On Stage: Rush to release album on West Chester label

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Tom Rush

Rush may be the name of a certain veteran singer-songwriter but it is far from a description of how he records and releases albums.

Tom Rush, one of America’s most revered folksingers, released his first album, “Tom Rush at the Unicorn,” in 1962. His most recent album “Voices” will be released on April 27 via West Chester-based Appleseed Records.

Altogether, Rush has put out 26 albums in 56 years – and just eight since the turn of the century.

Fortunately, he is much more active when it comes to live performances. Rush is a consummate performer who always delivers an entertaining show when he takes the stage to perform his songs and choice songs by other artists.

On March 26, Rush will visit Chester County for a show at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, 610-356-2787, www.uptownwestchester.org).

He will be performing a number of songs from “Voices,” an album that has its own special niche in Rush’s long discography.

Over the course of his 50-year-plus career, one of Rush’s defining gifts has been his ear for the faint voices of significant new songs by little-known writers. The New England-based singer-guitarist was among the very first to record future standards by then-fledgling performers Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne on his 1968 album “The Circle Game.”

Rush brought a later generation of singer-songwriters such as Nanci Griffith and Shawn Colvin to wider audiences as part of his tours. James Taylor and country music superstar Garth Brookshave both named him as a major influence.

Until “Voices,” Rush has been heard only sparingly as a songwriter, with only a few tantalizing handfuls of originals – about 20 – spread out over eleven studio albums.

“Voices” is the first album ever of all-Rush originals – 10 relaxed, warmhearted, amused and sometimes thoughtful songs that perfectly reflect his wry persona.

“A bunch of songs all of a sudden came out,” said Rush, during a phone interview last week from his home in southern Maine.

“Our daughter was going away to college, so we were moving from Vermont but didn’t know where. We moved to southern New Hampshire and rented a farmhouse from our friends Bob and Laura about three years ago.

“It was a peaceful countryside exterior, but it was in some ways boring. That’s where the songwriting started. I kept getting ideas for songs.

“Sometimes, songs take a long time for me to write. These songs came rapidly because I didn’t have anything else to go.”

There might have also been another reason and the veteran singer had a theory.

According to Rush, “It might be some musical equivalent of epicormics branching, where a tree that’s stressed or elderly starts putting out shoots in great profusion.”

Whatever the reasons, the results were enough to bring smiles to fans’ faces everywhere.

“I always wrote on guitar,” said Rush. “Every song came differently. A lot of times, it’s a phrase – just a few words that suggest a melody. Sometimes, it starts with a melody. There is no pattern.

“My pattern is to write too much. Each song tended to end up too long. You find that out when you take them in front of a live audience.

“I was taking audio notes on my cell phone. Once I had enough to go in the studio, I’d set up with a mic going into a computer. Then, I’d send what I had recorded to my producer Jim Rooney.

“I had all the songs written before I went in the studio with Jim — and then I wrote one more in the sessions. We were wrapping up and I only had 11 songs. Jim said we needed a 12th track. He insisted on it.

“So, I had to write another in my hotel room and I wrote ‘If I Never Get Back to Hackensack.’ We recorded the album in May 2017 at The Butcher Shop – a studio in Nashville.

“Jim brought in some really great studio musicians to play on the album – players who are known as ‘Rooney’s Irregulars’ including Matt Nakoa on piano, Sam Bush on mandolin and fiddle along with Kathy Mattea and Suzi Ragsdale on background vocals.”

It has been more than a half-century since Rush made people take notice with one particular song — “Urge for Going,” which was written by Joni Mitchell and recorded by Rush in 1968. It quickly became one of Rush’s signature songs.

“Urge for Going” is something that seems to happen to Rush when November arrives — especially if the destination is the Delaware Valley.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the veteran singer-songwriter established a tradition of performing a series of shows over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at the now-defunct Main Point in Bryn Mawr.

“I always played the Main Point at Thanksgiving,” said Rush. “I probably did that at least six years in a row. The first show would be Thursday night and it was always a groggy show. I did two shows a night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“I enjoyed those days of doing multiple nights. And, the Main Point was a great place to play. Jeannette (Main Point owner Jeanette Campbell) was the patron saint of the Philadelphia folk scene.”

