Sixth Annual Celebration of Local Talent at The Library

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Concert spotlights local Long Island musicians

Tom Griffith and Martha Trachtenberg at Port Washington LibraryFor the sixth year in a row, the Port Washington Public Library put on a showcase of local folk and blues artists during its Celebration of Long Island Talent on Sunday, October 24. The performance attracted a good-sized crowd of all ages. The always charming John Platt of WFUV, and a strong supporter of local music, served as emcee, introducing the acts and providing a brief interview with the artists before the performance.

First up was Jack’s Waterfall, a quartet fronted by the multi-instrumentalist Jack Licitra. Extremely proficient at both guitar and piano, Licitra’s voice is reminiscent of Van Morrison – earthy and pleasant. The high-energy group included John Davis on tuba, Mark Carpentieri on drums, and Vincent Cirino on saxophone. The tuba was an interesting touch – an unlikely addition to a band but a great substitute for a bass guitar. Cirino was an excellent sax player, and Carpentieri, a record label owner who has played with such greats as Odetta and Susan Tedeshi, provided a fine backbone to the sound. Wearing a pork pie hat, Licitra energetically belted out a diverse group of numbers ranging from an unusual cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” to “Gift of Faith,” an original written by Licitra and the founder of a Kenyan orphanage. Licitra, during his interview with John Platt, said that his music was hard to characterize, but he liked the term “musical healing.” It must have worked because I was feeling pretty good after his band’s set.

Next up was Bennett Harris and his blues duo, consisting of Harris on a 1930s National steel resonator guitar and harmonica, and Gary Brooks on bass guitar. Harris was a veritable tornado of activity when he played – wildly fingerpicking his guitar, blowing frenetically into his harmonica, and madly stamping his left foot in time with the music. And that was just the beginning. I’ve never seen such a variety of facial expressions on a human being as I saw on Harris while he played. Grimacing, smiling, wincing, bugging his eyes out, closing his eyes – Harris was seemingly possessed by the music. It was quite a thing to watch!

Meanwhile, his sidekick, Gary Brooks, never changed expression once. Harris is a bluesman reminiscent of one of my favorites, Toby Walker. If you closed your eyes, you might imagine yourself in the Deep South in the 1930’s, listening to Robert Johnson or Blind Lemon Jefferson. A highlight of Harris’ performance was his rendition of Willie Brown’s “Ragged and Dirty.” Harris sings and plays with tremendous feeling and enthusiasm, and his harmonica solos, which he somehow managed to do while playing complicated licks on the guitar, were impressive.

The final act of the concert was a couple known and beloved in the Long Island folk community – Tom Griffith and Martha Trachtenberg. The married duo, who are currently working with another couple as part of a group called Return to the Dream, played a slightly subdued set showcasing their exceptionally strong songwriting abilities. And they truly are terrific songwriters. Each song told a story – beautifully lyrical and with melodies and harmonies to support it.

I was particularly impressed with the song that Trachtenberg wrote about her brother-in-law’s struggles working the night shift. The chorus included the great line “I’m on the wrong side of the sun.” Another favorite was what they called an “argument song” by Griffith, whose chorus “I don’t want to be the last one standing” was the perfect foil for their strong harmonies. But without a doubt, the highlight of their set was Trachtenberg’s “I Choose You,” which never fails to bring tears to my eyes whenever I hear it. (As I looked around the library audience, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one.) I should mention that both Trachtenberg and Griffith are fine guitar players and have a wonderful ease with each other that must have come from years of playing together.

All in all, the concert was a wonderful showcase of Long Island talent. Previous performers have included Pat Wictor, Toby Walker, and Cathy Kreger. I can’t wait to find out who will be on the bill for next year’s Celebration of Long Island Talent. In the meantime, be sure to check out some of the Library’s excellent upcoming musical performances, including on November 5, Live @ PWPL featuring a tribute to Joni Mitchell with Caroline Doctorow, Hillary Foxsong and Denise Romas.

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