Friday, May 31, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: RPO’s “The Rite of Spring, and Rachmaninoff”

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Guest conductor Tito Munoz pulled out all the stops Thursday night as he conducted the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in Igor Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du printemps" ("The Rite of Spring"). The musicians of the orchestra filled the stage, including no fewer than 10 kettledrums and a gong struck by a huge mallet. It was precisely the kind of chandelier-rattling sound Stravinsky intended, and it left me wondering why the word "spring" appears anywhere in the title. It was clear that Munoz not only knows, but loves this iconic piece by Stravinsky.

Also on the program, which will be repeated on Saturday night, was "Finding Rothko" by American composer Adam Schoenberg (b. 1980). Part of the 15-minute work inspired by painter Mark Rothko is available for previewing on the composer's website ( Some of the longer, sustained notes captured the majestic emotions a viewer experiences when standing in a gallery, viewing Rothko's canvases. But was the piece true to Rothko, the artist? You'll have to let me know your thoughts, because I can't say I would ever have thought to use, for example, a triangle or the upper registers of metal xylophones to express either his work, particularly post-1947, or to describe my own reaction to his work. It was an interesting piece to hear, particularly on the same program as the Stravinsky.

The long work of the program was the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3 in d-minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 30, a work in three movements, of approximately 45 minutes in length. At the piano was Leonardo Colafelice, 17 years old, and the gold medalist of the 2012 Eastman Young Artists International Piano Competition, among other global piano contests.

Colafelice's performance raised every question associated with a young musician, competitions, and the bridge from competitions to professional orchestras. There is a line of argument in the classical-music world that puts these monster concertos on the "approved" list for contestant selection. There is a thrill among audiences who revel in watching a young person with hands blurred as they dash up and down the keyboard. There's even a willingness for some to say that they don't care if a young musician has missed notes because, "Just imagine how good it will be." And there can be an unheralded talent at the baton, when a conductor understands working with a young musician who is a guest soloist.

The issue I debated last night was whether to write a review considering Colafelice's age, or whether to write a review as if I didn't know how old he is. What I can say, having followed his performances during the competitive and final rounds in last year's Eastman competition, is that Colafelice is demonstrating measurable growth as a pianist. It is clear that he engages in disciplined practice and it is abundantly clear that his stage presence reflects the many, well-deserved bows taken by this young man.

But, I am going to raise the question of programming for Colafelice. Rachmaninoff is, by my sensibilities, the God of composers for the piano. Rachmaninoff is so much more than a beautiful melody or a flash of hands or the lowest of notes. Rachmaninoff is about artistry and about the complexity of emotions, especially love.

The opening theme, which repeats several times, is deceptive. It is a single note, the same in each hand. And yet, it is exquisite as a melody with phrasing. Each of those repetitions should be blocked off and pulled out and considered. What is the relationship of one to the next? What has happened in between to advance the story? Where will it eventually culminate, and how do you use the earlier presentations to build toward that end? The melody, most especially the first time it is played, is not a simple line of individual notes.

Another early consideration for any soloist with an orchestra is the relationship of the instrument to the orchestra. Just because the soloist is out in front does not stop the soloist from having to learn the complete score. So, for example, in the latter part of the first movement, there is a conversation between the piano, the flute, and the oboe. These three instruments should be speaking with each other and wrapping each other's sounds into a blend that pulls the orchestra along with it.

And so yes, I agree, I look forward to hearing Colafelice perform the Rachmaninoff third piano concerto some years hence. But, for me, on Thursday night the gap was too wide between a performance in a competition of peers, and a performance with a professional orchestra of the RPO's caliber.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra will repeat the program Saturday, June 1, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information visit

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Concert Review: The Clockmen and Fox Force 5 at the Bug Jar

Posted By on Thu, May 30, 2013 at 12:10 PM

'Twas damp and cool within the Bug Jar's walls Wednesday night as a damp and hot Clockmen banged on the beautiful crowd like a brass-knuckled Basilio with a body bag. I've seen these cats a number of times, and this show's particularly ragged onslaught was one of the best. Recently the phrase "food-truck rodeo" has popped up in our lackadaisical lexicon. And I got to thinking: The Clockmen are the soundtrack to a truck rodeo where larger-than-life dudes in big hats wrestle Mustangs and Broncos and Rams, and busty midget cowgirls on horseback fire confetti cannons and firehoses hooked up to tanks of Genesee Cream Ale, and monkeys with jetpacks fly a...


