Langhorne Slim & The Lost At Last Band at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2018, by Ria Burman
Langhorne Slim & The Lost At Last Band (photo: Ria Burman)

Here’s a Top 18 countdown of sweet shows encountered this year, which has been tricky to compile considering the amount of rocking artists and bands around.

The Donkeys at the Great American Music Hall, by Ria Burman

In at #18 comes the Donkeys, who played a supportive role at the Great American Music Hall. The San Diego-based surf-dream rockers played grooving waves of chill.

John Oates & The Good Road Band at Sweetwater Music Hall, by Ria Burman

#17: John Oates and the Good Road Band at Sweetwater Music Hall. One half of ’80s excellence, Hall and Oates, John Oates left the pop behind for a sweet drop of bluegrass rock. Joined on stage by spesh guest Bob Weir for a Dead hoedown, the night exploded in dance.

I'm With Her at the Great American Music Hall, by Ria Burman

At #16, the harmonious trio I’m With Her at GAMH. Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz & Aoife O’Donovan strummed folk tunes, melodic with vocals entwined, that made their guitars weep.

KERA at Cafe Du Nord, by Ria burman

KERA‘s in at #15 with folky dream feels and zany rock sweetness, sprinkling strong messages with ear-pricking integrity at Cafe Du Nord.

Zoe Keating at SFJAZZ, by Ria Burman

#14 is Zoe Keating at SFJAZZ, which brought the auditorium to an anticipating silence before music-moving through it with looped cello grace and mastery.

Starcrawler at the Brick & Mortar Music Hall, by Ria Burman

Starcrawler skyrockets in at #13 bringing fresh and raw energy to punk-rock fun at Brick & Mortar. Guitar shreds immaculate and stage presence factor 4,000 put the reigns in Starcrawler’s hands.

Taylor McFerrin Feat. Marcus Gilmore at SFJAZZ, by Ria Burman

#12 Taylor McFerrin brought the beats, keys, and grooves in a musical adventure of mind soul to SFJAZZ, with stellar drum accompaniment by Marcus Gilmore.

Juliette & The Licks at Cornerstone, by Ria Burman

In at #11, Juliette and the Licks at Cornerstone. Having nothing to publicize and sell, the band played for playing and gave a worthy set of full-throttle energy, great sweaty beats, and rock and roll carnage.

Taj Mahal at SFJAZZ, by Ria Burman

#10: Taj Mahal brought the house down with blues magic at SFJAZZ. Legend, living.

Bria Skonberg at SFJAZZ, by Ria Burman

#9: Bria Skonberg at SFJAZZ blew the house down with some mega vibes, trumpeting through the night with gentle, yet powerful, skill.

The Marcus King Band at the Great American Music Hall, by Ria Burman

In at #8 comes the funky, soulful sounds of the Marcus King Band at GAMH. Smooth vocals spread like warm butter, while the guitar playing rose like steam from morning tea. The listener is left floating in the sheets of history unfolding.

Pathway to Paris at The Masonic, by Ria Burman

#7 brings Pathway to Paris to attention. A nonprofit created by Rebecca Foon & Jesse Paris Smith, which brings awareness to fossil fuels used and a hope to cut back and reassess to make steps towards the Paris Agreement. A couple of personal surprises occurred, one in the form of new artist discovery Imany. Two was that Flea plays the trumpet like a rockstar. Number three was not really a surprise, but it’s always a pleasure and honor to see Patti Smith perform poetry and a few kick-ass songs.

Grace Kelly at Yoshi's, by Ria Burman

Grace Kelly comes saxophoning in at #6 on a jazzy plain of excellence at Yoshi’s. Exuding fun and super-strong saxophone skills, Grace Kelly offered stories and anecdotes between songs with an easy feeling and uplifting spirit.

Barbara Dane at the Freight & Salvage, by Ria Burman

In at #5, Barbara Dane celebrating her 91st birthday in style at Freight and Salvage. With vocals rich, strong, and smooth, Barbara Dane celebrated and sang songs whimsical, positive, and comical, mixing in the bittersweet and politically-charged. If you’ve yet to hear of Barbara Dane, you can thank her integrity for that. She has refused to work for the man and declined offers of managers along the way, remaining true to her artistry and political activism.

Slim Cessna's Auto Club at Bottom of the Hill, by Ria Burman

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club in at #4 brought the church to rock and roll revelry with their Bottom of the Hill show. With audience participation and songs that were catchy, sway-worthy, and bursting with energy, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club are a live-band joy. Their shows have bouncing bodies in abundance, which are highly contagious.

Irma Thomas at SFJAZZ, by Ria Burman

#3 Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, had SFJAZZ up on their feet with handkerchiefs flying high in a most righteous show, knocking out stellar renditions of covers and originals by request.

Hurray For The Riff Raff at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2018, by Ria Burman

In at #2 is HSB — always a great festival, but I’m wishing to focus fast on three artists in particular who performed: 1. Hurray for the Riff Raff — empowering songs from a powerful vocalist. 2. Aki Kumar, energy explosions and feel good vibes. 3. Langhorne Slim: unpredictable, powerful, and vulnerable.

Ani DiFranco at The Fillmore, by Ria Burman

Annnnd #1: Ani DiFranco rocked, folked, and wowed the Fillmore with one of the best shows I witnessed this year. Performing with her solid band of jazz-infused awesome, the show was a euphoric rollercoaster of swirls and twirls, feeling and meaning.

To conclude, I feel very lucky to hone my craft while supporting and witnessing the excellence of others. Here’s to more creations and collaborations. Cheers!