Sandy Denny Tribute Concert, St Ann’s Church, Brooklyn

From: Levent Varlik, July 19, 2001

I've found a review of the concert in Rolling Stone's page, and copying below.

Levent Varlik

St. Ann's Church, Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov. 21, 1998
It was a noble gesture, albeit a bit heavy handed attimes: an evening celebrating the music of the late, great English folk pop singer Sandy Denny, as presented by a host of talented, but at times over-reverent, contemporary artists. The brainchild of musical director Peter Holsapple -who spearheaded a similar tribute to Nick Drake last year- the tribute concert featured an impressive roster of marquee singers ranging from Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish to enigmatic Englishman Robyn Hitchock to former Bangles Vicki Peterson and Michael Steele to R.E.M. vet Mike Mills, all backed by Holsapple's versatile Americana string band, the Continental Drifters.

Denny's untimely death at the age of thirty-one in1978 robbed the world of one modern music's loveliest voices. As a member (alongside guitarist Richard Thompson) of Fairport Convention in the Sixties and as a solo artist in the Seventies, Denny was one of the quiet titans of early electric folk. Possessed of a haunting alto and a yen for commanding arrangements of traditional songs as well for penning her own achingly lovely melodies ("Who Knows Where the Time Goes," "Listen, Listen," to name but two), she achieved that rare balance of equally enthusiastic admiration from critics, peers and, most tellingly for a folk artist, the public (Melody Maker readers voted her top British female vocalist in 1970 and '71). Rock audiences today might know her best from her scene-stealing harmony vocals on Led Zeppelin's "Battle of Evermore," but her body of work forms a cornerstone of influence for many of today's modern folk artists and singer/songwriters.

Needless to say, Holsapple & Co. deserve due credit for singling out a subject long overdue for the tribute treatment. The setting -an intimate, beautiful church in Brooklyn Heights which routinely hosts performances for discriminating music lovers-was perfectly suited for Denny's music, a somber offering of English folk balladry evoking mythic beauty, mystery and doomed love. But the evening would have been well served by a healthy injection of, if not frivolity, at least life. Even the condensed biography of Denny included in the program alludes to the singer's "boisterous personality," -so why the moratorium on even acknowledging the crowd with any more than a slight head nod from each performer? Despite the indelible spirit of the music, the "come out, don't speak, sing your song and go" rules had the unfortunate effect of turning what could've/should've been a joyous revival into a solemn high mass.

Fortunately, the music was for the most part fabulous, but that's to be expected with a cast this formidable working with such a solid catalog of material. Most of the female vocalists on tap -Katell Keineg, Vicki Peterson, Sloan Wainwright, Deni Bonet, Marti Jones, Susan Cowsill, Dana Kletter and Amanda Thorpe- played it safe, singing their Denny standards as close to the original as possible. The resulting homogeneity at times suggested a mini-Lilith Fair, but considering that if Denny were still around she'd probably be it, that was to be expected. Thankfully, the male singers on hand put a different spin on Denny's songs. Darius Rucker helped break the monotony by throwing the first curveball of the evening with his gravelly, energetic take on "Blackwaterside," followed shortly by Mike Mills' choirboy delivery of "It Suits Me Well." Sharper fare came with Jolene lead singer John Crooke's harrowing reading of "John the Gun," and Don Dixon's jazz/blues version of "Gold Dust," which was a mess, but at least offered a sense of much-needed jovial respite.

In the end, however, only two performers actually achieved musical transcendence: Irish-born, New York-based singer Susan McKeown and Robyn Hitchcock. McKeown, sandwiched in between Rucker and Mills, had the audacity to out-and-out upstage not only the talent around her, but the evening's muse herself. Denny's recording of the traditional gothic folk(lore) anthem "Tam Lin" on Fairport Convention's seminal Liege and Lief flirts with high drama but never quite delivers; McKeown grabbed both song and audience by the throat, dragged them through heaven and hell and back again, and left the stage to the loudest applause heard all evening. And Hitchcock's deceptively off-the-cuff reading of the equally epic "Mattie Groves" (literally read off a scrap of paper held in front of him) would have been a fine, invigorating note to end the evening on, even if it meant forsaking Katell Keineg's subsequent rote delivery of "the hit" ("Who Knows Where the Time Goes"), and the obligatory all-star "jam" on "Peace in the End." But of course, the prevailing theme tonight was all about convention.