Anyway, the band's superiority is a result of its raw imperfections. At one point the bass and drums seemed to be playing at different time signatures. If this wasn't on purpose, it still sounded pretty cool. The set was loud and urgent, and slightly celebratory as it was announced that a little Clockman is due in November.

After that set the four members of Fox Force 5 took the stage for the band's highly anticipated world debut. All musicians know that you can only have one first time. You can have a pile of crappy shows, a pile of great shows, but that vertigo-inducing belly flop you get from popping your bandstand cherry only happens once. I was thrilled to see and feel this new punk outfit's utter glee as it raged through its raunchy set. The tightening up I was initially going to say the band needed actually happened while it was on stage. Give 'em a listen, they'll rock your pants. The hard part's over.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Concert Review: Nikki Hill at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Wednesday night the sky looked like one big black eye as I moseyed the grey ghost downtown. I had heard word from my buddy Jason (he's the one who turned me onto Morphine) that North Carolina knockout Nikki Hill simply had to be seen. I dove into the fracas she was creating at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and was promptly blown away. So was the crowd who clapped thunderously between thunderclaps.

The crowded dance floor was in a rapid boil. This was some of the best r&b-injected, soul-ified kick in the blues I have ever heard. Hill commanded the stage perched on sparkly mules and beneath a sky-high turban channeling the sweet 'n' sour bouquet of switchblades that was once held by Etta James.

Hill's voice was sweet with just a hint of ragged rust that shone through whenever she leaned on a note. This was like a less punk-careening , more authentic-leaning Detroit Cobras. Her band was top notch as it wove through a set of awesome originals, punctuated by some Little Richard, Otis Redding, Irma Thomas, and so on.

Between sets, I stood out in the parking lot with the band discussing its expert take on TarheelSlim's "Number 9 Train." How do you like that? I thought me and Steve Grills were the only ones around who cared about Tarheel Slim.

Nikki Hill returns to Rochester to play Abilene in July. Be there, I'm warning you. Hell, I'm gonna go twice.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Concert Review: The Slackers, Mikaela Davis, The Smithereens, Big Sandy

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 11:46 AM

UPDATE 5/21/13 to correct the spelling of Pat DiNizio's name.

The Slackers are just so cool. The Bug Jar was like a Frigidaire when these Brooklyn cats rolled through town to rock steady last Thursday night. The band's groove is punctuated by an understated beat; it hits your hips and feet but never clobbers you over the head. And sure the groove is a solid, mid-tempo, pulsing ska, but elements like David Hillyard's funky phrasing, hint at much more. The band sounded fantastic, though I would have dug a few more selections off its "Redlight" CD.

Friday afternoon marked my first plunge of the year into the sea of flowers and fried dough that is the Rochester Lilac Festival. Mikaela Davis was on stage with her abbreviated band and her mysteriously captivating sound. Davis' harp dwarfed its diminutive master as she coaxed a wash of electric, eclectic color from the instrument. It was further complimented by some colorful guitar accents and trills that in spots sounded psychedelic. Her overall sound was gentle and sweet. This is what I imagine lilacs sound like.

After Davis' dewy delights, came the sweat, leather, and denim of the upstate troubadours in The Brian Lindsay Band. As I've said many times before, Lindsay is our version The Boss -- imagine "Darkness on the Edge of Smugtown." Lindsay and his tight band of outlaws were loud and solid and rocking with a set of hard-hitting Americana, celebrating where we stomp, hang our hats, pick up our women, and brag about all of it. And there's just something about a Telecaster turned up and banged on and twanged on by a man with something to say.

