Music

Live At The Lincoln

Rebels with a cause

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

During the course of the coming days, the Lincoln Theatre will host three big-name acts—Bebel Gilberto (July 21), Leo Kottke (July 25), and Robert Cray (July 31)—and at first glance, it would seem the only thing they have in common is the historic venue at which they’ll perform.

But dig a little deeper and commonalities emerge.

Each got their start at an early age, and now have decades worth of experience and thousands of shows under their respective belts. Each boasts a devoted fan base, many of which have been along for the ride for most if not all of their musical journeys.

However, those are things shared by many artists who have been at this a minute. What Gilberto, Kottke, and Cray really have in common is the willingness to trust their own musical instincts, which has taken them in directions few could foresee, causing them to be travelers on the proverbial road less traveled.

This need to forge a singular path is perhaps most surprising and least surprising in Gilberto’s case. Most surprising because she is the offspring of musical legends—her father, Joao Gilberto, invented the bossa nova, and her mother, Miucha, came from a Brazilian music dynasty—and could easily have applied her considerable talent to furthering the more traditional forms of Brazilian music embraced by her parents. But an upbringing split between Rio de Janeiro and New York City led Gilberto to take the music of her folks, particularly the distinctive bossa nova sound created by her father, and marry it to everything from electronic elements to more acoustic lounge treatments.

However, Gilberto is no aimless wanderer. She’s all method and no madness, and no matter what direction she might take, it’s all in service to her incredible voice and in honor of her Brazilian heritage. Indeed her voice is so mesmerizing—smooth and ethereal, evoking her sun-soaked homeland—that her fans don’t mind when her lyrics are in a language they don’t speak and don’t know. Given that she’s spent the vast majority of her life on one stage or another, putting on a good show is second nature for Gilberto. But you need not take my word for that.

In Kottke’s career, which is even longer that Gilberto’s, I don’t know that the nimble finger-picker has ever tackled bossa nova music with his trusty acoustic guitar, but I have no doubt whatsoever he’d master it—in his own way—if he tried. Kottke’s path has always been an idiosyncratic one. He tried on the trombone and violin before settling on the guitar, and his picking style has been all his own from the beginning. He suffered hearing loss from a firecracker incident and somehow adapted it into his style rather than letting it limit him. After becoming a renowned guitarist with an international following, he suffered from tendinitis and nerve damage—likely attributable to his penchant for playing the 12-string guitar, a notorious musical taskmaster—that probably should’ve ended his career. True to form, Kottke took some time, assessed the obstacle and adapted, yet another example of a setback forcing him to evolve as an artist.

Ever the iconoclast, a little more than a decade ago, Kottke decided to stop recording and releasing albums. There was no grand statement or artistic manifesto issued. As he’s always done, he considered the situation, realized his heart was in touring and performing and not necessarily in the studio and that was that. Will he never record another album? Maybe. How can he get away with that? After half a century of being a unique, genre-blending, highly revered guitar innovator, Kottke has more than earned the right to call all his shots.

Which brings us to Robert Cray. Four-plus decades in the music business. Five Grammy awards. Member of the Blues Hall of Fame. Recipient of the Americana Music Lifetime Achievement Award. Collaborations with Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and more. Keith Richards once tapped him to play in a band backing Chuck Berry. A cameo in Animal House.

Those are just some of the high points of a life that’s had a fair amount of those. Oh, and he’s from Tacoma, by way of a few other places.

You might be thinking Tacoma is not a known bastion of traditional blues musicians, but, then again, Cray is far from traditional. In a genre in which adherence to tradition is everything and blurring the brightly drawn lines is considered taboo by purists, Cray defies all the norms and accepted customs. His skill is undeniable and his instincts are good, enabling him to meld blues with soul, jazz, rock and other genres in a way that often infuriates strict blues adherents but electrifies his fans and fellow musicians.

It is not an easy thing to buck the established norms and practices of the music industry. It’s even harder to do it and be successful. But to see the payoff of being a rebel with a cause, one need look no further than the Lincoln Theatre.

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