Low-key legend Leon Russell gets remembered Nov. 12 in Norfolk

It had been nearly 30 years since Leon Russell, performing Nov. 12 at Infinity Hall, had a presence on the charts when he teamed with Elton John for the 2010 album “The Union.” The release made it all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart — 184 places higher than Russell’s previous entry, “The Live Album” with New Grass Revival, which made it to No. 187 in 1981.

That’s not to say Russell wasn’t busy in the meantime — just underappreciated. In fact, the singer, songwriter and pianist released 25 albums in the intervening years, exploring the blues, folk, country and a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll besides. He’s had a low-key career dating back to when he began playing nightclubs in his native Tulsa when he was just 14. In the ’60s, Russell was part of the famed session ensemble known as the Wrecking Crew before beginning a solo career in 1966 that saw him collaborate with the likes of Eric Clapton, George Harrison, the Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson, among others.

Though Russell was releasing albums, he was also frequently working behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer: he co-wrote hits for Gary Lewis & the Playboys, for example, and helmed Joe Cocker’s breakthrough “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.”

He wasn’t forgotten, exactly, by the time Elton John came calling for “The Union,” though he wasn’t particularly remembered, either. Russell’s was a name from the past, but when John brought him on stage as a surprise guest at a Connecticut concert just two days before his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, Russell got the biggest ovation of the night.

[More Details] Ticket Price: $50, $70

On Sale Now!

Jonathan Edwards

Saturday, March 2nd • 8:00 pm

Infinity Hall Live alumni Jonathan Edwards returns to the Hall with his songs of insight and songs of humor, all rendered in that pure and powerful tenor which, like fine wine, has only grown sweeter with age.

Roomful of Blues

Friday, March 8th • 8:00 pm

These guys bring swing, rock ‘n’ roll, jump, blues and soul to a whole new level! With a stellar horn section and explosive solos, it’s no wonder why Count Basie called them “the hottest blues band I’ve ever heard.”

The Seldom Scene

Friday, February 15th • 8:00 pm

The Seldom Scene is one of the most acclaimed bluegrass bands of all time. They are known for their warm harmonies and sparkling instrumental work and have hits such as “A Hundred And Ten In The Shade” and “Walk Through This World With Me.”

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Steel Magnolia

Thursday, December 13th • 8:00 pm

This talented country duo may very well be the future of Country Music. They toured with Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton and appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Their hit single “Keep On Lovin’ You” broke through as the highest charting debut single by a co-ed duo in Billboard history and climbed all the way to No. 5 on the Billboard Country Charts! Come see them up-close-and-personal before they start selling out arenas!

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Fountains of Wayne brings smart, catchy power-pop Nov. 10

The ongoing upheaval of the record industry cuts both ways for a band like Fountains of Wayne, which performs Nov. 10 at Infinity Hall. The group came up in the mid-’90s, when quirky bands with catchy hooks had a shot at major-label success: Indeed, Fountains of Wayne’s first four albums came out on major labels (that is, labels like Atlantic or Virgin, which are/were owned by corporate conglomerates).

As things fell apart for the music industry in the new millennium, the major labels contracted, leaving little room on their rosters for acts that didn’t have the potential to sell a million records. Despite the success of singles like “Stacy’s Mom,” Fountains of Wayne was never looking at multi-platinum record sales, and they landed on the smaller indie label Yep Roc for their most recent album, 2011’s “Sky Full of Holes.”

Though that seems like a step down in terms of profile, it’s actually a boon for the power-pop band, which doesn’t need the hassle of a major label anyway — they were good mostly for helping acts reach fans, but Fountains of Wayne already knows how to do that. Consider: the band has spent the past 16 years building a fan base, thanks to smart, catchy, often funny songs, and engaging live performances that also include oddball covers — one recent show featured FOW favorites like “Red Dragon Tattoo,” “Hey Julie” and “Radiation Vibe,” along with a tongue-in-cheek medley of classic-rock tunes by the likes of Billy Squier, Paul McCartney, Billy Idol and Yes.

The band even has ties to the area: singer Chris Collingwood lives in Northampton, Mass., which is where the lovely ballad “Valley Winter Song” is set: When he sings “Meet me at the Baystate tonight,” he’s referring to the spot currently occupied by the Sierra Grille. Something to keep in mind next time you’re there for a meal. Or not. Either way, seeing Fountains of Wayne in a venue as intimate as Infinity is an excellent way to spend an evening.

[More Details] Ticket Price: $45, $60

Guitar Hero Smokin’ Joe Robinson plays Infinity

Post By: Bridgette Rallo

Let’s face it, I’m a jazz snob. My dad was a jazz drummer who played with everyone who counted over a forty-five-year career. So when it comes to 21st century jazz, the only musician who’s made it into my fave CD stack is the classic Diana Krall.

But there are some jazz fusion surprises out there, players who turn old standards upside down and make them sound brand new. Smokin’ Joe Robinson, the twenty-something wonder from Down Under, is one of those “gee-whiz” surprises and, guess what? The kid has it all going on. He’s a lot of jazz, a little bit country, a dash of pop and one hundred percent guitar phenom. Just listen to him play, “Misty.”

Like all jazzy kids, Joe has a godfather in the biz and his is someone worth mentioning. Tommy Emanuel is widely considered to be one of the best musicians to hail from Australia by people who keep track of these things and rightfully so. A guitarist extraordinaire, Emanuel is known for his blistering finger runs and fine, harp-like sound. Tommy thinks Joey is the best young guitarist in the world. I may even agree with him. The child has natural timing and an ear for subtlety, something sorely lacking in many a modern electric specialist. His fingers fly over the strings and hit each and every note cleanly, clearly. Whether he’s playing acoustic or electric, Smokin’ Joe owns the fret board.