Power-chord masters from New Jersey The Smithereens followed with a cool set of hits opening with "Only A Memory" and closing with "A Girl Like You" with plenty of nods to The Beatles and The Who, along with the band's own lengthy catalogue in a generous 90-minute set. The guitars were big and loud and front man Pat DiNizio -- also big and loud -- still has his smooth baritone intact, and was a charming host as the crowd lapped it up in the glow of the setting sun.

Made it back to the festival one more day to see Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys play some simply perfect Western swing. Dressed in Hawaiian shirts and cowboy boots, the band was the stylistic equivalent of the sound on stage. Guitarist Ashley Kingman was on fire as the band wove in and out of its 25-year catalogue, playing for the rug-cutters who adapted to the grass and dandelions.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Concert Review: David Mayfield Parade, Jeremy Laurson, Teressa Wilcox Band

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2013 at 1:40 PM

Friday night marked the first part of The David Mayfield Parade's two-night stand at Abilene. By the time I made the scene the place was packed and sufficiently lubricated on Genny, Jim, and Jack, and show openers The Tarbox Ramblers' opening set was full of lowdown, drop-tune, and swampy Beantown voodoo.

The headliners from Columbus, Ohio, kicked off in high gear, playing hella loose and reckless, and succeeded in winding things up high and tight like a first-time inmate's haircut. Mayfield's guitar work is utterly brilliant and mad in a sort of demolition-derby way. It sounds as if the guitar can't make up its mind, or has ideas of its own as the frets shout at Mayfield's fingers, "Go here; no, go here. That's right, now here. That's it, that's it. Now doesn't that sound cool?"

Cool collided with beautiful when, toward the end of the set, Mayfield and his stage-right bottle-blonde vocalist ventured into the crowd to harmonize a gorgeous lament over each other's honky-tonk heart.

Saturday night was a big surprise as I discovered a fantastic Rochester singer/songwriter named Jeremy Laurson as he played at Tala Vera. Backed by a thrown-together-yet-capable back-up band made up of members of Meta Accord and Moon Zombies, Laurson went from hook-laden heavy pop to gentle-as-the-dust-in-the-air salvos. His guitar work was efficient and interesting but hard to classify (in a good way). It was understated and casual, leaving room for the material to swell sweet bordering on epic in its impact.

From the jungles of Vermont, Bow Thayer & Perfect Trainwreck rolled into town and followed Laurson's killer set with a banjo- and guitar-driven set that riffed heavy with the ghost of Dylan floating between the lines.

Drove the Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry, so I drove the Caddy to The Dinosaur and stumbled in as The Teressa Wilcox Band was sinking its teeth into Lucinda Williams' "Joy," with blood running from its grin down its chin. Sure, it's Wilcox who all the eyeballs gravitate toward. But every single player up on that stage is a major-league heavy hitter.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Concert Review: NEXUS and the RPO

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 10:29 AM

The audience at Thursday night's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performance (Peter Bay, guest conductor) was treated to a "sound bath" - there is no other way to describe the beautiful and interesting composition "From Me Flows What You Call Time," by Toru Takemitsu, performed with NEXUS percussion ensemble. Paired with Karen Tanaka's "Water of Life," this is a must-hear concert.

The first half of the program was only the Takemitsu work, and it deserved to stand alone. The stage was filled with the orchestra musicians, as well as the five percussionists of NEXUS. Each of the percussionists occupied a large space. Two percussionists were in multi-sided, multi-rowed sound cages filled with all sizes and types of bells, gongs, cymbals, drums, wood blocks, wooden jiggers, and rain sticks. These areas were approximately 7' high by 6' wide per side. The middle percussionist had xylophone and, primarily, several large steel drums. The two back percussionists had xylophones and more bells, gongs, and cymbals. On each front wing of the stage was a tall, wide bar, supporting more than 20 long chimes. The metal instruments were made of all types of metals, thickness, shape, and sizes. And each percussionist used a variety of mallets.

