Saturday night was a perfect summer evening for free Americana music at Lincoln's Center Damrosch Park as part of the Annual Roots of American Music, Americanafest NYC. The evening featured two of the genres rising stars. The headliners played two sets with the first half of the set featuring mostly original tunes by former Nickel Creek members Sean and Sara Watkin's new band The Watkins Family Hour. They and their extraordinary band entertained a robust crowd of New Yorkers and tourists alike. One of my favorite songs of the evening was their beatiful take on the Grateful Dead's "Brokedown Palace." And co-vocalist Fionna Apple's original song "A Mistake" was quite moving. Yes, she's one of the members of this band.
The second part of the set was a full-on tribute to Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited performed in its entirety by the band -- guitarist/vocalist Sean Watkins, fiddle/vocalist Sara Watkins, vocalist Fiona Apple, keyboardist Benmont Tench (on lone from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers), bassist Sebastian Steinberg, and drummer Don Heffington, along with guitarists David Garza and Smokey Hormel, and guest stars Shawn Colvin, Pokey LaFarge, Aimee Mann & Ted Leo aka The Both, AND Mr. Al Kooper -- the original keyboardist on Dylan's landmark album from 50 years ago -- on organ and piano. Monster player, no doubt, his work on that seminal record sounded as fresh under the Saturday night stars as is did when he orignally recorded his parts back in the day. Mr. Kooper's between-the-songs banter offered a rare snapshot of what is was like to work with Sir Bob in the studio in 1965. His organ part on "Like A Rolling Stone" was a huge part of the myth and legend that endures to this day.
Besides Al's keyboard chops, and Benmont's, too, some of the highlights of this set included Sarah Watkin's stirring rendition of "From A Buick 6" and retro roots-rock crooner Pokey LaFarge on "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" as well as singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin on "Ballad of a Thin Man." The encore consisted of Dylan's AM radio hit single sing-along "Rainy Day Woman #12 And 35" with Austin-based musician David Garza leading the crowd.
Opening the evening's festivities was the very competent and earnest folk stylings of singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, son of Steve Earle. You may want to catch Lyle Lovett and his Large Band close out this annual series on Sunday evening at 7 pm.