About the standards – there aren’t too many working musicians out there who even recognize a standard tune, never mind play any of them. Aside from singers like Harry Connick Jr., who sings Cole Porter just because he can, today’s performers tend to shy away from standards because of the technical ability required to do them justice. Joe Robinson doesn’t simply do them justice, he smokes ‘em. He sings ‘em, too, not like a crooner but in a refreshing, timely tenor voice.

Now, I’m not going to hold the fact that Joe won Australia’s Got Talent against him. After all, aspiring jazz musicians in the 1930’s and 40’s used to line up outside the Apollo Theater in NYC to take their shots at stardom. Joe’s throw of the dice came up sevens and now, those of us who miss that cool jazz sensibility can buy a CD and hear the boy play. Better yet, buy a ticket for his soon-to-happen show at Infinity Music Hall and catch him live. That would be on Friday night, September 28, at 8 pm. Sharp. Be there or be square.

Justin Townes Earle casts a large shadow Nov. 9

Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

Justin Townes Earle has had to step out from under a big shadow. For starters, he’s the son of singer/songwriter/actor/hellraiser Steve Earle, who has made a rather large mark on the roots-music scene over the past 30 years (more on him here). Next, the younger Earle (performing Nov. 9 at Infinity Hall) takes his middle name from Townes Van Zandt, a singer and songwriter who has left an even deeper musical imprint.

Unfortunately, they provided more than just a musical example to follow: Earle and Van Zandt were legendary substance abusers, and Justin Townes Earle was well down that path himself by the time he was barely in his teens. He has since corrected course, after some very public travails, and thank goodness for that: he’s every bit the songwriter his father is and Van Zandt was.

His latest album, “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now,” is laced with Memphis-style soul, and it’s a beauty. Its predecessor, though, stands as an outright classic. “Harlem River Blues” is simply outstanding, pairing masterful storytelling with thoughtful musical arrangements and simple, hummable melodies on the steady rolling title track, the Guthrie-esque folk of “Wanderin'” and the shattering piano ballad “Rogers Park.” It’s the kind of album that demonstrates how large a show Earle himself has begun to cast.

As an added bonus, Tift Merritt opens the show. The singer and songwriter’s new album, “Traveling Alone,” is a collection of songs as gorgeous as any she’s written, on perhaps her most consistent effort yet.

[More Details] Ticket Price: $30, $45

Nothin’ but Blue Sky Riders

Post By: Bridgette Rallo

There’s something about the idea of a blue sky that makes everyone happy. After all, Ella Fitzgerald said it was so. And Kenny Loggins’ mellifluous new band, Blue Sky Riders, is proving her right, right and right.

It goes without saying that Kenny Loggins makes everyone happy, all by himself. The man has a gift – he looks, sounds, writes happy. With his smooth tenor voice and joyful attitude, Kenny Loggins has been one of the delights of the music business for an astonishing 40 years. Yes, Virginia, it’s been that long: Danny’s Song, Your Momma Don’t Dance, Whenever I Call You Friend, I’m Alright, Footloose, The Real Thing, What a Fool Believes…Whether as part of Loggins and Messina or a solo act, ole’ Kenny is a hit machine.

Now, he’s aligned himself with two of Nashville’s most talented insiders (shhh…), Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman, and the result is bliss in the guise of three-part harmony. It’s a music that transcends genre, merging pure country, a good old American pop sensibility and fine musicianship together in a seamless blend. I mean, talk about harmony… Burr was an original member of the Pure Prairie League, for pity’s sake! Willie Nelson thought so highly of a teenaged Middleman that she toured with him and performed as his opening act. Not too shabby.

Oh, and they write their own songs. In fact, terrific voices aside, it’s what Burr and Middleman are best known for. We know about Loggins’ writing abilities, of course, but these two have penned more songs that you already know than I have room to cite. Here are just a few: To Be Loved by You and Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me (Burr), I’m In and Innocence (Middleman). Everyone but everyone in Nashville has recorded either one of Burr’s songs or one of Middleman’s. Everyone includes Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, LeAnn Rimes and many, many, many more.

There’s a lot more that I could say but the important thing is this – you now have a choice. You can either pass this one up or do the smart thing and grab a ticket or two. And believe me, they’re going fast. Let’s see… a mean dinner, a few cold ones and some stellar three-part harmony? Oh yes…

Blue Sky Riders will be in the building on Saturday night, September 22, at 8 pm. Limited tickets available. Click here for details

Veteran guitarist Jorma Kaukonen keeps current Oct. 11

Listen to enough new CDs by old-school musicians and you start to dread them: too often, they’re trying too hard to hang on to days long past, and counting on the indulgence of nostalgic fans willing to overlook diminished ability, or waning inspiration. Jorma Kaukonen is the exception. (He performs Oct. 11 at Infinity Hall.)

His 2009 album, “River of Time,” stands as tall as any of Kaukonen’s work, which includes having been part of the super vibrant San Francisco rock scene in the 1960s: he played in Jefferson Airplane from 1965-1972 (and again in a 1989 reunion that had nothing to do with “We Built This City”) and with the venerable blues-rockers Hot Tuna on and off since 1969.

Long-since relocated from San Francisco, Kaukonen lives now in southeastern Ohio, where he runs and teaches at the Fur Peace Ranch guitar camp. He’s been releasing solo albums since 1974, and “River of Time” is the work of an artist who’s aware of his past without trading on it. That said, he performs at Infinity with Hot Tuna bandmate Barry Mitterhoff, so it seems reasonable to expect a healthy dose of the old jams alongside the new.

[More Details] Ticket Price: $40, $55