The "suspense" is over, although this year's announcement was a tad anti-anticlimactic thanks to Red Butte Garden's two sneak previews during the past six weeks and some inadvertent leaks via online concert listing sites, (thanks pollstar.com just for being you) but the Red Butte list is now formally and officially out. And while individual opinions will vary based on your individual musical preferences, this list is typical of recent Red Butte lineups in that it features a mix of shows to be stoked about, a few headscratchers and some that don't move the needle either way. (I can see eyebrows arching across the Salt Lake Valley.)
What's below is a one-stop perusal of the lineup - complete with my own groupings - that no one - OK, everyone - can take issue with. But, somebody had to do it. So, I did it. Enjoy and see you at the Garden. For the impatient ones, the full list awaits below.
The Truly Must-See Shows - No Excuses!:
Josh Ritter & The Royal City Band with The Devil Makes Three: July 19: Regular attendees of The State Room (Red Butte promoter Chris Mautz's small venue that operates year-round, unlike RBG which only runs in the summer) know that any list of the best concerts that have been held there in the last year include Josh Ritter and The Devil Makes Three. So, this inspired pairing - both are roots-oriented acts, but that's the lone similarity - makes this the lone Tuesday of the year to really look forward to. If you're not familiar with Ritter, start with his self-titled first record, then grab "The Golden Age of Radio," and also pick up the last one "So Runs The World Away." He's a talented songwriter (with a book coming out for crying out loud) and this is a richly deserved showcase. The Devil Makes Three is one of the most fun bands to see live out there. Yeah, the Santa Cruz-based trio is that good. Pick up their "Do Wrong Right" record and go from there. Then, you'll be as stoked as I am about this show.
Buddy Guy with Mavis Staples: June 19: Why yes, Buddy Guy is 74. Yes, Mavis Staples will be 72 by the time of this show. Who cares? Both remain vibrant live acts. Guy is the living, breathing flagship for Chicago blues these days and remains one of the most thrilling electric guitarists drawing air. Guys like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck routinely tout Guy as being the best. He plays guitar behind his head, with his teeth and routinely produces blazing solos - and he does it all with a smile. He also used to play for Muddy Waters and alongside Junior Wells - both blues legends, just like Guy. Mavis just released a wonderfully received album called "You're Not Alone" with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. She won a Grammy for her effort in February. Her early work with the Staples Singers certified her as American music royalty. My only problem with this pairing is that itâ€™s not a two-show engagement. One night won't seem like enough - trust me.
Alison Krauss & Union Station: Sept. 4: The prettiest face in bluegrass comes calling for the first time in a while. Her smoldering-hot band with guitarist Dan Tyminski and dobroist Jerry Douglas will ensure this a twangy, string-scorching good time. The angel-voiced Krauss is touring behind her first release since 2004. It doesn't seem that long because of her 2008 release with former Zep frontman Robert Plant, which sold a ton of copies and kept her name out there - big time. But Union Station represents her day job dating back to the '80s, and this should be a fun night. They'll be touring behind "Paper Airplane," which comes out Tuesday.
Toots & The Maytals with Big Head Todd and the Monsters: June 12: Despite the less-than-stellar opening act, Toots is one of the better live options on the reggae touring circuit and this will feel more like a party than almost any of the other shows. Dancing under the stars to Toots' "Pressure Drop" is something to look forward to.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: July 17: A chance to dance barefoot on the Red Butte lawn for the full evening? Why yes, I'll take that. For those who haven't heard Jones' retro-soul blast, complete with a stinging horn section, get ready. This is the one guaranteed super-fun, high-energy night on the lineup. Yeah, it's easy to gripe about this band being less-than-completely original in terms of spirit and vibe, but hey, so what? Can't wait.
Shows Several of My friends Will Be Super-Excited About, but Sadly, Not Me:
Sheryl Crow: June 24: As we roll toward the 20-year mark of Ms. Crow's continued massive popularity, those of us who don't understand why she's still massively popular still remain befuddled. Regardless, we're outnumbered. Here's betting this is the first sellout of the RBG summer series.
Cake: June 16: They've sold millions of records and I know two of their songs. Neither fact seems likely to change.
Jonny Lang w/ JJ Grey and Mofro: Aug. 14: Uninspiring blues guitar-slinger gets paired with uninspiring R&B frontman. Guess what? I'm uninspired.
G. Love and Special Sauce/Trombone Shorty: Aug. 11: G. Love is a fairly fun live performer as is Trombone Shorty, but they both leave me sort of flat, although having seen them both at Red Butte, I admit I'm in the minority in that regard.
