Artpark becomes Ben-central next week with performances by two of music’s more intriguing artists - Ben Harper and Ben Folds. Tickets for each show is $12 until July 10 when cost increases to $17 (box office, artpark.net and by phone at 888-223-6000).
Here’s a look.
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals, July 12
Many people miss the mark on Ben Harper’s incredible artistry by trying to label him, or attempting to draw a square musical genre around what he creates.
People throw words like reggae, neo-folk, funk, jam-funk, neo-reggae jazz, and assorted combinations of all the above to try to explain what he produces. But the more esoteric, the better when it comes to Harper’s sound. A heady, delicious, emotional, groovy vibe of great songs on a beautiful warm summer night might more accurately portray what Artpark visitors are likely to experience. Weather cooperating, of course.
Harper’s nearly 20-year career has flown under the radar to some degree, eluding the mega-hit or big stardom moment, but he has had a steady presence in film and television soundtracks, won three Grammys, and recorded 13 studio albums.
His tabloid notoriety came from marrying (and years later divorcing) actress Laura Dern, but his music fans are somewhat cultish and steadfast. His live shows are known to be amazing jam fests, with stellar musicians and his trademark mishmash of styles and genres blended seamlessly into a kaleidoscope of, well, Ben Harper.
Harper and the Innocent Criminals are touring in support of his new album, “Call It What It Is,” released in April. Gates open at 4:45 p.m. and there is not an opener: Harper and band take the stage promptly at 7 p.m.
Ben Folds and yMusic, July 13
Ben Folds first infiltrated our musical consciousness in 1997 with his group Ben Folds Five, and their modest hit “Brick.” The melancholy, piano-driven song that may or may not have been inspired about Folds’ high school girlfriend getting an abortion is somewhat typical of Folds’ emotional music.
He is reflective, often leaning toward the sad end of things, but Folds can get cheeky and ’90s-rock on songs like “Rockin the Suburbs.” He often pays homage to his musical hero Elton John, but without John’s electric boots and mohair suits.
Folds somehow hasn’t reached the mass-audience he probably deserves. His 1997 album “Whatever and Ever Amen” took five years to reach gold status, and remains his only best-seller. He falls into that no-man’s land where mainstream radio can’t figure out what to do with his songs so they just don’t play them.
Folds has garnered a reputation as something of an outspoken maverick, or malcontent, depending on whether you think his sardonic edge is funny or not.
Now a solo act, he is touring in support of his 2015 orchestral album “So There” backed by yMusic, a mini string and wind ensemble.
His live shows are not visual extravaganzas — no dancers, no lipsyncing acrobats or hydraulic sets moving around, but they are ear candy for true music lovers and musicians. He is that perfect combination of musical talent and storyteller.
Opening the show is his daughter, Gracie Folds, at 6:30 p.m.
There will be a preshow discussion from 4 to 4:45 p.m. with Ben Folds and Nadia Sirota, violist for yMusic and host of the Peabody-winning podcast “Meet the Composer” on WQXR. This is free and open to public at the Emerald Grove, outside the Mainstage Theater entrance.