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This Little Underground: How Lorna Lambey owned Ralphfest

Ralphfest highlights, Skinny Puppy

Photo: Photo By James Dechert, License: N/A

Photo By James Dechert


Without question, Ralphfest was the story of the week. This memorial music festival remains the best effort to turn a profound tragedy into a beacon of spirit and benefit that our music community has ever produced. And this third year featured great national talent (Sebadoh, Octagrape) and improved involvement of younger bands, an essential thing for this worthy annual’s continuance and vitality.

Although one of the weekend’s quietest, least flashy performances, Terri Binion (Feb. 7, Will’s Pub) was one of the brightest of the opening night’s highlights. She doesn’t play out nearly as much as she should, but this arresting set was a reminder that there are few voices in the city as graceful or perfect as hers. No attitude, bluster or bullshit – just pure artistry. And it’s why she’s still the local Americana gold standard.

The second night featured special moments like the Attack bringing out Tim “Johnny Vegas” Burton (Mighty Mighty Bosstones) and a local star-studded Guided By Voices cover set. Because I missed the momentous November one, the big-rocking Precious reunion (Feb. 8, the Social) was particularly notable.

However, the crown goes again to local lounge star Lorna Lambey (the Beacham). She took top honors at last year’s Ralphfest because – backed by two players (Los Diggaz), which is twice what we’re used to – she was able to really get out front and shine. But this year was just blinding because the wattage of her radiance was charged by a 20-piece big band. What this grand arrangement cedes in homespun charm – the hallmark of her legendary shows with the much-missed Mark Wayne – it compensates in spectacle and quality. It underscores how truly dazzling she is as an individual performer, an aspect that – I dare say only after witnessing it unchained – was merely hinted at in those cozy Red Fox Lounge shows.

Ralphfest 3: Photos from day two, featuring Sebadoh, Legendary JC’s and more

Even better, Lambey’s performance was also a showcase for pianist Joseph Baker, last year’s recipient of the Ralph Ameduri Jr. Music Scholarship, which is funded by this very festival. Holding down the keys by himself among a wall of seasoned horns, the kid’s clearly a worthy recipient. And the aggregate result? A total sensation.

The Beat

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