Greenwich Town Party: A Wickedly Good Surprise
by Holley Dey, Louise Uznanski, Richard Uznanski
Greenwich Town Party organizer Mark Vallely was at the microphone and in mid sentence when he was abruptly interrupted. Seems the Town Party was also a birthday party, and the crowd was encouraged to sing their congratulations. We did, nearly in unison and almost in tune. Mark was then informed that his birthday gift was ready. When the deliveryman was called from the wings, there was a collective gasp from the crowd and a sudden surge to the front as singer/songwriter Dave Matthews took center stage for an unannounced and unexpected solo acoustic set.
It was Dave and his guitar for just six songs (“Crush”, “Save Me”, “So Damn Lucky”, “You & Me”, “Stay or Leave”, and a cover of “A Whiter Shade of Pale”), but those six brought a day-long smile to one of our group, causing him to declare the event a complete success before it was half done. Dave’s delivery was laidback and unassuming; this was a casual and intimate performance shared among friends. He was in good voice and good humor. On a hot and steamy day he was handed a cup of tea on stage and joked ruefully, “This is a delicious hot beverage….wearing corduroys….planning ahead!”
Clearly a good deal of planning went into this Memorial Day weekend event. There were games, hula hoops and elaborate face painting for the very young, and a full schedule of musical performances on two stages for both the young and not as young. A variety of food was provided by local restaurants, and a barbeque “grill off” included nine participating vendors. While J.C.’s Wicked BBQ emerged the victor, I’m here to tell you that the competition was stiff, and Big Ed can bring that peach flavored pork and raspberry chicken around any day!
The weather cooperated early, and the crowd enjoyed the reggae sounds of The Wailers and the upbeat, contemporary Christian tunes of Kirk Franklin before rain forced a ninety minute delay. It was Franklin that had strangers holding hands and swaying to the music, and it was Franklin that led aerobics class from the stage, encouraging the audience to jump in time to the beat. It is Franklin that I credit for the crooked smile on my face and the shooting pain in my calves twenty-four hours later.
Grace Potter came to the stage as the rain slowed; “hot” was a double, no, a triple entendre. Short shorts, glistening, loose fitting top and sparkling boots matched an equally steamy performance. “Ooh la la” rang from both sides of the stage as Grace and the Nocturnals offered a rain shortened set that included several fan favorites (“Ah Mary”, “Apologies”, “Paris” and “Nothing but the Water” among others) as well as new beat driven tune “Turntable”. Grace and the band seemed to have as much fun as the crowd. “You all look moist” teased Grace. Suffice to say that we now own tickets to the Nocturnal’s upcoming Connecticut show.
Next to the main stage came the Tedeschi Trucks Band. This was a first opportunity to hear the Band live, and we were completely taken by Susan’s gritty, expressive vocals and the finely honed skills of her bandmates. Derek Trucks offered several smokin’ guitar solos and Mike Mattison took lead blues vocals on “I Know”. Several standouts from the set are also found on the Band’s newly released live album, Everybody’s Talkin‘, including “Bound for Glory” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin”. Outstanding musicianship and a solid set of original tunes – we’re looking forward to the Grammy winner’s headlining set at next week’s Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival.
Paul Simon closed the night on the main stage and celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the groundbreaking Graceland by playing several songs from that album, including the title track, “Gumboots” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”. There was a twinkle in his eye when he told the crowd that he’d come a long way for this gig, driving down the Merritt Parkway from New Canaan. Truth be told, the septuagenarian’s vocals are not as strong as the tracks recorded a quarter century ago, but the songs and the arrangement of those songs remain as fresh and vibrant as ever. It was a joy to watch Mr. Simon actively direct the band through the set list and share his good humor with the audience and long-term band members, including fretless bass player Bakithi Kumalo, a twenty-five year band veteran.
May 26 was a remarkable day of live musical entertainment shared among friends. Congratulations to the organizers, sponsors and attendees of the Greenwich Town Party for creating an event that will be long remembered.
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