Buffalo is one patriotic town.
Friday morning's "Swingin' Stars and Stripes," the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's Memorial Day concert, drew a huge crowd. There were lots of little kids and from the clamor before the concert, you would have thought you were at a baseball game. And that was just the beginning. Once the concert began, people kept rising to their feet.
It happened for the first time when guest artist Anita Hall sang the daylights out of the rousing "God Bless the U.S.A.," which is turning into a kind of modern national anthem. In the concert's second half, everyone rose spontaneously again to "America the Beautiful" -- and then after that to a show-stopping take on "God Bless America." There were numerous veterans in attendance, and you could tell the depth of feeling from all of this getting up and down. One listener joked, "It's like Catholic Mass."
Guest pops conductor Matt Catingub is at the helm of this sparkling and enjoyable concert.
Memorial Day concerts have been evolving. They are less solemn than they might have been once upon a time. The program, which was announced from the stage, had its reflective moments. But it included a lot of big-band fanfare. It also sported lots of lighthearted, World War II-era swing. Songs such as "It Had To Be You," "Night and Day" and "Over the Rainbow" could make you think of the people who traveled the world entertaining the troops.
There was no podium, so as to give Catingub room. He is a kind of one-stop-shopping entertainer. He can do it all, and he does. Forget the baton -- he leads the BPO like a big band. Conducting "Take Me Out To the Ball Game," he looked as if he were throwing pitches.
His graceful, economical jazz piano added zip and poetry. There were tight, knockout arrangements, including a breakneck "Dearly Beloved" and a sizzling "Honeysuckle Rose."
Catingub and Hall work together frequently and have it together. The concert featured eight other equally important guest stars. These were the Fredonia Voices, a group from SUNY Fredonia State College assembled and coached by baritone sax player Bruce Johnstone, who was on hand for this concert.
God knows how Johnstone gets these kids together, gets them to show up for rehearsals, and does everything else necessary to turn them into the miracle they are. They sing in impeccable synch. Their retro harmonies, in particular, were a delight. When they sang Nat "King" Cole's "Funny," it was like taking a time machine back to 1960.
Hall sang a couple of unexpected numbers and made them work. The suave "Change Partners" was sweet as a song sung by a woman to a man, instead of the other way around. "Seventy-Six Trombones" took on a new twist, aided and abetted by the BPO's trombones. But where was the timpani when the song mentioned the booming timpani? Boom out those drums on Saturday night, is my suggestion.
I have one other suggestion, too. The Fredonia Singers did a great job whipping up the crowd in "When the Saints Go Marching In." Next time around, how about letting them off the stage and sending them into the crowd? When the singers go marching in! I think folks would go wild.
The concert repeats at 8 p.m. May 27 at Kleinhans Music Hall.