The ATO Records showcase announcement of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard doing a show from her side project Thunderbitch was perhaps the biggest surprise of CMJ week. Almost every major music reporter, photographer, blogger or industry type was there. The immediate area around the stage was basically all photographers as this was one of the first shows from Howard (as Thunderbitch). And it rocked.
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CMJ Music Marathon is an endurance test. You can collect as many bands as you want—on any given day you can catch way more than a dozen if you are willing to work for it. On the third (and on the fourth) nights, I wasn’t pushing myself. I wanted to see John Grant ‘s newly added set at Rough Trade since I couldn’t make his set at Le Poisson Rouge on the last day. And I wanted to catch up with Quilt who I hadn’t seen in a while. I also got to hang out at Baby’s where a team from Mute Records was on site giving out stickers and albums (I got myself ones from M83 and from The Knife).
With CMJ Music Marathon underway, and PopMatters own showcase being held the same evening, the online music streaming site Pandora hosted a treat for its listeners on October 14th. They welcomed three country singers, two up-and-coming and one a bit more established, to perform at a free show. The genre doesn’t really get represented during CMJ and on top of that, Pandora selected only female artists to perform dubbing it “Women in Country”. The night also doubled as a charity event as money was raised for the T.J. Martell Foundation to help support Leukemia, cancer and AIDS research.
Treating it like a CMJ event, by where I mean I went into the show with the mindset to explore and experience music unknown (to me), I caught sets from RaeLynn and Cassadee Pope, the two newcomers and both participants of The Voice, missing Martina McBride. RaeLynn’s songs sounded weighted towards the more pop-friendly side of country while Pope’s tunes definitely were honed towards country, though her newest single, “I am Invincible” could mix in with Top 40 radio.
Following an opening set from neo-soul comrade Marsha Ambrosius, the Roots took the stage at Summerstage for the final outdoor event of the long season (five months!) as part of a corporate show (so it wasn’t general admission). But it would be hard enough to find the Roots playing on the road these days, given their regular gig as the house band for Jimmy Fallon, so limiting the capacity was wise. Black Though and ?uestlove, along with “Captain” Kirk, Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” and their cohorts, jammed through a medley of Roots material like “The Seed 2.0” and “Respond/React” along with other hip-hop classics like “Jungle Boogie”. But it didn’t stop there. Not too long into their set, Talib Kweli came out to bust some rhymes on “Act Too (Love of My Life)” and a verse or two later, Common came out to help him. Another surprise came in the form of Cee-Lo Green (who had performed with The Roots earlier for NBC) to do a cover of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness”. Fellow Philadelphian (and also a NYC transplant), Bilal jumped in with The Roots for “The OtherSide” as well as “Back to Love”. The band’s finale was even bigger (though the interlude where their electronic wizard mashed beats and tunes from his mixer was stellar) as Salt-N-Pepa and their backup dancers took the crowd over the top with “Push It”. The Roots certainly know how to bring it and made the night a memorable “summer” finale.