Still Singing Like Hell

Hard to believe, but the Sings Like Hell concert series at the Lobero Theatre will turn 10 years old next month. David Lindley, Dave Alvin, Richard Thompson and Tom Russell all played the Lobero in the Fall of 1997, as well as series opener Peter Case, whose album of cover songs a few years earlier gave the series its name.

There have been plenty of ups and a few downs over the years and 150 or so concerts, of course. Last month, for instance, on Summer Solstice night, Jimmy LaFave returned as a headliner with a show that was so staid I think I would have dozed even if I hadn’t been imbibing and frolicking in the sun all day. (Even my date for the evening, who loves all live entertainment, went from “Wow, he’s great!” to “Do you want to go soon?” in the matter of five songs.)

But the high points have far outweighed the clunkers, not the least of which is that the series has introduced scores of performers to town who more than likely simply wouldn’t have had anywhere else to play (save, perhaps, for SOhO, which – in addition to co-opting former SLH acts – has taken up the slack in bringing new singer-songwriters to town in a smaller venue.)

This Saturday (July 7), Peggie Jones and her fellow Hellions are doing it again, having scored a thoroughly intriguing double-bill of the Lovell Sisters and Michael Weston King. The former features a trio of sisters who began taking classical violin and piano lessons at age 5, honed their tight vocal harmonies singing in the church choir, and played in string quartets and youth symphonies. Less than three years ago, the sisters (Jessica, 21, Megan, 18, and Rebecca,16) strayed from their classical training to take on traditional old-time music and bluegrass – shades of Nickel Creek’s Sean and Sara Watkins, who we’ve witnessed mature on stage at Sings Like Hell – and the results have already drawn rapturous reviews from critics and attention and awards from Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”

But don’t show up late and miss King, either. Unlike most venues, where the opening slot is often a throwaway, Sings Like Hell shows are frequently really co-headlining gigs. King, a British singer-songwriter who founded and led that nation’s most important alt-country band, The Good Sons, before launching a solo career, has been called “as fine a singer-songwriter as Gram Parsons” by Ojai’s Chris Hillman, the former Byrds member, who should know.

So, yeah, those young corporate climbers and series sponsors who sip merlot backstage after each concert were juniors in high school when Sings Like Hell was launched. But it’s not too late to get in on the ground floor. Because, as Joe Craven put it so succinctly at Live Oak last month, the train has already left the station and it’s coming ‘round again.