Banding together for trees at the Morton Arboretum

Four August Twilight Concert Acts: Plain White T's, Lovehammers, Nanci Griffith, Shawn Colvin
August 20, 2009 9:53:10 AM PDT
Their megahit single, "1,2,3,4," has just gone platinum, and now, Plain White T's are bringing their retro-inspired style of rock to the concert stage at The Morton Arboretum on Friday, August 21 at 7 p.m., with special guest: Lovehammers appearing earlier that evening. Folk stars Nanci Griffith and Shawn Colvin perform the following night as part of the "In Tune With Trees" outdoor, summer concert series. The concerts support the Arboretum's mission of planting and protecting trees for a greener, healthier, and more beautiful world.

Plain White T's, Villa Park natives, haven't missed a beat since their 2006 smash tune, "Hey There Delilah," that topped the charts, scored two Grammy nominations, and became one of a very few songs ever to log more than three million downloads, according to the group's website. The Chicago-based group got its name from lead singer Tom Higgenson's fascination with old movies?his inspiration coming from stars such as James Dean and Marlin Brando who often wore plain white T's in their '50s and '60s movies.

"1,2,3,4" appears on the band's latest album Big Bad World, which was recorded with Grammy nominated producer Johnny K, and is the follow up to their 2006 major label debut album Every Second Counts. Sales of "1,2,3,4" have been fueled by the popularity of its companion video which caught fire virally after its release in February. To date, the single has garnered over 27 million plays on MySpace, while the video has over 5 million views on YouTube. Shot in 18-degree weather, the video, which can be seen at www.plainwhitets.com/1234, follows Tom Higgenson around Chicago as he busks for passing couples. Captions identify each couple, along with tidbits about how and when they met.

Plain White T's have also won over many new fans with their recurring appearances on Greek, ABC Family's popular series on college life. To see clips, check out http://community.abcfamily.go.com/subject/plain-white-ts.

Plain White T's lead singer Tom Higgenson and bassist Mike Retondo recently visited Daryl Hall's New York home and jammed with legendary singer/songwriter for an episode of Hall's acclaimed web show Live From Daryl's House. Fans can catch the episode at www.livefromdarylshouse.com. The set included their own hits "1,2,3,4" and "Hey There Delilah," Daryl Hall's "So Close" and a soulful cover of Junior Walker's "Shotgun

Fans will also be able to see the T's on Monday, August 24 at Classic Cinema's Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove. They are scheduled to perform for the 20th Anniversary Big After Hours Film Society Fundraising Night. The show starts at 7:30 pm. The mission of After Hours Film Society is to provide the suburban community with first class foreign, art and independent films that otherwise would not be offered locally. It's a society mean for film lovers of all ages and it operates out of the prestigious, 75-year-old, beautifully restored, 1000-seat theater. For tickets ($20) visit www.classiccinemas.com.

The Plain White T's will also headline the Lake Effect benefit for Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care at the historic Palmer House in Chicago on Friday, August 28. The benefit takes place from 5 p.m. until midnight and will feature three bands, open bars and food stations. Tickets are $75; for more information, visit www.LakeEffectParty.com or call 847-692-8897. Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care www.RainbowHospice.org is a nonprofit organization serving terminally ill patients and their families in Chicago and surrounding counties.

In other Plain White T's news, you can catch former "Sexiest Vegetarian" nominee, Tom Higgenson, in a PETA campaign to be unveiled this fall.

Opening for the T's at the Arboretum concert will be the, Lovehammers, www.lovehammers.com longtime favorites on Chicago's rock scene with their unique mix of pop, grunge, and punk. Their latest album, "Heavy Crown" features a modern vibe. Led by Marty Casey, www.martycasey.com who rocketed to superstardom on the hit reality TV show: Rock Star: INXS, the group scored big with rock fans and environmentalists alike after releasing their pop hit: "Trees." Lovehammers, also known for "Summertime in the City," and "The Riddle," get fans on their feet, dancing to the exuberant, crowd-energizing performances.

But there's more than pop and rock at the Arboretum in August.

Two of the loveliest folk voices in show business?Nanci Griffith and Shawn Colvin? grace the stage on Saturday, August 22 at 7 p.m. Fans won't want to miss a rare opportunity to see Griffith, whose latest album, "The Loving Kind," is earning critical acclaim for her incredible vocals, and the depth and intelligence of her original compositions. The Grammy Award winner was named the "Queen of Contemporary Folk Music" by Rolling Stone, and has put out more than 20 albums of heartfelt songs that explore the tragedies and triumphs of freedom, as well as tunes that express our deeper emotions.

