Jess Klein headlines at Burlap & Bean, Friday night
By Denny Dyroff, Correspondent, The Times
John Countryman was born to be a rocker and Jess Klein was born to rock. Fortunately for the two talented musicians, they both have achieved those goals.
Klein, who has been recording and touring for close to 20 years, initially was considered a folk artist but now makes music that has more rock than folk in its DNA. On May 23, she will headline the bill at the Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse in Newtown Square.
Countryman, who has performed in rock bands in Maryland for years, is now touring the country playing the role of one of the ultimate rockers — Jerry Lee Lewis — in the national tour of the Broadway musical “Million Dollar Quartet.”
Fans of the hot show don’t have to visit Broadway or travel to Chicago or Las Vegas where the musical’s sit-down shows are. All they need do is take a short ride to downtown Wilmington. “Million Dollar Quartet” will be presented by the DuPont Theatre from May 27-June 1.
“Mllion Dollar Quartet”, an international Tony Award-Winning musical, is set on December 4, 1956, when a strange twist of fate brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley together.
Sam Phillips, the “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll” who was responsible for launching the careers of each icon, gathered the four legendary musicians at the Sun Records storefront studio in Memphis for the first and only time.
That special evening, which featured broken promises, secrets, betrayal, humorous banter and celebrations, resulted in one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll jam sessions in history — a musical session that included such all-time hits as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “That’s All Right,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Fever,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Hound Dog.”
“For this show, they’ve taken 18 months of time and compressed it into one day,” said Countryman, during a recent phone interview from his home in Annapolis. “In addition to all the music, they’ve included a lot of drama.
“Johnny Cash is portrayed as very stoic while Jerry Lee is very egotistical and loud. Jerry Lee provides comic relief — but I try to play it straight too.”
Jerry Lee Lewis, whose nickname is “The Killer,” has always been a controversial and iconoclastic figure. When he was 22, he married his 13-year-old cousin. It almost ruined his career but Lewis forged ahead anyway. He has recorded approximately 50 Top 20 singles — including 14 Number One hits.
“I’ve been a life-long fan of Jerry Lee Lewis,” said Countryman, who wasn’t even born yet when Lewis celebrated his 50th birthday. “As soon as I learned piano, I started listening to him. My mom is a big Elvis fan so she gave me a love for that music from an early age.
“I got into Jerry Lee right from the start. Long before I became part of this show, I was watching Jerry Lee videos on YouTube. Some of my favorites were his performances on the ‘Shindig’ TV show.”
“Million Dollar Quartet” presents a lot of great music but it also gives fans the opportunity to see Perkins, Cash, Presley, Lewis and Phillips interact on a personal level.
“Sam Phillips and Jerry Lee are both forces of nature,” said Countryman, a native of Burlington, North Carolina. “There is a lot of intensity when they get together.”
A few years ago, area fans were treated to a live performance by Lewis when he played the American Music Theater in Lancaster — and to an up-close glimpse at his larger-than-life persona.
About two-thirds of the way through his show, Lewis began to play another song when an elderly couple stood up from their seats in the third row and started head to the exit. Lewis stopped playing and told the couple — “Sit back down. Nobody — and I mean nobody — walks out on The Killer.”
“Million Dollar Quartet” will have eight performances at the DuPont Theatre
1007 N. Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 800-338-0881, http://duponttheatre.com) from May 27-June 1. Ticket prices start at $35.
While “Million Dollar Quartet” making only its second visit to the Delaware Valley, Klein, who lives in Austin, Texas, has built a strong fan base in the area over the years. She has performed in a variety of local venues, including Phoenixville’s Colonial Theatre, the Point, the Tin Angel, the Painted Bride and, most recently, Burlap & Bean.
Her latest album “Learning Faith” is scheduled to be released next month. The audience at Burlap & Bean on May 23 will have two options to hear the new songs ahead of the official release date. Klein will have the new disc for sale at the show and will perform the album’s songs in the show.
“I’ve been playing all the new songs,” said Klein, during a phone interview from Boston Tuesday. “I had a residency with my band at the club Strange Brew in Austin and we worked the songs pretty well. I played all the songs live before I recorded them last fall in Austin. Two of the songs were inspired by Texas politics, including ‘If There Is a God.’
“That song is about my experience at the Texas State House when I was there with 6,000 other people to support Wendy Davis and stop the legislature that Governor Perry was trying to pass. She was a State Senator who held an 11-hour pro-choice filibuster. To be a part of all these people coming together was so moving.”
“I was writing for the album for a year before I recorded it and there was a theme. All the songs are about different kinds of leaps of faith. The first song I wrote was the title track. Then, it occurred to me that I could write a whole album about faith — faith in myself and faith in the universe.”
Don’t be misled into thinking that Klein’s new album is a religious album or a collection of preachy songs. It is more a thought-producing album by a singer-songwriter whose themes and musical styles have been evolving.
“The new album is more of a blues album,” said Klein. “It has a swampy feel –really groove-oriented but without a lot of guitar. It’s a lot about the rhythm and my voice. On this tour, I’m playing solo — just me, my guitar and a Porchboard, which is a type of stompbox.”
Jess Klein will perform on May 23 at 8 p.m. at the Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com). Tickets are $10.
The local musical calendar also includes a “Bob Dylan Birthday Bash” on May 23 at The Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, www.kennettflash.org) featuring a live performance by Mason Porter. The club’s line-up for May 24 includes Three for Five, Absolute Sky and Skugg.
The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Splintered Sunlight’s Grateful Dead Tribute Show on May 22 and 23. On May 14, the Jesse Lundy Band: Mach 4 will open and be followed by “Hotlanta, a tribute to the Allman Brothers.
The World Café Live at the Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-994-1400, queen.worldcafelive.com) also has a tribute act scheduled for this weekend with One, a tribute to U2 as the headliner on May 24. The show on May 23 will feature the music of the Smithereens — performed by the original Smithereens.
Garland Jeffries on May 23 at the Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com). Steel City will also host the Melton Brothers Band with David Jacobs-Strain and Bob Beach on May 24.
Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com/schedule) will feature Final Showcase, Home Again, Nobody Yet and Upon Discovery on May 22; Jake Currie, Alyssa Garcia, Emma Cullen and Jessica Forget on May 23 and Band of Rivals and Ryan Rettew on May 24.