Editor’s Note: This year, we asked our bloggers to name their Top 10 shows of 2018 or choose their Top 10 photos of the year. We will run them over the course of mid-December as our Best of the Year posts.
Mark Engleson, a man who truly loves live Americana, folk, and country, chose his Top 10 concerts of 2018 for Parklife DC.
Joachim Cooder opened for his dad, Ry Cooder, with the unique sounds of the electronic mbira. Ry, who is an absolute legend, put on a transcendent performance. This slickly produced show — Ry was backed with drums, bass, sax, piano, and a three-piece R&B group on harmony vocals — featured Ry’s original pieces, gospel songs, and interpretations of Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie. Blistering guitar playing combined with social conscience and Ry’s dry humor. My friends and I looked at I looked at each other during this show as if to say, “Are we really here, witnessing this?”
As a music writer, I see a lot of concerts. And I can say honestly say that from the opening act to the second encore, British folk rocker Richard Thompson’s concert at the Lincoln Theatre was among the very best I have ever seen. Richard proved that his reputation — as a guitar god, an evocative singer, and a fantastic live act — is completely deserved, and the audience responded with tremendous appreciation for his talents. I lost count of the exact number of standing ovations, many of them coming midsong for Richard’s mind-melting guitar solos.
A solo acoustic show functions as a crucible. It strips away most of the musical trappings around a song and lays bare the melody and the lyrics. If a songwriter has strong melodies and lyrics, a solo acoustic show can be an amazing show. If the melodies and lyrics aren’t up to snuff, a solo acoustic show will reveal that. While the audience had no doubts going into this show, Patterson Hood proved that he is one of the finest songwriters and performers of his generation, and we were lucky to see him in a small venue.
By turns funky, salty, entertaining, and educational, legendary bluesman Buddy Guy brought the party to The Birchmere. Showing off an arsenal of guitar tricks, playing blues classics, both his own and other artists, Buddy brought the house down. This show was dirty blues with the fervor of a religious tent revival. Buddy is an icon, a legend, and a living treasure, still going strong at 82 years old.
Capes? Check. Giant whale balloon? Check. Amazing music, obscure and familiar historical references, and a Lin-Manuel Miranda song? Check, check, and check! What’s not not to love here? This was just fun, fun, fun. This is the kind of show that can only take place on the scale of The Anthem, and The Decemberists absolutely took advantage of it.
This was a magical evening, full of memories that weren’t quite forgotten, deep from the roots of American music. Restoring and embellishing archival tape of old folk music, Anna and Elizabeth created a unique atmosphere. Their “crankies,” unique contraptions that rolled silkscreens to illustrate stories and songs, made the evening extra special. A night of lovely music and unbeatable ambiance.
First Aid Kit have absolutely gorgeous voices, and they’ve chosen some great folk and country-rock songwriters to emulate. I knew the music for this concert would heartrendingly beautiful. They really stepped up their game with a screen that displayed animations and slideshows to accompany those incredible songs. The visual element pulled in the audience and had their eyes off their phones and on the stage.
I geeked out over this show. I loved every aspect of it — from the stripped down stage presentation and the opener, Texas singer-songwriter Vincent Neil Emerson, to Colter Wall’s baritone voice. The stage dressing was radical in its simplicity: No colored lights, just basic, incandescent lights on a bare stage, and four guys with their instruments. I never thought I’d hear Townes invoked twice in one night at 9:30 Club, by both the headliner and the opener, and see an audience sent home with Ray Wylie Hubbard’s classic “Redneck Mother.”
This was an evening of beautiful Americana music, made in the spirit of peace and love. In a moment I will treasure, Jim Lauderdale sang an a capella gospel hymn about healing and kindness. That moment represented the core of Americana and the roots music tradition: building on the past toward a beautiful future. I needed to hear this message just when Jim shared it, and it affected me deeply.
Amidst light rain, a dedicated crowd came to see four-time Grammy winner Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit perform at Wolf Trap. While the weather may have been a little wet, Jason and his band were on fire, going into their bag of tricks, bringing out the hits, and busting out some badass jamming. It was a rare mix of top-notch lyrics, singing, and instrumentals!