The Red Clay Ramblers and the Texas Tornados in Prospert Park, free. I decided to go because I adore the Red Clay Ramblers and hadn't seen them for about 17 or 18 years, and because I wanted to see Flaco Jimenez play live.
The Red Clay Ramblers are kind of a big-band string band...they're about as big as a string band can get and still be a string band. They have a drummer with a full kit, a stand-up bass player, a guitarist who also plays mandolin and mandola, a fiddler who also plays harmonica, a keyboard player, a banjo player, and a guy who plays tuba, trombone, guitar and accordion (who also has been sporting a red fez for about thirty years that I know of). They all sing. They play quite a few traditional fiddle tunes, which are extremely clean (as opposed to the raggediness of many other string bands I've heard over the years). Plus the musicianship is first-rate, and the guys even have a nice sense of humor. The fiddler, Clay Buckner, is fairly astonishing, and I'm very picky about traditional fiddlers. These guys have only gotten better since I saw them early on (they played for an off-Broadway show called Diamond Studs which I think I saw twice, as well as Fool Moon on Broadway, which I saw three times).
The Texas Tornados basically began as a Tex-Mex supergroup, which included Doug Sahm, Freddy Fender, and Flaco Jimenez. Sahm and Fender are gone now, replaced by Doug's son Shawn on guitar and vocals, and Ernie Dirawa on vocals. But the real attraction for me was Flaco Jimenez, who has won five Grammy awards and is basically the man as far as accordion goes. The band was a little more loud and rocking than I expected, maybe more Tex than Mex at times, and the more Texan offerings basically sounded like southern rock with great accordion (I am not a big fan of southern rock, which is generally a little twangy for my taste). But I loved the more Mexican stuff. (I also love Los Lobos, pretty much everything they do, but I have a soft spot for their more Mexican and Spanish-language songs.)
They also covered "Wooly Bully" -- I had no idea that Sam the Sham was Chicano! This got a lot of people on their feet in the aisles, including a guy we'd been stealing peeks at because we were fairly certain that he was Marshall Crenshaw.
I can't say enough about the Celebrate Brooklyn concerts in Prospect Park. They're basically free (they ask for a three dollar contribution at the gate), the venue is comfortable (it has seats!), and they have interesting vendors and great shows. (The main food vendor is Two Boots, a Louisiana-style restaurant with a few locations in NYC, and I had some red beans & rice and jalapeno cornbread last night that were just awesome, and cost a total of $6.) We went a couple of weeks ago to see Allen Toussaint, who, besides being a treasure and a living legend and all that stuff, is a wonderful performer and just exudes charm and warmth. (We saw him once before, when he was touring with Elvis Costello after Katrina.) I don't get excited about all of the shows -- we were going to see the Buena Vista Orchestra a few days ago, but they canceled because they couldn't get visas in time (I blame Fidel). And in August, I will not miss Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. The whole series has a very Brooklyn flavor somehow.
I used to go to the similar Central Park Summerstage shows, especially when I lived in Manhattan, but they're become very crowded in recent years (I don't think they have seating anymore), and their shows have gotten a little more esoteric. But I did see a lot of great acts there: Booker T. and the MGs, the Fugees, Yomo Toro, Black 47, Solomon Burke, the Holmes Brothers, the Don Byron Klezmer Band (which was inexplicably on the same bill as Black 47), and many others I can't recall offhand. They tend to have more afternoon shows, while Celebrate Brooklyn mainly does its shows in the evenings (a bit more comfortable in the summer -- I got some awful sunburn at the Black 47/Don Byron show, which was on a July 4).
We are broke and do love us some free live music.Search Amazon.com for Sharon Jones & the Dap-KingsBest ofEsta BuenoSearch Amazon.com for texas tornados