Shows That'll be Poo-Pooed By Some, but Retain Merit Anyway:
k.d. lang and The Sis Boom Bang, Lyle Lovett, Bruce Hornsby/Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Ani DiFranco: Aug. 2, July 31, July 27, June 19
Ani DiFranco/Greg Brown: Even though she doesn't carry the same level of indie-rocker cred she once did, DiFranco's live show still packs a punch. And she remains one of the best female songwriters of her generation. This show promises to be a treat. Also, kudos should go to Red Butte for bringing back Greg Brown. His shabbily attended, but musically rewarding August 2008 concert here was excellent and he may be the best opener on the entire lineup. He's written dozens of terrific songs and has a stellar voice.
k.d. lang and The Sis Boom Bang: Anyone with enough vocal chops to be tapped to stand alongside Tony Bennett gets props in my book. The Canadian vocalist has many devoted fans. This announcement came as a bit of a surprise to me, but k.d. has been around since the 1980s and has sold more records than most people think she has.
Lyle Lovett and His Big Band: This Texas troubadour is one of that state's best-known musical exports and leads a strong band of musicians. He's well-known in Salt Lake City and succeeds largely on the merits of his live show, because - country radio doesn't play anything remotely this traditional - and Lyle's not even very traditional himself.
Bruce and Bela: Bruce was an '80s hitmaker and is also loved by many for his inspired piano work with the Grateful Dead during the early '90s - His 18-month stint with Garcia and Co., is widely regarded as one of tht band's last, best runs. To this day, Hornsby routinely includes some GD numbers during his set. Bela is a world-renowned banjo player and brings with him his better-than-practically-anyone breathing bassist Victor Wooten. This'll be a long, good night of eclectic music.
Bands That Roughly Half of the People Reading This List Hardly Know Beans About: Fleet Foxes, Pink Martini, Gipsy Kings
Fleet Foxes: July 22 Seattle's harmonizing folkies return while touring behind their upcoming release "Helplessness Blues." Their self-titled 2008 album knocked over a lot of listeners - especially rock critics - and spearheaded indie-folk's pseudo-arrival into the public consciousness. The FFs opened for Wilco at Red Butte during that summer and for the 34 of us paying attention, performed an excellent set of music. They also played a rock-solid gig a few months later at In The Venue. Here's betting this show gets an opener and here's hoping it's a good choice. Would similarly inspired indie-folkers The Low Anthem, The Moondoggies or Dawes be too much to ask? Fingers are now crossed.
Pink Martini: July 6: This is another act that will likely have a noteworthy opener added to the card. This 1930s-inspired act has been well received by critics for several years. Their addition to the list inspired some joyous shouts by some online and some befuddled looks by others. This is an interesting booking.
Gipsy Kings: Aug. 16: Yes, "Big Lebowski" was a long time ago. And yes, a band best known for a cover of "Hotel California" is inherently suspect. But, any band that's been around since the '80s with only those two mainstream attributes to its credit must be doing something right - right? I'm going to take a chance on them, because I trust family acts - this act features two families - and love world music.
Concert I Respect on the Performers' Merits and Will Endeavor to Enjoy:
Return to Forever IV with Zappa Plays Zappa: Aug. 28: A buddy of mine who lives in Texas would freak if this twin-bill came to his town. It's too bad he's the only guy I know who would. RTF is a jazz-fusion band that features some incredible musicians and some incredibly long instrumentals. An added bonus, legendary jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty is in this incarnation of the band. An aside, I've developed a strong affection for jazz during the past few years so I can probably tolerate this set more than most rock fans. ZPZ is Dweezil Zappa's enduring musical tribute to his dad, Frank. Frank Zappa retains one of the most devoted cult followings of the past 50 years. Zappa's music was funny, edgy, musically ambitious and almost never played on the radio. Dweezil's a good enough guitarist to pull this off - most don't realize (or care) that Frank was an influential, tremendous guitarist. Zappa fans largely love this project.
Concerts you'll love if you've already attended your 30th high school reunion:
The Moody Blues, Steve Miller Band, Peter Frampton: May 29, July 24, Aug. 17: These shows provide an unusual opportunity for those of us in our late 30s and early 40s to almost assuredly be the youngest folks in the crowd and to sing along with songs that have been FM radio staples since the Carter administration. Sadly, that's about all these shows offer.
Red Butte Garden 2011 Summer Concert Series The Moody Blues: May 29 Toots and the Maytals w/ Big Head Todd and the Monsters: June 12 Cake: June 16 Buddy Guy/Mavis Staples: June 17 Pink Martini: July 6 Michael Franti & Spearhead: July 14 Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: July 17 Josh Ritter/The Devil Makes Three: July 19 Fleet Foxes: July 22 Steve Miller Band: July 24 Bruce Hornsby/Bela Fleck: July 27 Lyle Lovett: July 31 k.d. lang: Aug. 2 G. Love and Special Sauce/Trombone Shorty: Aug. 11 Jonny Lang/JJ Grey & Mofro: Aug. 14 Gipsy Kings: Aug. 16 Peter Frampton: Aug. 17 Return to Forever/Zappa Plays Zappa: Aug. 28 Alison Krauss and Union Station: Sept. 4