NEXUS was a feast for the eyes, as well as the ears. Each percussionist moved as if taking part in a water ballet. The entire arc of their bodies was part of the creation of the sound. At one point, percussionist Bill Cahn created the loudest sound of the work, a sort of rolling thunder on a huge cymbal that began with the smallest of movement, but rose gently and surely through larger and larger movements, creating more and more sound until it started to recede to where he was barely moving, even as the smallest of sounds still penetrated to the upper reaches of the hall.

The Tanaka piece "Water of Life" was a world premiere with the composer in the house. Like the Takemitsu work, the Tanaka piece captured nature with perfection. I could just as easily have closed my eyes and believed I was standing at the shore, so closely did the music emulate both the surface and the undersea experience. Even so, each composer's work was distinct. The Takemitsu composition was as highly abstract as wind, while the Tanaka composition had a sufficient blending of recognizable elements to give it a more grounded, standing-at-water's-edge feeling.

As per the program notes, Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) was a Japanese composer. Karen Tanaka was also born in Japan (b. 1961). The Takemitsu piece was inspired by a poem, "Clear Blue Water" by Makoto Ooka, and the Tibetan "Wind Horse." The Tanaka piece found inspiration from the Biblical reference to the water of life, and is a prayer for the tsunami victims in Japan.

The RPO always impresses me when it takes on these grand works that couldn't possibly have a readable score. Works that seem to lack the Western version of a metronome tick-tocking.Works that depart, or maybe never begin, with classical form. And, while there has been much intentional public relations coming out of the RPO to advertise its purpose in seeking out lesser-known composers, what I would say is look for more of these spectacular, memorable works from anywhere around the globe and then allow your audience to say, "I want to hear more of that."

I was not, however, as "joyeuse" with the performance of the French composers' works on the program. By Maurice Ravel, there was "Menuet antique" and "Le Tombeau de Couperin," and by Lili Boulanger, there was "D'un matin de printemps" (On a Spring Morning). My first consideration was whether these pieces were an appropriate pairing with the Takemitsu and Tanaka because, as performed, the styles were too different. My second comment is that I was not convinced as to the performances being in the true style of the composers, the eras, or the opportunities for performance idioms that could have used a more French romantic interpretation to generate a more cohesive overall concert.

The RPO will perform the program again Saturday, May 11, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. $15-$82.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Concert Review: Hate Machine Farewell Show

Posted By on Mon, May 6, 2013 at 12:13 PM

It takes a lot of guts to leave the party while it's still hoppin', but that's exactly what Hate Machine did Friday night at Montage Music Hall to a rabid -- albeit bummed -- crowd. Early in the set singer Jed Seaver stopped between songs to explain. "We've hit the plateau and have nowhere else to go," he said. I can totally dig this; bowing out before you undo your cool, before fans start referring to your old material as your best.

Still, it was a shame to see the band go (unless this is a break-up a la The Who and KISS and countless other "retirees" who get back together whenever their kids need braces or the alimony gets a little steep). So far this was a farewell in style, with a brilliant, thundering, and exuberant set of heavy and hard from the band and a volatile mix of flying elbows, pumping fists, and general mayhem in the crowd. I suppose you could call it a love machine for Hate Machine. RIP.

Absolution Project offered heavy absolution prior to The Hate Machine send off as I shuffled into the packed house. In the same vein and strain as Hate Machine, AP punctuates its punches with patches of melodic free-fall. Consequently, when the pounding returns it takes your breath away.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Concert Announcement: RPO Summer Season, including "Glee"'s Matthew Morrison

Posted on Fri, May 3, 2013 at 2:51 PM

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra announced its summer 2013 season this afternoon. The schedule includes a 1920's themed 90th anniversary concert, regional concerts in Inlet and Geneseo, and will be headlined by a Pops performance featuring Broadway star Matthew Morrison, best known for his leading role on the TV musical drama "Glee."

