In the cloistered world of classical music recordings, there is great interest in choral music by Catholic nuns these days. In the past year, two separate albums by a group of monastic nuns shot to the top of the classical charts.
Valerie June wants to be on your mind; to get inside your head. She writes or co-writes songs that mix blues, gospel, folk and soul, and which describe emotional isolation, financial deprivation and insecurity about her place in the world. She's unafraid to proclaim her neediness — perhaps because, possessed of a powerful voice, she knows that her vulnerability isn't likely to come off as passive or self-pitying on Pushin' Against a Stone.
Few musicians today are as versatile as Marcus Miller: bassist, keyboardist, bass clarinetist, film composer, producer and more. He does jazz, rock, jazz-rock, pop, R&B, smooth jazz — anything that black musicians have invented in the last half-century. He was in Miles Davis' last band, and the ethos of that music tends to carry over into his own. His band closed out day one on the main Fort stage.
A group of 20 students sits in a big circle in the front parlor of a Victorian mansion at Davis & Elkins College. Everyone has a fiddle. And all eyes are on the teacher. Heads bop and toes tap as Dave Bing plays a West Virginia tune called "Camp Chase." Outside, a bevy of banjos plink out a mournful melody. Down the road the mandolin and guitar classes combine to jam on a new tune they've learned.
Should you ever meet Donny McCaslin, you'll encounter an imposingly tall fellow who's one of the nicest guys you'll shake hands with — and who wields a sax like few others. His band has gone electro-funk with fuzz-dub bass, analog synths and hard grooves. One of his newer tunes is called "Stadium Jazz," which is a little tongue-in-cheek and with a little bit of the grand vision implied. They played a side stage in the morning. The audience didn't know what hit 'em.