ArtBeat pulses with variety
From Arabic to Appalachian
Better red than rain? For this year’s ArtBeat festival, which runs tonight through tomorrow evening with more than a dozen bands and scores of craft vendors, that bold color is the theme, rather than one that encourages precipitation.
“One year we did water, and I think it actually rained,’’ says Rachel Strutt, program manager for the Somerville Arts Council, which is overseeing the 26th installment of ArtBeat. “So we were joking that we’d better be careful with red. We don’t want to cause any fires.’’
That said, there will be a steel-and-fire sculpture called “Burning Bush,’’ designed to catch the eye at the main traffic island in Davis Square tonight. Other less flammable red-themed attractions include Saturday’s Red Menace Parade, a procession of Brazilian drummers toting large red hearts and flags, and the Navarasa Dance Theater’s performance of “Kempu (Red),’’ a dance that explores the color’s emotional elements: passion, attraction, fear, and love.
Strutt compares organizing ArtBeat to “putting together a giant, giant puzzle. But somehow magically, it all does come together.’’ Much like Somerville itself, she says, “it’s moderately controlled chaos.’’
At the center of the bedlam - as always - is music, including some of the best of what the region has to offer. When the call went out for talent this year, roughly 60 bands responded to fill the 14 available spots. (You can see a complete roster and schedule at www.somervilleartscouncil.org).
“It’s pretty competitive,’’ Strutt says. “Obviously we want stuff that’s really good, and stuff that’s really diverse. But there’s such a large and vibrant community of artists, so we have a really great talent pool.’’
Here are some (highly subjective) highlights:
ATLAS SOUL (7:30 tonight, Park Stage, Seven Hills Park)
Five-time Boston Music Award nominees Atlas Soul sing in more languages than most of us can speak. Based in Boston but fluent in French, Arabic, Hebrew, and yes, even English, the crew mixes a swirling stew of North African funk, Middle Eastern melodies, and jazzy grooves to pull listeners to the dance floor, street, or sidewalk.
MEAN CREEK (9 tonight, Park Stage, Seven Hills Park)
They’ve graduated from buzzed-about up-and-comers with ambitions as big as their sound to the band to beat when it comes to incendiary live shows. On Mean Creek’s epic new single, “The Land of Hopes and Dreams,’’ singer-guitarist Chris Keene’s canyon-wide vocals recall the pipes and presence of the Sheila Divine’s Aaron Perrino, another needle-in-the-red belter of some local renown. If you wonder whether that’s an air-raid siren you’re hearing or merely Mean Creek, chances are there’s no need for alarm.
TARBOX RAMBLERS (1 p.m., tomorrow, Park Stage, Seven Hills Park)
It’s been way too long since we heard a new album from Cambridge’s finest purveyors of stark Appalachian folk and dark hill country blues (that would be 2004’s “A Fix Back East’’). Happily for fans, lead Rambler Michael Tarbox’s 2009 solo effort, “My Primitive Joy,’’ marked the singer-songwriter’s return during the group’s absence. Live, the Ramblers’ music - which travels the backwoods and back roads of America’s past, carried along by Tarbox’s snaking slide guitar - remains as charred, scarred, and tarred as ever.
SOMERVILLE SYMPHONY ORKESTAR (3 p.m., tomorrow, Park Stage, Seven Hills Park)
Any orchestra - oops, excuse us, “orkestar’’ - that names its songs “Into the Wood Chipper’’ and “What a Bad Goat’’ is bound to be unconventional. Calling itself an “Eastern European punk funk’’ band may be easier said than done, but this group - buoyed by brass, percussion, and some truly inspired headgear - effortlessly blends Balkan, klezmer, and traditional Russian music and keeps both its tempos and temperament lively.
THE CINNAMON FUZZ (3:30 p.m., tomorrow, Elm Street Stage)
With ’80s MTV-ready day-glo fashions, squiggly synth lines, and a debut EP produced by a guy who’s worked with Duran Duran, this Boston trio’s got one foot in the past (though the members are probably too young to have actually lived through it) and an eye on the future, which might be so bright they gotta wear shades (ask your parents, kids). Armed with Ocasek-ian pop tunes like “Reboot My Heart,’’ they sound like the Cars’ kid brothers.
TALLAHASSEE (4:30 p.m., tomorrow, Elm Street Stage)
Who knew that a guy who hit so hard could sing so soft? This Boston-by-way-of-Providence quartet is almost certainly the only band in memory fronted by a former NFL offensive lineman (singer-songwriter Brian Barthelmes played for the Pats, no less). But that would be a mere novelty were it not for the fact that the guy can actually sing, play, and write rustic songs whose poignancy and pathos bring to mind Rhode Island-bred brethren like the Low
Jonathan Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.