Thursday, July 21, 2016

Patti Smith, Mariachi Flor de Toloache at LC Out of Doors

Patti Smith and band
rocked the 2016 Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival.
photo ©2016, Deborah Feller

A perfect evening for Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Rain-free skies. July heat and humidity simmering at a comfortably mellow pitch. A pleasant crowd. Even the festival's security detail--with its new entrance gates and bag-checking procedures--kept things moving with cheerful efficiency.

Patti Smith, as I knew she would, had brought us good fortune.

More good luck arrived with Smith's opening act, Mariachi Flor de Toloache, New York's first and only all-women mariachi troupe. (Their eponymous debut album received a 2016 Latin Grammy nomination for Best Ranchero.) They offered original songs, traditional tunes, Nirvana and Led Zeppelin covers and Coltrane's "Afro-Blue," all with superb musicianship and mariachi flavor and warmth--trumpet, guitarrón, vihuela and violin blending peppy rhythms as gorgeously flutey voices ascended.  They took Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" at a frisky pace, voices now a bit reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters. It was a little offbeat, spine-tingling and irresistible. The audience fell in love.

A taste of Mariachi Flor de Toloache performing on NPR:

Following a surprisingly quick break, Smith--mindful of LC's strict runtime policy--fondly admonishing her audience to not "mill around like a herd of turtles." Then she offered a passage from Just Kids, her beautiful remembrance of life with Robert Mapplethorpe. But her incantations (Ginsberg's "Howl") and rocking out with Lenny Kaye to "Dancing Barefoot" and "Summer Cannibals" brought the turtles rushing to the edge of the stage, phones aloft, as "Ghost Dance" rang into the night.

It was a night for calling up our holy dead--from Mapplethorpe to Ginsberg, yes, but also Amy Winehouse (a tribute to her called "This is The Girl"), Prince (a decidedly sultry "When Doves Cry"), Jim Morrison ("Break It Up") and her beloved late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith ("Because the Night"). If I recall, I might have heard a little George Harrison snaking through "Beneath the Southern Cross."

Aside from the sorry state of our politics--Smith, of course, took a few moments to excoriate Trump and the GOP and insist we use our People Power to do better--Smith very much had death and the passage of time on her mind. She startled me with the choice of "The Last Time" by The Rolling Stones, because she made me hear its refrain as a song of uncertainty about what time remains. It recalled that moody standard from way back in the '30s, you know, that goes, "For all we know, we may never meet again...."
We won't say goodnight/Until the last minute/I'll hold out my hand/And my heart will be in it
For all we know/This may only be a dream/We come and we go/Like the ripples of a stream
My heart clenched a little as I listened to the band lace into The Last Time. Smith was having fun with it but also making me imagine saying goodbye to this extraordinary being whose wit, spirituality and life force has always brought her audiences renewed belief and just the right jolt of energy in the nick of time.

I don't think the sensible and fiery Patti Smith is going anywhere anytime soon, though, and she later told us as much:

"I'm getting old," she roared, as we pumped fists into the air. "And I'm going to get fuckin' older!"

Words to live by.

* * * * *

Lincoln Center Out of Doors runs through August 7. All events are free. For schedule information, click here.

Damrosch Park and other Lincoln Center venues, Manhattan

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