This article was originally published in the July 2017 Trenton Downtowner.
The free Levitt AMP Trenton Music Series returns with a 10-week concert series featuring a combination of national and regional artists. It’s the third year for the Trenton Downtown Association (TDA)-coordinated event and runs Thursdays from June 29 through August 31.
While there are a few changes this year — performances have been moved from Saturday nights to Thursdays at 5 p.m., and the performing venue is Mill Hill Park, a shift from the New Jersey Statehouse lawn — the formula is the same: show up with a blanket or lawn chair, sit back, and enjoy the sounds.
The June 29 concert features Philadelphia-born composer and bassist Derrick Hodge, cited by the New York Times as “a bassist with roots in gospel, jazz, and R&B, (and who) comes bearing earnest intentions and a glow of transparent optimism” and by Jazz Times for weaving jazz and hip hop into a “hypnotic morphing of textures and timbres.” He is joined by the Trenton/Philadelphia group Downright Down, a deep rooted blues and soul funk bank featuring the talents of area-rooted vocalist Brian Williams, guitarists Rob Brown and Evan Hooker, vocalist and harmonist Guy DeRosa, bassist Alex Mazzucca, drummer Joe Falcey, and tenor saxophonist Celidh Madigan.
The series continues on July 6 with Sotomayor, siblings Raul and Paulina Sotomayor’s Latin American electronic music project mixing dance music, Andean rhythms, afro beat, and avant-garde techniques to create — as a Mexican music critic called — a “super-produced pop fused with primitive sounds.” They’ll share the stage with the Trenton based Agudos Clef. That’s the Latin hip-hop duo composed of Josue Lora and Nota G, cited by a Philadelphia-based music reviewer as “an alternative to mainstream hip-hop — no twerking, trap-rap, gun-toting, violence-inciting, fantasy-baiting, hate rap fodder. Just jazz and spoken word with B-boy braggadocio.”
On July 13 North Philadelphia-born soul-jazz and hip-hop/funk innovator and trombone virtuoso Jeff Bradshaw shares the stage Trenton-connected singer, songwriter, actress, and spoken word artist Ja-Tun — performing with Random Acts of Soul.
Then on July 20 New York City-based Lawrence — named after siblings Gracie and Clyde Lawrence — brings their “soulful, playful, and exuberant sound” to town for a set of songs in the singer/songwriter tradition of Carol King, Hall & Oates, and Motown. Joining them is Kyrie London, the New Jersey-raised and Berklee College-trained singer and songwriter whose recordings include “Rooftops,” “Toxic,” and “A Stereo Road.”
The Boston-based Viva La Hop arrives on July 27 with a blend of jazz, funk, and hip-hop that has been summed up as “fun, loud, energetic, and relieving.” Also appearing is the Wayne, New Jersey-based Switch Mob, a group infused with R&B, experiential jazz, alternative soul, and hip-hop.
On August 3 look for Steppin’ Stones, a hard rock trio from South Carolina led by 18-year-old vocalist and guitarist Hannah Wicklund. They arrive to demonstrate what one reviewer called their mixing of styles and genres with precision and originality. They will be sharing the stage with legendary Trenton musical blues icon Paul Plumeri and his Blues Band (see story, page 7).
Next up on August 10 is the Boston-based funk band Bad Rabbits. Called by British Digital magazine as “one of the most exciting bands on the circuit,” the group promises to bring their “kick ass” showmanship to New Jersey. They will be matched by Black Collar Biz (aka Byron Marshall), a Trenton original who combines the sound and energy of rap with the power of soul and gospel.
The nine-piece band Big Mean Sound Machine from Ithaca, New York, arrives on August 17 to launch what New York Music online calls one “of the sweatiest dance parties in the Northeast.” Also on stage is the Fishtown Philadelphia soul-hop foursome Chalk & the Beige Americans — returning for a second year in the Levitt concerts.
August 24 welcomes the Asbury Park based Weeklings. Comprising accomplished musicians Glen Burtnik from Styx, songwriter Bob Burger, 27 West drummer John Merjave, and studio drummer Dave Anthony, the quartet take on the roles of Lefty, Zeek, Rocky, and Ramblin Dave Weekling to bring serious fun and artistry in an event that evokes the early 1960s and the early days of the Beatles. Then listen up for Groovy Movies, the retro-hued psych pop Trenton/Philadelphia group featuring songwriter Nick Carlisi and offering new tunes infused with the golden sounds of the Beach Boy, Beatles, Kinks, and more.
The New Jersey Capital Philharmonic rounds out the series on August 31. Under the direction of conductor Daniel Spalding, the orchestra returns for its third year to perform a mix of symphonic classics, show tunes, popular music — and give a preview of its upcoming season.
The Levitt AMP Trenton Music Series comes through a competitive grant award from the private Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation designed to help “communities to transform neglected public spaces into welcoming destinations where the power of free, live music brings people together and invigorates community life.” The acronym “AMP” stands for Amplify Music Places.
Trenton was one of only 15 American cities to receive a 2017 $25,000 Levitt AMP Grant. The project is also supported by New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group — which matched the grant — and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
TDA Executive Director Tom Gilmour says the series provides “opportunities for visitors to come back to the city.”
In addition to the free concerts, music lovers will also love the free parking offered by the Trenton Parking Authority in the Liberty Commons Parking Garage located on Front Street, just a few hundred feet from Mill Hill Park.
For more information on schedules, parking, and directions to the park, visit www.levittamp.org/trenton.