Rolling Stone Magazine
(November 24, 1998)

From: No'am Newman , October 10, 2003

Originally posted on the Fairport list in November 1998

Dear All, as I promised:
St. Ann's Church is located on Montague Street, the main drag in Brooklyn Heights, about a 10-minute walk from the Brooklyn Bridge. This Saturday, Nov. 21st, I was fortunate to be 6th row center for an outstanding tribute to Sandy Denny. The setting was great, except for the lumpy church pew cushions.

A high vaulted, Gothic ceiling above a towering stained glass window frames the stage. The concert was sold out, the sound system impeccable, anticipation was high but I was not without trepidation - last year's Nick Drake tribute was a little too laid back for me.

The format was designed to have time for as much music as possible. After WFUV's Meg Griffin made some remarks, there were almost no introductions or remarks to the audience - the performers marched on and off, regardless of fame or audience reaction. The band was never introduced except as "The Continental Drifters" but included the leader, Peter Holsapple on piano, guitar, and mandolin, Deni Bonet on fiddle (very Swarbrickian at times), Vicki Petersen on various guitars, a cellist, bassist, drummer and guitarist whose names I never heard, Susan Cowsill and many others on background vocals and various lead singers.

In front of a stage crowded with equipment, musicians and instruments, Katell Keinig sang a gorgeous, stirring, a cappella and un-mic'd "Come All Ye". The band eased into the intro to "Listen, Listen" as Vicki Petersen, ex-Bangle, came out front for the lead vocal, singing verses in English and French. It was a terrific performance - soulful and honest, supported by an outstanding band. I cannot heap enough praise on this group of men and women. They were supernaturally suited to this music and recreated the originals without appearing as a "cover" band.

"Next Time Around" was sung in Sloan Wainright's (Loudon's sister?) deep, operatic tones. Different, but heartfelt. Deni Bonet of Public Radio's "Mountain Stage" band brought her fiddle up front for a beautiful "One-way Donkey Ride" that showcased this band's command over dynamics- they were very tuned-in to each other.

Michael Steele, also an ex-Bangle, did "Banks of the Nile" in a voice very reminiscent of Sandy's.
And now for something completely different - out steps Darius Rucker, the lead singer of Hooty and the Blowfish, to do an excellent "Blackwaterside".

Susan McKeown of the Chanting House sang a hypnotic "Tam Lin" backed by the band in a very Fairportish mode.

Another big name - Mike Mills of REM- came up front to sing "It Suits Me Well" in a voice that reminded me of Chris Leslie's.

This was followed by "Autopsy" performed by two women who must have been sisters, but who were billed as Dana Kletter. Their sisterly harmonies were effective in their reworking of this song.

Don Dixon performed "Gold Dust" followed by Susan Cowsill doing an emotional version of "At the End of the Day". And thus ended part one -this was only the halfway mark-. Incredible!

Part 2 began with Michael Steele's fine, "North Star Grassman and the Raven", and John Crook singing "John the Gun".

Another person completely unknown to me, Amanda Thorpe, stepped up and did an absolutely magnificent "Sailor's Life" This one was really eerie in its evocation of early Fairport - the band outdid itself.

Marti Jones did an energetic "Take Me Away" followed by Dana Kletter's "Stranger to Himself".

Susan McKeown sang a searing version of "Solo". I arrived at this concert with red eyes from allergies, but songs like this helped keep them that way.

Susan Cowsill did "I'm a Dreamer" before Robyn Hitchcock and his harmonica had a go at "Matty Groves". He was holding what looked like a handwritten copy of the lyrics. It was an interesting arrangement- very odd one note harmonica blasts over the band's accurate "Fairporting ".

Couldn't leave this one out - "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" saw the return of Katell Keonig who did a magnificent job.

Last, Marti Jones and Don Dixon came out to lead a rousing "Peace in the End".

Never fear, gentle readers, they weren't finished with us yet. You'll never guess what the first encore was. The one where everybody comes out and sings, of course, "Meet On the Ledge". There were about 9 female voices plus several guys on those choruses - Incredible.

At last, Amanda Thorpe backed by Holsapple on acoustic guitar, did a moving and appropriate "Farewell, Farewell".

Wow - what a show! Trust me, I'm not usually this positive. Aside from the odd off-pitch note here and there, I have no complaints. The only station that regularly plays Fairport, the great WFUV, broadcast it live. Does anyone have a copy? I'll try to find out if FUV will re-broadcast it.

Regards from Brooklyn

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