Now, there are some months when Rush doesn’t play seven shows in 30 days.

“I try to keep it down to one trip a month,” said Rush.  “I might do 50 shows a year altogether — maybe 60 at the most. I still enjoy playing small clubs and also festivals. I like a lot of variety. I’d go crazy having to play the same type of venue all the time.”

Video link for Tom Rush — https://youtu.be/R_MDgmx3WjA.

The show at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Philadelphia’s Academy of Music is known for its presentations of classical music, ballet and opera. The dignified vibe of the venerable music hall will be under siege this week with a touring Broadway musical that rocks hard from start to finish.

School of Rock

From March 27-April 1, the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia” series at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org) will present the hit musical “School of Rock.”

In April 2013, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced that he had bought the rights to “School of Rock” as a stage musical. The show had its world premiere on Broadway in autumn 2015 at the Winter Garden Theatre. The musical has a book by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.

The musical features an original score composed by Lloyd Webber in addition to music from the original film. “School of Rock” became Lloyd Webber’s first show opening on Broadway before London since “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 1971.

Based on the hit film, this hilarious new musical follows Dewey Finn, a failed, wannabe rock star who decides to earn a few extra bucks by posing as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school.

There he turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. While teaching these pint-sized prodigies what it means to truly rock, Finn falls for the school’s beautiful, but uptight headmistress, helping her rediscover the wild child within.

Featuring 14 new songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber and all the original songs from the movie, this high-octane hit show delivers face-melting guitar riffs and touching romance in equally impressive doses.

One of the cast members is an actor from the Delaware Valley.

Liam Fennecken, who is understudy for the role of Dewey Finn and a multiple-role ensemble member, hails from Pipersville in Bucks County.

“We started the tour back in September,” said Fennecken, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop, in Baltimore, Maryland.

“We’re just past the six-month mark and we’re scheduled through July 2019.

“I auditioned in New York when I was still out on tour with ‘Once.’ I flew back-and-forth to New York several times and got the job in the middle of July.

“It had been a while since I had seen the movie. I didn’t want to watch it again when I was auditioning. I tried to avoid doing that. I watched it again after I got the part.

“The main character was made famous by Jack Black in the movie version. The role is really designed around his type of humor. It fits him really well.”

In the stage production, the kids are the stars of the show as much as the adults in the cast.

“What’s really helpful is that there are 16 very talented kids – 12 onstage all the time,” said Fennecken, an Archbishop Wood alumnus who graduated from Penn State University with a B.A. in theater.

“These kids absolutely shred. The show is fresh every night. They are real actual kids who play real actual instruments so it’s impossible to do the same thing every night.

“It’s a full-scale comedy – a very funny show. Every other second, there is something crazy happening.”

People worry about kids today growing up too quickly. These kids are rockers and everybody knows that rockers never really grow up.

“Audiences really love this show,” said Fennecken. “I think there is something special about seeing children in front of you enjoying themselves and being really good at what they do.”

Video link for “School of Rock” – https://youtu.be/R8oMhQj2tfQ.

The show will run from March 27-April 1 at the academy of Music. Ticket prices range from $20-$145.

The Kimmel Center is presenting another special event this week.

Chrissy Metz

On March 26, NBC’s “This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz is coming to the Kimmel Center as part of the “This Is Me Book Tour.”

Metz’s new book “This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today” will be published on March 27 on Dey Street Books.

“This Is Us” was a success right out of the blocks as viewers embraced a show that celebrates human connection and the power of family.

One of the reasons that the critically-acclaimed NBC series became a huge success was because the show’s audience instantly related to the humor, depth, and vibrancy that Metz brought to the role of Kate Pearson.

Metz plays Kate, a woman struggling with her weight, eating habits, and body image.  ET named her as one of six “breakout stars you will fall in love with this fall.”  People Magazine named her as one of the “Ones to Watch.”

Metz’s visit to the Kimmel will be an evening of honest conversation moderated by NBC10’s Jacqueline London. The conversation will be about life and its lessons — featuring real advice, tough love, and shared moments taken from Metz’s memoir.

Metz will appear at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater on March 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets, which include a copy of “This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today,” start at $40. Tickets can be purchased by calling 215-893-1999, online at kimmelcenter.org, or at the Kimmel Center Box Office.

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