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Light from the Pink Moon: S.F. Artists to Reinterpret Nick Drake's Classic Onstage 

Wednesday, Jan 18 2012

During his lifetime, Nick Drake only sold a few thousand albums. Since his accidental overdose on antidepressants in 1974, his influence as a musician and songwriter has been incalculable. His stripped-down, emotionally raw music still sounds fresh and new today. Pink Moon, the last album he made before passing away, features Drake accompanied only by guitar and piano. Its stark, desolate beauty suggests a man trapped inside his emotions, yet displaying a chilling state of grace in his isolation. It was that quality that attracted local trumpeter and composer Darren Johnston to Drake's music and led him to contact Lyz Luke at UnderCover Presents about putting together a concert based on the music of Pink Moon.

The idea of having local musicians recreate classic albums — and the formation of UnderCover Presents, the organization that makes these shows happen — came together a few years ago, in a spontaneous outburst of creativity. Luke explains: "I was talking to Charith Premawardhana of Classical Revolution, who had an evening to fill at Coda (now Brick and Mortar Music Hall). I suggested recreating the Velvet Underground & Nico album by asking local bands to each play one song from the album. We made a wish list of performers at 3 one morning, and by the next afternoon everybody got on board. Within four weeks, we put together the show and sold out two nights."

Inspired by that success, UnderCover followed up with The Pixies' Doolittle, a performance that featured 100 musicians, including the 50-voice women's choir Conspiracy of Venus, curated by Aaron Novik. "The collaborations are exciting because we get genres that generally don't cross-pollinate," Luke says.

Darren Johnston's music is a hybrid of jazz, Balkan, country, and highlife, but he also plays with other local groups, including Meklit Hadero, Balkan Gypsy brass band Brass Menažeri, and the Marcus Shelby Orchestra. He's encouraging players to stay away from technology to honor Drake's desolate masterpiece. "The album is stripped down, just Drake [and] guitar, which leaves the tunes wide open for reinterpretation," Johnston says. "I like organic, free-range, locally produced human expression. Too many electronics, especially pre-recorded canned beats and the like, detract from the human feel. David Boyce will probably be playing solo and using some electronics, but his music always retains a deep earthiness and soul."

The Pink Moon lineup will include Brass Menažeri, the gypsy folk of Pocketful of Rye, the sweet folk pop of Ramon and Jessica, Aaron Novik's jazzy psychedelic prog rock, Johnston's own Broken Shadows Family Band, and more. "There are so many fantastic and creative musicians in the area, it was really tough to choose a lineup," Johnston says. "I knew that I wanted a lot of contrast stylistically from band to band, which I definitely found with the people I chose."

This time out, each act will play with its usual lineup, rather than mixing and matching players to create new ensembles as UnderCover has done for past shows. It will make the logistics of the set changes easier for the musicians, and make for a smoother concert presentation. The Pink Moon show also moves UnderCover closer to the goal of putting together performances that will provide total sensory immersion. The music will be complimented with video footage by Joseph Case, and local sustainable fashion designer Rachel Znerold will be dressing the leading ladies. There will also be vegan Pink Moon-themed food by Apothocurious.

As with past UnderCover Presents shows, the goal of this one is more than simply selling tickets. "We're not looking to make money," Luke says, "but to connect musicians and artists with people who wouldn't ordinarily come to their shows."

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