Suzanne Vega and Sarah Jarosz | Summer Vacation Concerts

Chanteuse Sarah Jarosz

When my wife  Betty and I planned our summer trip to North Carolina and Vermont this year, I enriched our travel itinerary by booking tickets for small-venue concerts. To discover what might be waiting for us,  I did some quick Internet research. Amazing opportunities came up, and I pounced like lightning to secure tickets for two intimate concert dates.

In North Carolina, we heard the young singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC. Two weeks later, we shared an evening with the legendary Suzanne Vega at Goddard College in Vermont. Best of all, both events cost less than $30 per ticket! 

Sarah Jarosz

Recent performances on stage with Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas have brought Sarah Jarosz a sharp rise in her fledgling career. Born and raised in the Austin, Texas, area, Sarah began playing the mandolin at age 10 and quickly progressed through the clawhammer banjo and acoustic guitar. At age 19, she released her first CD, Song Up in Her Head (2009). Her bluegrass track “Mansinneedof” earned a Grammy nomination. In the same year she enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she has been studying improvisational music.

Now, with her 2011 CD Follow Me Down, Sarah is generally recognized as a bluegrass musician who has blurred genres through her lyrical and compositional genius. 

At the 200-seat venue at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, Sarah was joined by Nathaniel Smith on cello and Alex Har­greaves on violin. All three of these marvelous musicians cast their spell, jumping on bluegrass instrumentals and swaying through Sarah’s lyrical creations. The instrumentals allowed each player to display accomplished improvisational skills. Nathaniel Smith showed how classical cello training can morph from methodical bowing support to exquisite spontaneous frenzy as he attacked his instrument with an unbridled enthusiasm that I’ve never seen before.

Several of the instrumentals wove through each musician’s sweet spots, rising, twisting, and luring us into a crescendo that ended abruptly on a single set of notes. In the subsequent stillness, a rush of joy crashed over the audience that erupted into lavish appreciation.

On the lyrical pieces, Sarah revealed why she is cherished in Texas, New England, and worldwide, as her knack for phrasing came to the fore on “My Muse”: “In a dream of carousels/On waves in caravels/Collecting seashells/For you, my muse.”

Recommended tracks: From Song Up in Her Head (2009), begin with “Edge of a Dream,” “Tell Me True,” and “Broussard’s Lament.” From Follow Me Down (2011), “Run Away,” “The Tourist,” “My Muse,” and “Come Around.” By the time you finish these sample tracks, you are likely to surrender to the magic of Sarah Jarosz. Even if bluegrass is not your favorite lick, you will be humming along with each track.

Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega has her own epic history to savor as a master of eclectic, alternative folk-rock music. While at Barnard College in the early 1980s, Suzanne began performing at clubs in Greenwich Village, and by 1984 started recording with major labels.

Under the tent at Goddard College on an rainy August evening, Suzanne took the stage with Dublin-born Gerry Leonard, whose subtle guitar loops supported her  vocals and acoustic guitar. Suzanne opened with her first composition written as a 16-year-old, “Marlene on the Wall,” which reflects on her idol, Marlene Dietrich. From there, introspective journeys through ethereal musical landscapes revealed many details of her life and loves.

If you ever get the chance to hear Suzanne live, jump on the opportunity.

Recommended tracks: Suzanne Vega has a deep and rich music library. Beyond the well-known track “Tom’s Diner,” I suggest these delightful songs: “Caramel,” “Calypso,” “Small Blue Thing,” “I’ll Never Be (Your Maggie May),” “If You Were in My Movie,” and “It Makes Me Wonder.” 

The memories of our summer 2012 trip to North Carolina and Vermont will forever be flavored with the sweet memories of hearing Sarah Jarosz and Suzanne Vega. Next time you plan a trip, go online and check the local venues. You might be surprised to see how easy it is to add another dimension to your vacation experience.

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