Arts Around Town: Houston-area blues scene focus of 'Blast Furnace Blues Festival'

The seventh "Blast Furnace Blues Festival," running Friday through Sunday at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem, will pay tribute to the Houston-area blues scene, with seven out of 19 festival performers coming from southeast Texas. The Houston and southeast Texas areas, having a rich tradition in the blues, were hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. The festival is an effort to provide some much-needed income and exposure to the Houston and southeast Texas music scene, as well as help some of the artists still struggling to recover from the devastation, according to Patrick Brogan, ArtsQuest's chief programming officer.

Among the artists from southeast Texas who will be performing are Houston Music Hall of Famer and five-time Blues Music Award nominee Trudy Lynn, Step Rideau & the Zydeco Outlaws, Steve Krase Band, The Mighty Orq, Brad Absher & Swamp Royale, boogie-woogie piano player Ezra Charles and steel guitarist John Egan.

Other performers include The Fabulous Thunderbirds with Kim Wilson, 2017 Grammy Award-winner Bobby Rush and legendary guitarist Walter "Wolfman" Washington, five-time Blues Music Award nominee Toronzo Cannon, and singer-songwriter and Blues Music Award nominee Sugaray Rayford.

Lehigh Valley artists include James Supra & Sarah Ayers Quartet, and Craig Thatcher Band.

Friday night will feature a new "Bourbon & Barbecue Tasting" for guests 21 years and older.

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Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem sets the scene for the Moscow Festival Ballet's "Romeo & Juliet," on Saturday at 7 p.m., merging the highest classical elements of the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballet companies. This presentation of "Les Sylphides" is set to Chopin's Seventh Waltz and Shakespeare's timeless romance, "Romeo and Juliet," with a score by Tchaikovsky.


Also at Zoellner: Violinist and Lehigh faculty member Michael Jorgensen performs "Different Trains," for amplified string quartet with a multi-media presentation, on Sunday at 3 p.m.

"Different Trains," Steve Reich's 1989 Grammy Award-winning groundbreaking meditation on the Holocaust, was inspired by his childhood train travels in America. It is a meditation on being Jewish in both America and Europe before, during, and after World War II.

The program also includes Copland Violin Sonata and Rozsa Duo, op. 7. Jorgensen will be joined by pianist Jocelyn Swigger, violinist Erica Dicker, and Lehigh faculty members Sharon Fischer (viola), and Christopher Gross (cello).

To round out the program, Jorgensen said he chose two pieces written before and during World War II. Rozsa fled Europe in the 1930s to become a celebrated film composer in the United States, while American composer Copland dedicated his Sonata to a downed fighter pilot. Jorgensen said the three pieces "mirror Reich's compositional structure of 'Different Trains' – before, during, and after the war."

Michael Jorgensen is the professor of practice in orchestral strings at Lehigh University.


The Tony Award-winning best musical, "Kinky Boots," takes the Zoellner stage on March 29 at 7 p.m., by four-time Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (book) and Grammy Award-winning rock icon Cyndi Lauper (Tony Award-winner for best score).

It's the tale of Charlie Price, a young man who reluctantly takes over his family's struggling shoe factory looking for a fresh idea. He meets and finds inspiration in Lola, and together they discover that it takes a good friend to make a great pair.

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Lafayette College Art Galleries in Easton presents "Lalla Essaydi: Photographs," through April 11 at the Williams Center Gallery at the Williams Center for the Arts, 317 Hamilton Street. The exhibition features seven large photographs from Essaydi's best-known series.

Essaydi's explorations of the image of woman in Muslim society address the complex reality of Arab female identity from the unique perspective of personal experience. As a Muslim woman (b. 1956, Marrakesh) who grew up in Morocco, raised her family in Saudi Arabia, and relocated to France and finally the United States, Essaydi has profound firsthand perspectives into cross-cultural identity politics.


Also at Lafayette: "Hypothetically," an exhibition featuring the work of artists Kathy High, Jonathon Keats, and Raphael Kim, runs through April 17 at the Grossman Gallery at the Williams Visual Arts Building, 243 North Third Street. Each artist creates work that proposes inventive approaches to persistent issues, from the level of the microbiome to the whole of the planet. Guest curator is Julia Buntaine.

Gallery visitors are invited to participate in the exhibition in "Everything is possible, including the impossible." A sketchbook is available for visitors to write, draw, and draft hypothetical projects.

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Original cast members of Broadway's "Jersey Boys," known as "The Midtown Men," return to the State Theatre in Easton on Friday at 7:30 p.m., performing 60s hits with a modern twist.

Members include Tony Award winners Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard, and Tony Award nominee J. Robert Spencer.

Their self-titled debut album, "The Midtown Men: Sixties Hits," garnered five-star album reviews across iTunes. They also recorded their first radio single, "All Alone on Christmas," with producer Steven Van Zandt and members of Springsteen's E Street Band.


Comedian Kathleen Madigan brings her "Boxed Wine and Bigfoot Tour" to the State Theatre on Saturday at 8 p.m. The star of two HBO comedy specials, three Comedy Central specials, and four CMT "Salute to the Troops" specials with Ron White, Madigan is recognized as the only comedian in the history of NBC's "Last Comic Standing" to go unchallenged by any other comedian. Her most recent special, "Bothering Jesus," is her fifth hour-long standup special and will be her third special to be available on Netflix.


Recognized as the official and number-one tribute to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, "One Night in Memphis" is coming to the State Theatre on March 31 at 7:30 p.m., with pure rockabilly, country, gospel, and rock 'n roll.

The show recreates the magical night of December 4, 1956, when Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash found themselves jamming at Sam Phillip's Sun Studios in Memphis, unaware that the session was being recorded and preserved for all time.


The State Theatre's new music series, "Stage on Stage," continues April 7 at 7:30 p.m., with Forlorn Strangers and special guests, The Happy Fits and Blue Heart’s Revelry. Bands and fans share the main stage which transforms into a "club" atmosphere, and with a cash bar available.

Forlorn Strangers is composed of five songwriters with music rooted in family harmonies and flavored with guitars, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, and foot-stomping percussion. Members are sisters Abigail Dempsey (fiddle, percussion, vocals) and Hannah Dempsey Lusk (banjo, guitar, vocals), Chris Banke (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Benjamin Lusk (banjo, guitar, vocals), and Jesse Thompson (upright bass, dobro, guitar, vocals). Thompson hails from Easton.

The Happy Fits blend folk, rock, indie, and pop for "a new, groovy sound." Members are Calvin Langman, Ross Monteith, and Luke Davis.

Blue Heart's Revelry, based in Easton, plays original, new Bluegrass, Americana, and Folk, with some rock ‘n roll roots. The lineup includes Lucas Sutphen, Joe Burley, Dave Best, Dan Stevens, and Tony Marinelli.

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