Griffith might be best known for hits such as "From a Distance," or "Love at the Five and Dime" and other folk melodies. Fans include contemporaries such as Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and Emmy Lou Harris, all of whom have either recorded her songs or insisted she record theirs.

Taking the stage prior to Griffith is Shawn Colvin, whose folk-rock tunes earned three Grammy Awards including one for the single "Sunny Came Home." Colvin also won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and Record of the Year. Her latest album, "These Four Walls," beautifully illustrates the human experience through story and song.

Fans will be saying "Let's go Wildcats!" on Sunday, August 23. It's time for Disney's High School Musical: Summer Celebration! featuring favorite songs from all three hit High School Musical movies, including "We're All In This Together," "Fabulous," and "Now or Never." Two shows at 3 pm and 7 pm.

For ticket information, visit www.mortonarb.org, call 630-725-2066 or stop by the Arboretum Visitor Center.

The Morton Arboretum is an internationally recognized 1,700-acre outdoor museum with collections of 4,117 kinds of trees, shrubs, and other plants from around the world. The Arboretum's beautiful natural landscapes, gardens, research and education programs, and year- round family activities support its mission ? the planting and conservation of trees and other plants for a greener, healthier, and more beautiful world. Conveniently located at I-88 and Rte. 53 in Lisle, Illinois, the Arboretum is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central Time or sunset, whichever is earlier. The Children's Garden is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., March through October, and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., November through February.

ABOUT "BIG BAD WORLD"

As the Plain White T's learned over the last two years, there's something unreal about success. One minute you're sweating on stage in some dive. The next, your song is #1 and your CD has sold more than a million albums worldwide. One minute you're listening to "Rubber Soul" on your iPod; the next you're a Song of the Year nominee at the Grammys and Ringo Starr is saying hi to you. Unreal. Yet staying real is precisely what the Plain White T's are all about. So on their new Hollywood/Fearless CD, Big Bad World, they passed on the digital bells or whistles. Instead, producer Johnny K pressed the 'record' button and the band simply played its heart out.

And there's plenty of heart on Big Bad World. Says singer/songwriter Tom Higgenson, "We tried to be really ambitious and not worry about people's expectations for this record. Our vision was to do it in a classic way." To that end, the band only used gear or instruments made before 1970: vintage guitars, old Vox amps and Leslie speakers, a Ludwig drum set circa 1966. They even recorded without a click track (equivalent to walking a high-wire without a net). Because they recorded it live, you might hear imperfections. But in the case of "Big Bad World," those imperfections worked perfectly.

"Our songs in the past had a '50's and '60's influence with classic songwriting structures and harmonies," says Tom. "This time we decided, rather than punk that out and make it sound modern, we would record as though it could have been done by the Beatles or early Tom Petty. We got to a place where we sounded good live 300 nights a year, so we wanted to capture that."

Of course aiming high means nothing without good songs. Fortunately, coming off a smash hit like "Hey There Delilah," Higgenson felt inspired. "There was no second guessing," he recalls. "If I thought something was good, I went with it. The album is 10 songs, very concise and to the point."

The opening title track, co-written by Tom and Chris Thompkins ("Before He Cheats"), conveys a battle-scarred confessional offset by a deceptively upbeat melody. "Over the past year, I made lots of mistakes," Tom says, "and I wanted to write about that rather than point fingers at people. I wanted to place the blame on myself." Next, the first single "Natural Disaster," with its ballistic beat and tale of a seductive groupie, upends the band's undeserved reputation as loveably lovelorn.

"Serious Mistake" wraps a solid rock foundation with a wild orchestration. "I was in a dark place," Tom says of the song's origins. "I made a stupid mistake with a girl that I immediately regretted. For a while I harbored some guilt. So I wrote the song in an effort to work through it." Bassist Mike Retondo lends a major assist on the track, playing everything from bass clarinet and melodica to trombone, even improvising some of his parts on the spot.

The ballad "Rainy Day" serves as melancholy counterpoint to gems like "That Girl" and "1,2,3,4" (featuring the otherworldly sounds of Jon Brion on the Chamberlin), both of which embody Tom's idealized sense of pop simplicity.

