- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

Anytime one has the opportunity to listen to a favorite musical artist discuss his or her craft, it’s a treat. When someone as jovial, knowledgeable and respected as Elvis Costello is interviewing that artist, it’s a joy.

For now, you can indulge yourself every week with the Sundance Channel’s “Spectacle: Elvis Costello With …” It has a 13-week run, and by the time you read this, the seventh episode, with Rufus Wainwright, will have just aired. But you have six more chances to catch it.

The lineup for this first season has some familiar boldface names, including Tony Bennett, James Taylor and Smokey Robinson, but I am particularly looking forward to watching Elvis interview and interact with Renee Fleming, She and Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) and his wife-in-real-life, Diana Krall.

The format for the show is fairly straightforward, with the energy of a live audience to enhance it. On a well-lit stage set, Elvis plays a bit, after which the guest is introduced, conversation follows, and stories and anecdotes are exchanged. Then some great musical collaboration takes place, with both Mr. Costello’s and the honored guest’s songs being played as well as some cover gems of their choosing.

“Spectacle” joins some music shows that have done an admirable job of presenting artists. PBS’ “Austin City Limits” might be considered the granddaddy of current performance shows, and the long–running “Soundstage” also delivers. Don Cornelius on “Soul Train” presented great rhythm-and-blues artists as well as hip-hop, soul and some jazz and gospel artists. It had a really long run, from 1971 to 2006. Remember when MTV was airing its “Unplugged” series? Those shows had some great moments. Of course, that was when MTV was true to its name as a music channel, not a reality-TV outlet.

For those with longer memories, there was a time when “Saturday Night Live” was one of the few places to see current pop and rock artists, even if it was just for two songs, and those of you who are ancient (like me) can venture even further back to around 1 on a Sunday morning and remember flipping the channels looking for “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.” If I go as far back as the “Ed Sullivan Show” when the Beatles were on, this column will never end. But I do remember those spectacular moments as well.


I think I was around 13 when I discovered Dolly Parton on her own show; I spent the entire half-hour squinting about 2 inches from the TV screen, trying to figure out how she could finger-pick the guitar with those talonlike fingernails. She had musical guests, and the program that featured Dolly, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt was about as sublime as music on TV could get.

Perhaps the current recession will create an opportunity for more shows as good as these. It’s heinously expensive for artists to tour these days, and though many work very hard not to pass those costs on to concertgoers, sometimes it’s unavoidable, so … TV music shows could emerge as an affordable alternative to the cost of two tickets, parking, gas, a baby sitter, beverages, food and whatever else goes into a night at Wolf Trap/Birchmere/Blues Alley/name-your-venue-here.

For heaven’s sake, what was I thinking? Television will never be THAT good. Live music is always going to beat live-to-tape.

Nevertheless, until the economy recovers and you feel you’ve got it in your budget to head out to Nissan Pavilion, you can satisfy your musical jones with some of these television programs.

And if you are on the run and can’t get home in time for your appointment viewing, there’s always satellite radio, the Internet, your smart phone, BlackBerry, etc., etc. to get your music fix.

No matter how many times Bono sings it, it’s beginning to seem that you CAN find what you’re looking for.

For more information on Mary Chapin Carpenter, check out these links:

https://www.marychapincarpenter.com/

https://rounder.com/


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