Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’

Gather ’Round for Music in Eugene

Summertime in Eugene features different musical options

Everything I know in life is thanks to The Simpsons. Homer taught me that when you get a job, summer vacations become a thing of the past. But working during summer doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Eugene luckily has a list of great musical performances without breaking the bank. 

Right now, Eugene Symphony Orchestra has Francesco Lecce-Chong  — the closest thing to matching the rock star vibes that Leonard Bernstein brought to the classical music world in the 1950s. If you haven’t had the chance to see him take the podium and baton, he’ll lead the orchestra for their 10th annual free summer concert. 

The program (subject to change) features Bernstein’s “Candide Overture,” as a way to whet the appetite for the upcoming season that will have Bernstein headlining. In addition to Strauss marches, the program includes Gershwin’s “Selections from Porgy and Bess” and Tchaikovsky’s loud and inspiring “1812 Overture.” Of course, during the program expect Lecce-Chong to trade in the baton for an elegant weapon from a more civilized time when they perform the “Star Wars: Force Awakens Suite, Jedi Steps and Credits.” 

TajMo, a collaboration between blues legend Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, returns to Eugene for a second performance in Eugene. 

Keb’ Mo’ says that he saw Taj Mahal in the late 1960s while he was in high school, and it was an inspiration in terms of seeing someone reimagine the blues. 

“All you had before was the blues your parents listened to — B.B. King, T Bone Walker,” he says. “And out walks this black hippy dude with a big hat and a steel guitar.” 

 He adds that he still gets a little star struck being on the same stage as Taj Mahal but recording the TajMo album went over “smooth like butter.” And it’s received quite a bit of acclaim, which he adds he didn’t expect would happen. The album won a Grammy and two awards — Best Album and Best Contemporary Album — from the Blues Foundation.

When building the set list, he says he asked himself what would he want to hear if he were at a Taj Mahal show. The show features the album, which includes a cover of John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.” Keb’ Mo’ says he added the song to the album because “the song had teeth.” 

Country music has its fair share of clichés: tractors, trucks and heartbreak. But Jade Jackson brings fresh air to the genre. Her debut album, Gilded, was produced by Mike Ness, the front man of Social Distortion.

Jackson says before Ness saw her perform, she’d been going on stage solo since she was 13. But he encouraged her to get a band behind her and then gave them some homework: listening to Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams. 

 “They weren’t heavy rock albums, but they were definitely something in the ballpark of what he thought I could potentially accomplish with a band,” Jackson says. 

It seems the album passed Ness’ muster. The band avoids the musical tropes often found in country. The album’s opening song, “Aden,” mixes twangy guitars and fiddle to accompany Jackson’s raspy voice. And, oddly enough, Jackson’s voice does seem like a mix of Tom Petty and Lucinda Williams. Her band proves to have the attitude necessary to fit the profile of something like outlaw country. The outro guitar solo of “Good Time Gone,” for example, is dirty enough to make it in a Social Distortion song. 

12th Annual Whiteaker Block Party features some of Eugene’s hardest working bands, including And And And. They released their second album, Idiot, in February 2018. During the album, the band throws together unorthodox chord construction and melodies, distinctive vocal styles and explosive dynamics. The result of the chaos is a product that could rival The Pixies in their heyday. 

The abrasion coupled with catchy melodies is what Nathan Baumgartner (guitar and vocals) of the band works toward. 

“When I set out to write a song, I’m mostly interested in melody,” he says. “I always try to create long melodic phrases with an ear-wormy quality. Then I search for the chords to fit it.”

Once it comes to band arrangement, everyone gets a chop at it. Baumgartner adds that they all come up with rhythms and countermelodies. The result is apparent in Idiot. Just listen to “Windows for the Blind,” which captures the band’s knack for writing songs avoiding comfortable chord progression resolution while featuring a memorable melody. It also shows their multi-rhythmic parts in their songs — including fill-heavy drums.  

The band has the album to stream on their website (andandandmusic.com) as a way to provide it to listeners without subjecting it to online companies that rely on ad revenue of user data — like Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube. It’s a way for the band to due their part on re-establishing the internet for art again and not allow capitalists to continue their exploitation of a public good — which is becoming a modern tragedy of the commons — Bim Ditson (drums) says. 

Tickets for Eugene Symphony’s Summer Concert are available for free through the Hult Center while supplies last. Or tickets can be purchased for $2 by phone at 541-682-5000 or $2.50 online. TajMo: The Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ Band performs with Alicia Michilli at the Cuthbert Amphitheater 7 pm Friday, July 27, tickets are $35-$149. Jade Jackson plays Hi-Fi at 9 pm Thursday, July 12 advance tickets are $10, at the door $12. And And And plays the main stage at 8 pm at the 12th Annual Whiteaker Block Party, FREE.