Author Archives: Abner Jacobson

Luther Johnson spotlight header 7-18Welcome to another entry in our season-long Spotlight Series! This week we’re featuring a true living legend of Chicago blues: Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson. An architect of the rough-and-tumble “West Side” sound, Johnson has been performing on stages everywhere from Poland to Japan since the 1960s, releasing four albums and taking home a GRAMMY award in the process. Tonight, he’s bringing the blues to Levitt AMP Woonsocket.

Johnson was born in the Mississippi Delta and drew heavy influence from gospel music growing up. His family moved to Chicago in the late 1950s, just as the city was becoming the de-facto epicenter of blues music. After singing and playing bass with a few local groups, Johnson picked up the six-string and adopted the moniker “Guitar Junior” at the age of 23 when his then-bandleader, Tall Milton Shelton, turned away from music following a religious awakening. Rather than let the group dissolve, Johnson took the reins and made it his own.

Johnson established himself as one of Chicago’s top guitar talents over the next several years, and eventually caught the attention of one of the most venerated bluesmen of all time: Muddy Waters. He joined Muddy’s crew in 1972, coincidentally replacing guitarist Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson in the band. Guitar Junior toured the world with this all-star lineup for the next eight years, recording his first solo album, Luther’s Blues, while on the road in France in 1977.

When the band dissolved in 1980, Johnson created a supergroup called The Legendary Blues Band with several other Chicago heavyweights. The group famously appears in the classic film The Blues Brothers as John Lee Hooker’s backing band. Soon after, Johnson parted ways with Chicago and moved out to the East Coast, forming a new band called the Magic Rockers and further refining his sound. He contributed to the GRAMMY-winning compilation album Blues Explosion in 1985.

Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson’s raw, soulful, and thoroughly original style of Chicago blues will be on full display tonight at Levitt AMP Woonsocket. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this storied artist perform for free!

Dwayne Dopsie Spotlight

Our season-long Spotlight Series continues this week with Dwayne Dopsie (pronounced DOOP-see), a fiery accordionist from Lafayette, La. Along with his band, the Zydeco Hellraisers, Dwayne will be bringing an upbeat blend of blues, rock, and traditional Zydeco music to the stage at Levitt AMP Santa Fe this Saturday.

We have several fascinating facts about Dwayne Dopsie for you, but first let’s address a question that may already be on your mind: what is Zydeco? Indigenous to Louisiana’s Creole communities, Zydeco is a centuries-old style of music characterized by the unique combination of accordion in the forefront and washboard anchoring the rhythm section. The latter is usually worn on a vest called a frottoir that leaves both hands free for rhythmic rubbing. Most Zydeco tunes are fast-paced and eminently danceable, with two-step beats and furious bursts of accordion driving them forward.

Now, let’s get to know a musician on the leading edge of the contemporary Zydeco scene: Dwayne Dopsie!

  • Dwayne Dopsie’s family is a bona-fide Zydeco dynasty. His father, Alton “Rockin’ Dopsie” Rubin, recorded with the likes of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, and contributed to bringing Zydeco to audiences outside of Louisiana for the first time in its history. Two of Dwayne’s brothers, Dopsie Jr. and Alton Jr., are also Zydeco pros — their band is called Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters.
  • At the age of 19, Dwayne was crowned “America’s Hottest Accordionist” after winning a national competition hosted by the American Accordion Association. He founded his band, the Zydeco Hellraisers, the same year.
  • Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers scored a GRAMMY nomination in 2017 for their album Top of the Mountain. The album competed in the category of Best Regional Roots Album.
  • Dwayne is fluent in Louisiana Creole French, and often incorporates the dialect into his lyrics.
  • Despite his muscular physique, Dwayne claims he has never lifted weights. He instead attributes his bulging biceps to many years of accordion playing. The instrument weighs about 20 pounds and requires considerable effort to open and close.
  • Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers have taken their Zydeco sounds around the world. They’ve performed in China and the Baltic state of Georgia, to name a few.

Don’t miss your chance to see Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers live in concert this weekend at Levitt AMP Santa Fe. It’s a can’t-miss opportunity for fans of eclectic music to experience the energy of Zydeco firsthand.

SiouxFallsBeauty

The City of Sioux Falls marked the beginning of a new chapter earlier this month when the newly completed Levitt Shell Sioux Falls, the 8th permanent Levitt venue, held its inaugural concert on June 14th. Over 4,000 people from across the city gathered on picnic blankets and lawn chairs to celebrate the occasion and watch GRAMMY-nominated blues artist Ruthie Foster give an awe-inspiring performance. Among them were the volunteers, staff and board members of the Friends of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls, the nonprofit organization that led the development of the venue through years of collaboration with the Levitt Foundation and the City of Sioux Falls. Levitt Foundation Board President Liz Levitt Hirsch and board members from both the Foundation and the national network of permanent Levitt venues also attended in support, along with the City’s mayor, Paul TenHaken. The celebration continued the following night, when Levitt National Tour headliner Flor de Toloache, the GRAMMY-winning all-female mariachi sensation from New York City, took to the stage in front of a packed lawn. Acclaimed children’s entertainer Phil Baker brought the opening weekend celebration to a close the next day with a special performance appealing to both the young and young at heart. Levitt at the Falls will host a total of 30 free concerts through August, expanding to 50 free concerts every summer beginning in 2020.

