WOONSOCKET — From salsa and country to blues and mariachi, this season’s lineup of musical talent for the Levitt AMP series of Friday night concerts-in-the-park will feature flavors to satisfy every musical palate.
The 20-band lineup was revealed for the first time Tuesday night during a “band launch party” for sponsors and volunteers at the Millrace, 40 South Main St., the mixed use complex operated by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley. The nonprofit was one of several organizations and city agencies that won – for the second year in a row – a $25,000 matching grant from the Los Angeles-based Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation to stage the summer-long series of live musical performances.
Performers will be traveling from as far away as Louisiana to perform at River Island Art Park, adjacent to the Millrace, for this season’s event. This year’s lineup includes three Grammy Winning artists and two members of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. Opening acts are some of Rhode Island’s most well-known and esteemed musicians.
“They are incredibly diverse, offering something for everyone and a whole lot of danceable rhythms,” said Meghan Rego, spokeswoman for NeighborWorks. “ Acts were selected based on recommendations from the community and criteria from the series lead sponsor, the Levitt Foundation.”
The series kicks off on June 13 and features a concert by one or two ensembles every Friday through Aug. 23, providing not just music – but an incentive for locals and neighbors to come downtown.
“I view the 10-week Levitt AMP concert series as an endless cultural gift to us all,” said Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, who offered the welcoming remarks at the launch party. “Woonsocket is delighted to share its downtown and waterfront with the talented event performers, attendees and food vendors.”
The mayor said the event is the only host city for a Levitt AMP Concert series and one of only two in New England. She said it’s the perfect way for families to spent more time along the Blackstone River.
Her advice: “Bring your lawn chairs, blankets, appetite and dancing shoes to the Levitt AMP concert series at River Island Art Park.”
Here’s the lineup:
• June 14: P-Lowe and Chachi Carvalho, a kizomba and hip hop act. The double-header will recognize students graduating from Woonsocket High School, Mount St. Charles Academy and Beacon Charter High School for the Arts. P-Lowe is a kizomba artist born in America with Jamaican roots, known for blending native Jamaica sounds with rock, neo-soul and hip-hop into an upbeat, harmonious performance.
Carvalho is a native Rhode Islander whose influences reach into the Cape Verde Islands. He is a two-time winner of the Wild Out Wednesdays competition on BET’s 106 & Park. He recently won the 2014 Cape Verdean Music Award for best hip-hop act. His recent wave of accomplishments includes performances at the Kennedy Center, the Moshito Music Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, performances at the top music festivals in the Cape Verde Islands and back-to-back appearances at Rhode Island’s premier international music and arts festival, PVD FEST.
• June 21: Gerado Contino y Los Habeneros. A salsa band that mixes musical styles from its home in Cuba. Now based in New York, Los Habaneros features a young generation of Havana-trained musicians.
The performance features a warmup by OB Howard, an indie folk trio critics have described as “harmony-heavy folk-influenced rootsy goodness.”
• June 29: Two acts, Nalani & Sarina, plus the Southern Drawl Band. This two-fer combines the pop sounds of the New Jersey twins, Nalani and Sarina, with the country twang of Knoxville, Te., Southern Drawl Band.
• July 12: Hometown favorite Steve Smith and the Naked Truth. As Rhode Island as quahogs and Scarborough Beach, Smith’s rhythm ‘n’ blues ensemble is a 45-year musical tradition that’s earned him a spot in the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. They’re thrilled about coming back to the Levitt AMP series of the second year in a row, NeighborWorks says.
• July 19: Blues legend Luther Guitar Jr. Johnson. The 79-year-old Grammy Award winner hails from Mississippi and is known as one of the premier blues artists to emerge from the Chicago music scene. He’s played as a sideman for Magic Sam and Muddy Waters. Show features a warmup by The Brian James Quartet, a “not-your-grandma’s jazz band,” as NeighborWorks puts it. The foursome fuses elements of jazz, funk and rhythm ‘n’ blues.
• July 26: Doobie Powell. A gospel performer from Hartford, Doobie lives out his faith through music, producing five critically acclaimed albums. With a warmup peformance by homegrown Calvary Worship Center (Praise), led by Bishop Herson Gonzales, the group also includes his wife, Pastor Valerie Gonzales and Luis Acevedo. The church-based group mixes bi-lingual songs of faith in styles that range from traditional gospel to hip hop and R&B.
• Aug. 2: Kwame Binea Shakedown. A soul artist, Kwame Binea grew up in West London, with roots in Ghana, and spent his teenage years in Cherry Hill, N.J. His work is descried as a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, soul, screaming blues and folk. The performance features a warmup by The Z-Boyz, a surfer rock bank.
• Aug. 19: Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles. From Taunton, Mass., Borges blends punk and country and is the winner of an Americana Music Award nomination, multiple Boston Music Awards. She has song credits for TV shows “Sons of Anarchy” and “The Night Shift.” With a warmup performance by Sidy Maiga, a West African drumming ensemble. The eight-piece group includes a singer, dancer, a balafon – resembling a wooden xylophone – and the kora, an African stringed instrument.
• Aug. 16: Flor de Toloache, New York City’s first and only all-female mariachi band. The group’s musical dynamic is built on powerful vocal harmonies and searing solos rounded out by soaring violin, nimble vihuela, bright trumpets and the signature guitarron. The mariachi ladies will get a warmup from Julie Rhodes, a regional blues performer making her second appearance in the Levitt series.
• Aug. 23: Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience – an eighth-generation Louisiana Creole band featuring self-taught accordionist Simien. As one of the most respected and accomplished artists in American roots music, this two time Grammy Award-winning artist is internationally renowned for his danceable blend of New Orleans funk, reggae, blues and zydeco. The evening’s opener: Mark Cutler & The Men of Great Courage, a roots-rock band featuring the Rhode Island Hall of Famer – Cutler.
The series is possible thanks to the joint efforts of NeighborWorks, the Office of the Mayor, St. James Baptist Church, the Blackstone River Tourism Council and the Downtown Woonsocket Collaborative, who filed a joint application for the Levitt AMP series. The AMP stands for Amplify, Music and Place, and the concert series is dedicated to bringing live music to outdoor spaces.
The Levitt Foundation is a private philanthropy dedicated to strengthening the social fabric through live music. During the past decade, the foundation has awarded more than $20 million in grants to support free, high-caliber live music while bringing new life to public spaces.
NeighborWorks says the series would not be possible with support from a string of sponsors, including Ciro’s Tavern; Savini’s Pomodoro; Woonsocket State Reps. Michael Morin, Bob Phillips and Stephen Casey; Washington Trust; Navigant Credit Union; the YMCA organizations of Pawtucket and Woonsocket; Bugg’d Out BBQ; SOULful; O’Hearne Associates; David and Charlene Soucy; and radio stations WOON and WNRI.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo