheer on the main thoroughfare (state highway 21), one barely glances at the two-story faded red brick building halfway down the hill, except perhaps to note the lighted marquee to the side announcing an upcoming concert.  Climb the concrete steps into the foyer of the building, however, and you’ll be transported back a century to a … Read more

“Young Elvis” Travis LeDoyt wows crowd in Cedar Falls

Travis LeDoyt, billed as “The World’s Best Young Elvis,” crooned, gyrated, pounded the ivories, and kissed his way into the audience’s hearts as he performed “A Tribute to the King!” on stage at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa to kick-off the 2016-2017 season of the Metro Community Concert Association. The spacious Gallagher-Bluedorn auditorium, situated on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa, seats 1600 and was more than half full for the Sunday 3 p.m. concert showcasing Travis LeDoyt, a 39-year-old Nashville-based singer backed by a trio of musicians (Steve Underwood on drums, Larry Garvin … Read more

New Orleans: Take a Break from Bourbon Street with Piano Virtuoso Kirk Branch

When the noise and frenzied crowds of the French Quarter start to get the best of you, relax and recharge in the lobby of the Omni Royal Orleans hotel with live entertainment from pianist Kirk Branch and vocalist YaDonna West. I was in New Orleans for a conference the weekend of September 16-18, 2016, and as anyone who’s been in the French Quarter at night knows, the crowds and noise from the bars and street musicians can be intense.  While this frenzied atmosphere is part of the ambiance of New Orleans, it sometimes can be overwhelming to the senses.  If … Read more

Des Moines Symphony Season Debut: Beethoven’s Ode to Joy

Des Moines Symphony’s Season Debut wows with William Tell and Brandenberg Concerto No. 5, but drags on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. On an overcast Fall Sunday afternoon my daughter Lizzie and I attended the 2:30 pm performance of the Des Moines Symphony in the Des Moines Civic Center. This is a downtown location and parking sometimes can be dicey, especially during the work week, but on the weekends street parking is free and we found a “back-in parking” place a few blocks away on the Court Avenue bridge. Valet parking and parking garages were also available and on cold winter … Read more

John Williams and Hot Club Gypsy Jazz: A Review of the Southeast Iowa Symphony Orchestra’s 2016 Pops Concert featuring the Faux Frenchmen

The 2016 Pops Concert in Ottumwa offered a variety of toe-tapping melodies drawn from popular movie soundtracks and showcased soloists from the orchestra’s ranks of excellent musicians.  A concert bonus was the Cincinnati-based quartet the Faux Frenchmen, who wowed the audience with their acoustic string “Gypsy Jazz” selections.  Last Saturday evening  I cruised an hour south along 2-lane highways cutting through fields of browning corn stalks for a night of magical music in Ottumwa, Iowa.  The theater at the Bridge View Center, built in 2007 and with a terrace fronting the Des Moines River, provided the perfect setting for the … Read more

Victoria Banks at the Paramount Theatre, Cedar Rapids, IA

Victoria Banks, Canadian singer/songwriter, opened the Cedar Rapids Community Concert Assn’s 2016-2017 season with crowd-pleasing melodies and engaging conversation at the beautiful Paramount Theatre. On Friday, September 9, 2016, I attended a great concert by Victoria Banks, a Canadian turned Nashville-based songwriter/singer.  The concert was the kick-off to her United States tour and was the first concert of the season for the Cedar Rapids Community Concert Association.   First a plug for this community concert group: the organization, which relies on funding from community sponsors such as radio stations and businesses, offers five concerts from September through April and as … Read more