A dream 8 years in the making
The festive opening weekend realized an idea that came to light in 2011, when former lawmaker and lifelong Sioux Falls resident Tom Dempster received a phone call from a high school friend living in Pasadena, Calif. Tim Boe, now deceased, was a frequent concertgoer at the Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena, and boldly told Dempster, “Sioux Falls needs a Levitt.”

Change was already afoot in Sioux falls at the time of Boe’s phone call. The city’s population was soaring, and immigrant and refugee communities were bringing newfound cultural diversity to the once-largely Caucasian Midwestern city. At the time, over 60 different languages were spoken in the Sioux Falls School District (today, that number has increased to 80). In addition to a growing need for accessible arts and events, city and community leadership were seeking ways to bring its increasingly diverse population together. Meanwhile, the entrance to one of Sioux Falls’ most significant outdoor spaces was lying dormant—Falls Park West, a sprawling green space adjacent to the city’s bustling downtown and just minutes away from the cascading waterfalls that gave the city its name.

Dempster contacted the Levitt Foundation and made the case for bringing a new permanent Levitt venue to Falls Park West. The Foundation’s leadership was impressed. “The more the Foundation learned about Sioux Falls… the community’s displayed commitment and civic pride, and its visionary leadership to create programming that would bring people together, the more we realized Sioux Falls was an ideal match for the Levitt program,” said Sharon Yazowski, Executive Director of the Levitt Foundation, reflecting on her early visits to Sioux Falls.

A concert space like no other
The plan to bring a free outdoor music venue to Sioux Falls was quickly met with an outpouring of enthusiasm and support from residents, as well as the city’s business and philanthropic communities. Dempster established the Friends of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls nonprofit to bring advocates together and coordinate the effort. Realizing the enormity of the project, he asked Jennifer Kirby, a seasoned volunteer leader of nonprofits and capital campaigns, to be the organization’s co-chair, alongside him. Kirby later took the helm as board chair and through her leadership, the Friends of Levitt nonprofit developed a public/private partnership with the City of Sioux Falls and the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation.

The packed lawn

Community members pack the lawn for opening night

Of the $4.6 million needed for the project, the City covered $2.5 million, the Foundation provided $500,000, and generous donations from businesses and the community, including a major gift from the Kirby family, covered the rest. Denver-based architecture firm Sink Combs Dethlefs was hired to create the concert space, breathing life into the homegrown design concept. Inspired by the shape of the Big Sioux River, the fluid, organic shape of the Shell’s roof was conceived by Friends of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls board member Catherine Dekkenga, who drew the first draft on a napkin. Sioux Falls Parks Director Don Kearney called the cooperation, “a testament to the teamwork and perseverance by all parties to make this project happen for our Sioux Falls community.” With the venue’s construction underway, Nancy Halverson was hired in the summer of 2018 to steer the Friends of Levitt Sioux Falls into the future as the organization’s first Executive Director.  

From left to right:  Sharon Yazowski, Nancy Halverson, and Liz Levitt Hirsch gear up for the opening ceremony

From left to right:  Sharon Yazowski, Nancy Halverson, and Liz Levitt Hirsch gear up for the opening ceremony

Growing anticipation
The construction crew put the finishing touches on the new venue in early June, and as opening weekend approached, Sioux Falls was buzzing with excitement. “I hope it can bring everyone together. I want everyone to feel welcome. I want everyone to feel like they have a chance to experience live, outdoor music,” Kirby told reporters at the Argus Leader after being awarded a Challenge Coin by the City for her role in the project. On the day of the opening, Liz Levitt Hirsch joined Halverson and headlining artist Ruthie Foster on KELOland News to discuss the inaugural concert. Levitt Hirsch expressed her gratitude for the community that made the transformation of Falls Park West possible, saying, “What I’m really proud of are the wonderful people of Sioux Falls.” Later, when asked her opinion on Foster’s GRAMMY-nominated blues music, Hirsch responded, “Ruthie’s going to drive an arrow though your heart!” Halverson added, “There’s no better match [for the inaugural concert] for our mission of building community through music.”

Ruthie Foster performs at the inaugural concert

Ruthie Foster performs at the inaugural concert

The day of the concert brought clear skies and a Midwestern sun that remained present well into the evening. Mayor TenHaken, Levitt Hirsch, Halverson and Yazowski all spoke before the enthusiastic crowd, giving well-deserved acknowledgement to the many people who had made the momentous occasion possible, including Dempster and Kirby. Kirby later remarked that she had “never seen such excitement in the community” or “joy on people’s faces.” Bringing Levitt to Sioux Falls, Kirby concluded, “has already made it a better place to live, work and play.” After an opening performance by Groove Inc, a local drum corps, Foster took to the stage and Levitt at the Falls’ inaugural concert was underway.

Twilight had descended upon Falls Park West by the time the music was over, but conversations between friends and neighbors lingered on. Opening weekend brought thousands of people together in Falls Park West, and Levitt Sioux Falls is quickly becoming a beloved cultural destination. Halverson later put into words what many were feeling: “Our community has fallen in love with Levitt, and we look forward to much more fantastic music and community building for years to come.”

2019_Tameca_Jones

This week, we’re turning our Spotlight series to Tameca Jones, a Texas-based sensation who will be hitting the stage this Sunday (6/16) for the Levitt AMP Galva Music Series! You’ll also be able to catch Tameca next week for a Levitt AMP show in Green Bay (6/18), and later this summer at Levitt AMP sites in Springfield (7/4) and Trenton (8/8).

Continue reading