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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the September 17, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

For Music Lovers: Season of Sound at Crossroads

The State Theater has turned the lights back on at

Crossroads, preparing a treat for audiences who crave an intimate

setting in which to really savor the talent of vocal artists.

The New Brunswick Cultural Center built and owns the Crossroads building.

Its 10-year lease with Crossroads expired in 2001, at a time when

Crossroads was dark due to its financial troubles. "The NBCC tried

to keep the building available to them, but two or three seasons went

by with little or no activity there," says Chris Butler, vice

president and chief operating officer of the State Theater. "The

NBCC stepped in and asked the State Theater to assist with programming

and to manage the rental of the building."

Already the attractive small theater is booking up, and neighbors

are happy to see the lights lit again. The African Globe Theater of

Newark has just completed a short run of the musical "Dreamgirls,"

and a revived Crossroads Theater will be back for its 25th anniversary

season under the direction of co-founder Ricardo Khan in November.

This week is the launch of State @ Crossroads, a full season of music

attractions. Butler, beginning his 13th season at the 1,800-seat State

Theater, where he programs all the shows, has selected 20 artists

for Crossroads, which is located just two doors away from the venerable

big State. Butler, too, has stayed close to home. After growing up

in Roselle, he attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick (Class

of 1980), and has lived in the city ever since.

Duo guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad inaugurate the season with a

concert on Thursday, September 25, 8 p.m. Enthusiasts of the classical

guitar will rejoice to hear the instruments in such an intimate space.

The Falla Guitar Trio will follow in May. Other top-drawer offerings

include concerts by Aoife Clancy, Leon Redbone, and Janis Ian.

Butler notes that the musicians he has selected for Crossroads could

all play larger venues. "They’re terrific artists," he says,

"Anyone would consider themselves lucky to hear Dianne Reeves

in this intimate space." Guy Davis has played the 1,800-seat State

Theater before, but most will agree his act is tailor-made for an

audience of less than 300.

Butler says the State’s mission is to round out its own concert offerings

and build audiences for new artists, such as the up-and-coming British

vocalist Stacey Kent. "When Stacey comes to the U.S., she usually

plays only New York’s Oak Room and an intimate venue in San Francisco.

Now," he says, "our audiences can hear her in an intimate

setting."

Crossroads Theater Company moved into the $4 million

290-seat theater, custom-built for it at 7 Livingston Avenue, in 1991.

With sleek modern lines and good technical facilities, the theater

offers comfortable seating above a small thrust stage. "We have

presented some musical artists there in the past and there’s not a

lot of amplification required," says Butler. "It’s a beautiful

sounding room."

For this come-back season, the programing has a distinct jazz emphasis.

Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, backed by a piano,

bass, and percussion trio, opens the jazz series on Thursday, October

2. Also featured is Latin and Afro-Caribbean jazz from Jerry Gonzales

& the Fort Apache Band, who appear on Saturday, November 15. British

jazz vocalist and rising star Stacey Kent performs on Wednesday, November

19. In the new year, there’s jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio

on Tuesday, January 20, and Afro-Cuban jazz legend Larry Harlow and

his ensemble on Saturday, April 24.

"These smaller jazz acts were something we wanted to see on our

program," says Butler, "but they just were not suited to our

1,800-seat theater."

Most ticket prices for the Crossroads music season are in the $25

range, a price that Butler says is just about comparable to the cover

charge at a New York City jazz club. "This is our first venture

into the small room, and we didn’t want price to be a barrier to attendance,"

he says. The season’s biggest bargains are family shows, for which

seats cost just $10.

"This is more mission-driven than financially driven," says

Butler. "It’s an effort to round out our programing and offer

family attractions in a smaller, intimate environment. This balances

out our big spectacular family shows, like `Sesame Street Live.’"

In 1999, Crossroads won the Tony Award for America’s best regional

theater but the glory was short-lived. The company, buried under $2

million debt, was plunged into darkness in October, 2000. In fall

2002, it emerged with an abbreviated season of imported works. Now

that the State Theater has helped turned the lights back on, it will

be up to the stars Butler has chosen to keep them shining.

— Nicole Plett

State @ Crossroads

7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311.

Sergio and Odair Assad. Duo guitarists and master of the

classical guitar canon. $30. September 25, 8 p.m.

Dianne Reeves and Trio. The Grammy Award-winning jazz

vocalist backed by a piano, bass, and percussion trio. $40. October

2, 8 p.m.

Mahotella Queens. The veteran South African vocal trio

with guitar-driven Afro pop and reggae. $28. October 17, 8 p.m.

The Gizmo Guys. Family show featuring the masters of the

art of juggling and comedy. $10. October 26, 1 p.m.

Kila. One of Ireland’s most innovative young bands. $25.

November 1, 8 p.m.

Burhan Ocal & the Istanbul Ensemble. An ensemble of Turkey’s

leading Gypsy musicians. $25. November 4, 8 p.m.

Jerry Gonzales & the Fort Apache Band. Jazz and Latin

combine for an Afro-Caribbean mix. $25. November 15, 8 p.m.

Stacey Kent. Jazz vocalist and rising star with a style

reminiscent of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. $22. November 19,

8 p.m.

Bonnie Rideout. Virtuoso young Scottish fiddler. $30.

November 22, 8 p.m.

The Princely Players. The eight-member vocal ensemble

from Nashville leads a guided tour through the cultural landscape

of Africans in America. $25. January 15, 2004, 8 p.m.

Brad Mehldau Trio. Jazz pianist Mehldau is considered

one of the most adventuresome on the scene. $30. January 20, 8 p.m.

Metta Quintet. A celebration of traditions from work songs

and spirituals to blues and Be-Bop. $20. February 6, 8 p.m.

Guy Davis. Traveling bluesman brings 12-string guitars,

banjo, blues harp, and washboard. $25. February 28, 8 p.m.

Eighth Blackbird. Ambassadors of new music combine flute,

clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, and piano. $25. March 11, 8 p.m.

Aoife Clancy. The Irish-born vocalist member of the Clancy

clan and former singer with Cherish the Ladies. $30. March 17, 8 p.m.

David Parker. The Pied Piper of Sign presents a family

program of music, movement, and humor. $10. March 21, 1 p.m.

Larry Harlow’s Latin Jazz Encounter. Afro-Cuban jazz legend

with keyboards, sax, trumpet, drums, bass, and congas. $25. April

24, 8 p.m.

Leon Redbone. The veteran of lyrical satire shares his

love affair with ragtime, folk, and jazz. $25. May 1, 8 p.m.

Falla Guitar Trio. Classical jazz and popular music for

the guitar. $25. May 5, 8 p.m.

Janis Ian. The tireless folk icon with 17 albums to her

credit. $25. May 15, 8 p.


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