Then there's "Sunlight," which just might be the new album's crown jewel. Written by guitarist Tim Lopez, the song blends a reverent melody with "Abbey Road"-level harmonies to proffer a message of forgiveness (Grammy nominee William Hamilton, the father of PWT's drummer De'Mar Hamilton, plays organ). "Last year should have been the best year of my life," says Tim. "The band was exploding. It seemed we couldn't do anything wrong. But my marriage was ending right in the middle of the success. I wrote this song to my wife. For me, it was written as a message of hope that we could work it out, that we could save what we had. We don't usually do dark songs, but the song had enough hope for Tom to latch onto."

"I Really Want You" infuses a tale of unrequited lust with a "Blonde on Blonde" vibe, right down to the saloon-style piano. "Everybody has that reaction when they see a pretty girl," Tom notes of the song. "Your heart starts racing, your life flashes before your eyes. She's the one! This was written one morning when I caught sight of a girl that for a moment seemed like the one."

As for "Meet Me in California," the song is based on another torturous misstep in the Tom Higgenson love saga. "It's an allusion to another serious mistake," he says. "You can only hurt someone so many times before it's not even about whether they forgive you. It's about why do I keep being such an idiot. I always had it in my head, even as a kid, that I was going to live in California someday. The song is about finally getting out to California and hoping something better is waiting for me there."

The album ends on a high note with "Someday," an intricate composition that swaps typical verse-chorus structure for something harder to label. "I always write hopeful songs," Tom says. "The record starts with 'Big Bad World,' talking about my screw-ups, and then it ends with a message that someday it'll all work out."

The Chicago based band, together for a decade, is still on a road of self-discovery. Formed during Tom's teen years when he saw his life laid out before him at Chicago's famed Metro club, the band built a steady following over the years and miles. They were invited to the Warped Tour (three times), opened for bands like Jimmy Eat World, and released two indie CDs their 2002 debut, Stop and 2005's All That We Needed.

The band signed with Hollywood Records, releasing Every Second Counts in 2006 and putting "Hey There Delilah" out as a single. The track hit #1 on Billboard and iTunes (becoming one of very few songs ever to log more than 3 million downloads), propelled the CD into a worldwide hit, and earned the band two Grammy nods, Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

"I remember the first time we got a glimpse of what was happening," Tom recalls. "We were in Milwaukee for a summer festival, we walked onstage and there were at least 20,000 people there to see us. We did those kinds of shows all summer. There were screaming girls pounding on the car windows. It was incredible," he adds.

The band went on to conquer Europe, where "Hey There Delilah' also became a #1 hit in several countries.

"It's easier now in a way," says Tom, reflecting on the group's success. "When you start a band and take it seriously, you basically give up a normal life. You barely see family and friends. The success makes the trade off worth it."

Still, the Plain White T's remain happily unsatisfied. "We've grown up, and learned more and more with every record about the band that we are and the band we want to be," adds Tom. "When we record now, we're listening more for character than perfection."

With Big Bad World, the Plain White T's put that goal to the test. It's hard to argue they didn't pass. Tom Higgenson and his band mates are betting, at least in their corner of pop culture, it's not such a big bad world after all.

INTRODUCING THE MARTY CASEY SILVER ELEMENTS COLLECTION

The strong link between music and fashion continues as Chicago rock star Marty Casey www.martycasey.com launches his own signature collection, the Marty Casey Silver Elements Collection. Marty's interest in fashion and concern for the environment were integral in developing this collection.

The vision was to offer modern jewelry and unique accessories that would transcend gender and age. The goal was to create product with a high level of design integrity at an affordable price. Some of the materials currently being used consist of finest grade 925 sterling silver as well as hand-loomed eco-friendly bamboo.

Marty Casey amassed a few million fans around the world thanks to his remarkable run on the hit television show, Rock Star: Inxs. While on Rock Star, Marty became the fan favorite and introduced his original tune, "Trees" to much acclaim.

He has formed a partnership with American Forests www.americanforests.org. All items purchased from the collection support The Marty Casey Elements of Nature Fund where every dollar plants a tree in conjunction with American Forests Global Releaf Ecosystem restoration projects. American Forests, helps people improve the environment with trees and forests. It is the nation's oldest nonprofit citizens' conservation organization

The jewelry and accessories collection is available at: www.silverelementscollection.com; The Museum Shop at the Art Institute of Chicago www.artic.edu; the Gift Shop at the Morton Arboretum www.mortonarb.org


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