New York City's budget crisis has forced draconian reductions in many city services, and the arts world has been particularly hard hit.
One very popular program, the Central Park SummerStage music series, has managed to adjust to the lack of funds available for the arts by holding a series of benefit concerts to underwrite production costs for the free concert series.
"We are proud to partner with New York area concert promoters in the presentation of such high quality music," said David Rivel, executive director of the City Parks Foundation. "These benefits support our free concerts throughout the summer."
The benefit series kicks off with two nights of music by the groundbreaking alternative country/roots-rock band Wilko, on a double bill with the premiere New York underground rock band, Sonic Youth. The series also will feature concerts by Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, The White Stripes, Indigo Girls and a double bill of Aimee Mann and Ben Folds Five.
Central Park SummerStage has earned a global reputation for its artistic programming. The 2003 program features American music, world music, modern dance, cabaret, electronic music, opera, spoken word, family programs and educational "Worldshops," and provides a setting for friends, families and neighbors to come together in celebration of the performing arts.
The opening event, Wilko and Sonic Youth, takes place June 26-27. Wilko is coming off the critically acclaimed album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."
Elvis Costello appears on July 11. Costello is coming off his first new recording in seven years, "When I Was Cruel" (Universal). When he first appeared on the scene in 1977, Costello's anger and cynicism linked him with the punks, but his real connection to that movement was his passion. He tore through rock's back pages taking whatever he wanted, as well as borrowing from country, Tin Pan Alley pop, reggae and elsewhere. That musical eclecticism has distinguished Costello's career as much as his erudite lyrics.
Ani DiFranco will perform solo July 16. DiFranco is one of the real success stories of the DIY movement, forming her own record company, Righteous Babe Records, in 1990 to release her albums. On "Evolve," her latest release, the singer/songwriter/guitarist achieves a breakthrough performance.
"By the time I was recording the last few song on the album," said DiFranco, "I felt like I was evolving -- I wanted the album to open up a little bit and get out of that band-focused phase. This record represents the culmination of a certain musical era, and it gives a little glimpse of what's to come."
The White Stripes, garage rock's newest heroes, will play July 23. Combining the influences of punk with R&B, the sister and brother duo of Meg (drums) and Jack White (guitar) have been praised for returning rock 'n' roll to its roots. Recently the band made history by performing for a week on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. The band's new album, "Elephant," was released last month on Third Man/V2 Records.
The Indigo Girls play their SummerStage benefit Aug. 14. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, among the most influential folk-rock artists in contemporary music, have been attracting huge crowds to their performances, which often turn into sing-alongs. Emily has the gentler sound, is more complex musically, and often leans toward the spiritual, while Amy draws heavily from the singer/songwriter aspects of punk rock for her more abrasive and direct approach. Their latest Epic Records release, "Become You," fully explores the core elements that give their music such enduring appeal.
The series wraps up Aug. 20 with the twin bill of Aimee Mann and Ben Folds Five. Mann is a prolific songwriter known for her beautiful, miniaturist musical narratives. The simultaneous release of "Bachelor No. 2" and the soundtrack to the film "Magnolia" garnered nominations for an Oscar, a Golden Globe and three Grammys in 2000. Her latest release, "Lost In Space," showcases Mann's penchant for boldly honest and intimate storytelling, while being the first of her releases to meld the lyrical and aural content, setting her wry and introspective lyrics against layers of haunting instrumentation.
Ben Folds Five is actually a trio of piano, bass and drums. Pianist Ben Folds formed the trio in 1994 with bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee. The band's 1995 self-titled debut created a major label bidding war for its services.