The full press release appears below.

Rochester, NY - The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) announces its summer season today, which kicks off on Wednesday, July 3at 8 p.m. atConstellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center (CMAC) withthe previously-announcedCelebrate America with the RPO*, and closes with a Summer Pops Special Concertfeaturing actor, dancer, singer/songwriter, musician and Glee star Matthew Morrison at Kodak Hall on Saturday, July 20 at 8 p.m. **

Between the chock-full season's opener and closer are nine other events, including a Summer Classics Special Concert: Ward Stare Conducts Mozart & Beethovenfeaturing the Rochester native returning to conduct the RPO at Kodak Hall on Friday, July 19at 8 p.m.***

A highlight of the 17-day season is certainly the RPO's 90th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, July 13 at 6 p.m. at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The 1920s-themed evening will feature an RPO performance conducted by Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, cocktails, dinner, dancing, and a live auction. Tickets are $200/person ($400/couple) and $1,500 for a table of eight. For individual/couple tickets, please call Michael Ciaccia at 585-454-7311 x268. To reserve a table of eight and learn about sponsorship opportunities, please call Brigid Ryan at 585-454-7311 x 243.

Free concerts include Thursday, July 4's Independence Day Concert at 9 p.m. on the Main Street Bridge in downtown Rochester (followed by fireworks at 10 p.m.), and Wegmans' Concerts by the Shore featuring the RPO on Wednesday, July 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Ontario Beach Park. Free with admission to the Red Wings game on Friday, July 5 isthe RPO'sPatriotic Celebration at Frontier Field at approximately 8:30 p.m., immediately following the game (with fireworks to follow concert).

The RPO heads out of town for An Evening with the Symphonyon Saturday, July 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Arrowhead Park in Inlet, NY. Tickets are $30 (concert only), $110 (concert and reception), with $10 lawn tickets available the night of the concert only, pending availability. For advance tickets, call 315-369-6983 or 315-357-5501. On Friday, July 12 at 8:30 p.m., the RPO presents Summer Spectacular with Fireworks (fireworks to follow concert) at SUNY Geneseo Athletic Field in Geneseo. Tickets are $10/$5 for students in advance, in person at the Eastman Theatre Box Office or at area Wegmans; by phone at (585) 454-2100; or online at; $12 and $6 the day of show at venue.

The annual Temple B'rith Kodesh Concert fundraiser on Thursday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. (2131 Elmwood Ave.) will also feature the Rochester Philharmonic League Young Artist Auditions' Special Award Winner, Pittsford baritone Aaron Bigeleisen.For tickets, call 585-244-7060. Eastman School of Music's Eastman Summer Conducting Institute on Thursday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Kodak Hall features the RPO with various conductors. Tickets are $15/$5 students (general admission), and are available at the Eastman Theatre Box Office or at area Wegmans; by phone at (585) 454-2100; or online at

RPO Summer Calendar:

Celebrate America with the RPO*: Wednesday, July 3; 8 PM; CMAC; Michael Butterman, cond.

Independence Day Concert: Thursday, July 4; 9 PM; Main St. Bridge; Michael Butterman, cond.

Patriotic Celebration: Friday, July 5; approx. 8:30 PM; Frontier Field; Michael Butterman, cond.

An Evening with the Symphony: Saturday, July 6; 7:30 PM; Inlet, NY; Michael Butterman, cond.

Wegmans' Concerts by the Shore: Wed., July 10; 7:30 PM; Ontario Beach Pk.; Matthew Kraemer, cond.

Temple B'rith Kodesh Concert: Thurs., July 11; 7:30 PM; B'rith Kodesh; Matthew Kraemer, cond.

