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Initiation To Wolf Trap

August 9, 2012

No sojourn in the Washington DC area can be considered complete without a visit to the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, I'd heard on many occasions in the past.

The open air, wood-constructed auditorium located some 20 miles outside of the city is the main place to go around here in the summer to experience high profile acts from Wilco to the NSO at a relatively low price.

Picnicking on the lawn is the way to do things and tickets to spread out on the grass cost only $25, which is fantastic value, I think.

The only trouble with Wolf Trap this season (or perhaps this is the trouble every season) is that it's quite hard to find programming that's worthy of making the trek out to deepest darkest Virginia to experience. The economics of running a seasonal organization of this scale coupled with the longstanding tradition for arts organizations of offering light fare in the summer months necessitates a lot of crowd pleasing stuff, whether that's Il Divo singing pop medleys or the sing-along Sound of Music.

That being said, Wolf Trap is a magical place to spend an evening with friends experiencing music in the open air. And the concert I saw last night by The Gypsy Kings was on the whole pretty terrific.

What struck me was the diversity of the audience attracted by the Latin beats of the band, which has been going since 1979. There were people of all ages, both genders and many ethnic backgrounds, all swaying and clapping in the packed auditorium. I haven't seen the like since Lady Gaga's gig at the Oakland Coliseum last spring.

The sound from the lawn wasn't very good (I was standing right at the front of this area.) The guitars came over in a sort of indistinguishable mulch and I would have particularly liked to hear a cleaner audio quality during some of the lead guitarists ingenious, fast-fingered solo passages. But Tonino Baliardo's pungently throaty and emotional singing managed to soar over the limitations of the sound system anyway.

By the end of the concert, which featured a combination of lesser known songs and crowd-pleasing hits like "Bamboleo", "Djobi Djoba" and the Kings' famous version of "My Way," the entire house was on its feet. The atmosphere was sweaty and euphoric.

Oh, and one more thing I noticed for the first time about the Gypsy Kings at this concert: Regardless of the type of song that the band is playing, they pretty much perform at one tempo -- a moderate salsa. Perhaps this partly explains the group's popularity. You can move to their music, which is rhythmically dense and harmonically / melodically complex, without tripping over your feet. There's an easy spaciousness about it that makes even the most two-left-footed listener feel comfortable about strutting their stuff.

I wonder, though, if salsa pros like it as much to dance to as lay people?


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