Here is a perspective from a music journalist who left his notebook, pens, and camera at home to attend a bunch of musical performances as just another guy in the crowd. I spent a couple of days last week checking out some of the Outside The Box musical artists performing on various stages along historic, scenic Boston Common. The most noticeable aspect was more the caliber of talent than even the variety.
I was there last Thursday morning when Jenna Lotti opened the day at the Fountain Stage with her engaging, funky, stripped down version of her own original music. With just an acoustic guitarist and a beat box player for support, Lotti and her boys whipped up some really cool music. There was a hip rhythmic twist to each of Lotti’s song’s that infused them with unspeakable cool. Her songs had unpredictable patterns that worked well in each, and her vocal ability shined through. There was definitely something special in her voice and in how she delivered it. Jenna Lotti will be dropping an EP in a few months, and she’s a name we will be hearing a lot of.
I caught a brief snippet of Sarah Barrios while she was rehearsing for her sound check engineers at the Tremont Tent. I’ve written about Barrios in the past, and she was still in fine form, her sweetly quirky timbre was still fresh and alluring while her song material was still uniquely gripping. She was performing some vocal gymnastics while the sound man turned some knobs to adjust to what she was doing, and she sounded fantastic.
We Were Astronauts commanded the Fountain Stage to deliver an energetic set of their strident original music. There was nothing stopping these boys, except for the length of their set time, as they pumped out catchy modern rock music. Later, Matt Heaton And The Outside Toys performed for children of all ages at The Platform Stage. Heaton and his Toys played a mean version of “Rubber Ducky” and quite a few other time tested standards. This combo was doing something right, judging by the number of toddlers and elementary school children and their parents dancing on the grass in front of their stage.
Back at the Fountain Stage, Analog Heart proved to be a band worth paying a lot of attention to. Their fun, bouncy modern rock and roll kept their audience engaged for several minutes. Catchy and driving, they knew how to rock.
The evening’s first national act, Vertical Horizon, who were originally from Boston and Worcester before making it big, showed up to perform recognizable songs like “You’re A God” and “Everything You Want.” Yet, Thursday ended with a bang as national act Smash Mouth closed out the day with a 90 minute plus set of familiar favorites. It was also a first for me, as I participated, as much as I dared, in a moshing activity that formed beside me. Thankfully, I survived, even after several young people crashed into my left leg coming at from my right.
Friday found a lively energy at the Capitol One stage. Big names would dominate that stage from 4:00 p.m. until Daughtry closed a generously lengthy set later in the evening.
Cape Cod, by way of Texas, country roots singer-songwriter Monica Rizzio performed an outstanding set, featuring songs from her new 11 track CD Washashore Cowgirl. Rizzio and her band kept things rocking, in a country and western stomping style, for a solid set. Rizzio’s voice is plenty pretty and pretty plentiful with country pluck and twang. Even those who are not fans of country couldn’t deny her songwriting prowess. One could also feel and admire the earthy soul in Rizzio’s voice as she used her range to meet some challenging highs and lows in her songwriting patterns.
After Monica Rizzio, audiences were treated to a colorful set by Boston’s new queen of the music scene, Ruby Rose Fox. With a voice that can get baritone low before reaching artsy highs, Ruby Rose Fox nailed all of the soulful, engaging songs from her new CD Domestic as well as some of her other gems, like “Die Pretty,” which gave her new audience members something extremely motivational to remember her by. Fox and her backing singers, dubbed The Gloria Steinems, opened with a gutsy song titled “Jordan River” about a 17 year old black kid cut down needlessly by police gun fire. With their only accompaniment being Fox’s keyboard, she and her three female backing vocalists were donned in black tees emblazoned with Black Lives Matter across them. From there, things could only get even better, and they did. Fox and her band mates and backing vocalists were amazingly good on “Every Time I Tell,” a huge, piercing anthem about domestic violence. By the time Ruby Rose Fox Band had finished their set, there had to be about three thousand people in the audience. Many arrived as part of the recent Pokemon Go fad but left as admiring fans of Ruby Rose Fox. There was no denying their initial curiosity or their metamorphosis into enthusiastic supporters. Many could be seen mugging Fox and her band mates at their merchandise table as they were excited about their new musical messiah.
Finally, showing plenty of love for the city of Boston, Daughtry took the stage and displayed their unstoppable, force of nature drive to keep their audience happy and entertained. They showed ample respect and appreciation with a solid, polished performance of each number. Whether doing it up with their own material from their greatest hits album It’s Not Over or performing an exciting, soulful delivery of the Phil Collins classic “In The Air Tonight,” Daughtry ruled the Boston evening with a stunningly sincerely set.
Well, that’s my wrap up of the portions of Boston’s Outside The Box festivities that I caught last week. I got to shake hands with Boston’s philanthropist Ted Cutler, who funded much of the event, after the Ruby Rose Fox set. I wasn’t sure what to say to him, but he seemed very nice. I can only hope he sponsors another Outside The Box event next summer as it gave me and others a chance to learn about the numerous artists and arts organizations around greater-Boston/New England.