Summer Spectacular with Fireworks: Fri., July 12; 8:30 PM; SUNY Geneseo; Matthew Kraemer, cond.

90th Anniversary Celebration: Saturday, July 13; 6 PM; Convention Center; Jeff Tyzik, cond.

Eastman Summer Conducting Institute: Thursday, July 18; 8 PM; Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre

Summer Classics Special Concert***: Friday, July 19; 8 PM; Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre

Summer Pops Special Concert**: Saturday, July 20; 8 PM; Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre

* Celebrate America with the RPO includes crowd-pleasing favorites such as "Stars and Stripes Forever" and the 1812 Overture, as well as iconic music by some of America's best-loved composers, including John Williams, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin and John Philip Sousa. Also featured is the Rochester Oratorio Society (Eric Townell, director) with Michael Butterman(The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair) conducting. The evening culminates with a spectacular fireworks display over the picturesque CMAC lawn. Tickets are $50 (table seats), $35-$20 (shell), and $15/free for children under 12 (lawn), and are available in person at the Blue Cross Arena Box Office, by phone at 800-745-3000 or 585-758-5330, or online at or

Tickets to both of the following concerts go on sale to the public on Monday, May 13 at 10 a.m. Current subscribers (either for 2012-13 or renewed for 2013-14) can take advantage of pre-sale beginning Monday, May 6 at 10 phone or in person only. Prices for both concerts range from $24 to $87 for box seats, and tickets are available in person at the Eastman Theatre Box Office (433 East Main Street) or at area Wegmans; by phone at (585) 454-2100; or online at

** Summer Pops Special Concert: Glee's Matthew Morrison. The Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe-nominated star may have come to national prominence through his role as the perpetually-optimistic high school teacher, Will Schuester, on Fox TV's Glee, but the Southern California native was turning heads years earlier on the Great White Way. After studying at Tisch School of The Arts in New York, Morrison made his Broadway debut in Footloose, followed by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. However, it was his role as Link Larkin in the original cast of Broadway's Hairspray that served as his breakthrough and led to Morrison being cast in the critically-acclaimed The Light in the Piazza, for which he garnered a Tony nomination. This June 4, Morrison releases a new album, Where it All Began, featuring a collection of classic standards produced by the legendary Phil Ramone - the first release from Adam Levine's new 222 Records. Morrison will sing with the Boston Pops in May and at Kennedy Center in November, but this will be his only area appearance. The program will feature standards, including Broadway and Hollywood favorites.

*** Summer Classics Special Concert: Ward StareConducts Mozart & Beethoven. The Pittsford native and current regular guest conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra made his triumphant RPO conducting debut with February 2013's Rhapsody in Blue program. The summer program will feature classical favorites including Mozart's lyrical Clarinet Concerto featuring RPO Principal Clarinet Kenneth Grant, Beethoven's dramatic Seventh Symphony, and Wagner's Flying Dutchman Overture.

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Concert Review: City Newspaper's 2013 Best Busker Contest

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2013 at 12:02 PM

What a splendiferous day it was for City Newspaper's annual Best Busker Contest in Rochester's East End. Competition for those precious little guitar picks was heated, as artists of varying degrees of talent and style whipped it out like there was no doubt. The streets were teaming with the curious, the converted, and the convinced. That begs the question: why doesn't our fair city implement buskers everywhere, all the time? Everybody needs a soundtrack. I know there's more cut in my strut when I hear a mellow saxophone or a snaky walking bass. However, banjos sometimes make me run in circles reciting, "Be my girl, Sally" by The Police. That ever happen to you?

One thing that struck me was that there ain'tno room for melancholy on the streets of Rochester. Those who pined or waxed forlorn did it alone. The highlights had to be the cat plucking at a genuine washtub bass, all the Delta-inspired bluesers, and one dude who would write a tune for you on the spot -- and I mean on the spot. Mine was entitled, "The laws against busking make Baby Jesus cry."

For photos of this year's contest, a list of the winners, and more information, click here.

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