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VOL. 126 | NO. 182 | Monday, September 19, 2011

Shell Brings Unique Events to 75th Party

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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The Levitt Shell at Overton Park opens its fifth anniversary season this month featuring diverse, cultural acts with a twist.

Globally diverse bands with a twist will perform throughout the fall season of the Levitt Shell at Overton Park, where organizers strive to bring acts that are out of the ordinary. The season opens with the Jim Dickinson Folk Festival and closes with a 75th Anniversary Sunset Soiree.

(Photos: Courtesy of Artists)

“That’s what we try to find – sounds that we all know and are familiar with, but with a twist of something that we haven’t heard before,” said Anne Pitt, executive director of the nonprofit Levitt Shell, whose mission is to offer free music concerts to the community.

There’s Celtic music set to a rock beat, soul music with Texas flair, and vibrant upbeat African music mixed into western guitar strains to name a few, but the season kicks off with a celebratory concert with a loaded lineup.

The Jim Dickinson Folk Festival will take place on Monday, Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m., featuring the North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, Mojo Nixon, Sons of Mudboy, Jimbo Mathis & the Tri-State Coalition, and Shannon McNally – plenty more besides folk, in other words.

Dickinson played the shell often throughout the 1960s and when it reopened as the Levitt Shell, he and singer Amy LaVere were the first to take the stage.

In honor of Dickinson’s legacy of devotion to the shell and of making Memphis music a grassroots community staple, the concert will be free.

“Jim was a man of the people,” Pitt said. “He was a free and open person, so for the family, that’s the central part of this event, that everyone can participate in it. It would be strange to make it a ticketed event.”

Regular concerts will take place Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 14. Unlike the shell’s spring season, there are no special children’s concerts.

But the lineup this fall brings up-and-comers like Enter the Haggis, of Toronto, a young Celtic band that takes age-old lyrics well beyond fiddles and dulcimers. They perform Sept. 23.

“They’re an Irish band and they do a lot of traditional Celtic music with the element of storytelling and bagpipes, but they rock it up a notch,” Pitt said. “They add a real rock ‘n’ roll beat to it.”

On Sept. 24 the shell stage heads south of the border for a multi-group “Latin Heritage Celebration” complete with live music, theater, dance and food.

“September is independence month for many of the Latin countries,” Pitt said. “We put together an event to celebrate that. We actually have three bands playing that night and it’s all hosted by Marcella Pinilla, and we have several fun surprises.”

The featured bands are Banda Ahullido, The Glo and Alfepado.

On Sept. 29 Soul Track Mind brings authentic soul music to Memphis, but from the heart of Texas in Austin.

“Some are just college guys but they have skyrocketed,” Pitt said. “They have a very different sound in Texas. It’s unusual to hear that here in Memphis, the home of soul music, and here’s this band from Texas that gets it right.”

The Gypsy band Caravan of Thieves performs on Oct. 1, bringing perhaps one of the more theatrical concerts this season.

“They’re a cross between a band and an old-time radio show,” Pitt said. “They’ve got this great, upbeat rhythm – the kind of music with the bass and violin, but then they also weave in incredible elaborate stories. It’s a real variety kind of act.”

The season winds to a close with guitarist Diblo Dibala on Oct. 13, whose traditional Congolese music takes on new energy when mixed with western guitar licks.

“I saw him perform in New York last year and he had 1,500 people in the club jumping up and down,” Pitt said. “There was so much energy. It’s Congolese music with incredible guitar playing. It’s got the African beat to it that you expect, but with a lot of western-influenced guitar as well.”

Finally, the shell will celebrate its 75th year of existence with a “Sunset Soiree” themed after its opening year, 1936. Pitt said a big band will provide concert music interrupted from time to time by local musicians singing songs of the era like “Pennies From Heaven.”

Tickets for that event can be purchased at www.levittshell.org. General admission is $35 for adults; children 12 and younger are free. VIP tickets including dinner and cocktails are $100. All proceeds will benefit the shell.

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