Tiny Desk Concerts: A Great Showcase Of The 2016 Season

 Nicola Benedetti and Lyle Lovett

If you have never seen a Tiny Desk Concert, then you are in for a real treat. Started in 2007 by Bob Boilen, host of NPR’s All Songs Considered, the Tiny Desk Concert series invites notable as well as unheard musicians into the small working space that Boilen uses in NPR’s offices in Washington, DC.

The performances are both intimate and powerful in a way that you can only get in a small venue (and it doesn’t get much smaller than a cubicle in an office). In fact, the online series started because Boilen noticed that the quiet singer-songwriters were being ignored somewhat in favor of stadium-filling, decibel pushing artists, and he wanted to even the playing field. As the popularity of the series has grown, bigger and bigger names have dropped by the studio—Adele, Tom Jones, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, etc.—and as it turns out, NPR’s musical sensibilities line up rather well with our own here at Ravinia.

As a way to introduce readers/viewers/listeners to both the Tiny Desk series and Ravinia’s 2016 season, we’ve compiled a list of Tiny Desk videos featuring performers who are taking the festival’s stage, as well as a playlist of past Ravinia artists, for your viewing pleasure.

Mariachi Flor de Toloache

New York’s popular all-female Mariachi band has a modern take on this Mexican folk genre of music. Hot off of touring with The Arcs, a project of Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys), they will be opening for Los Tigres Del Norte at Ravinia’s Mexican Independence Day weekend celebration on September 17.

Fantastic Negrito

Last year, NPR hosted its first Tiny Desk Concert Contest, during which it accepted submissions for a chance to be featured on the series. The inaugural winner was the energetic and soulful Fantastic Negrito, who describes himself as playing “blues with a punk attitude.” He makes his Ravinia debut opening for Chris Cornell on July 3.

Nicola Benedetti

Benedetti has quickly become one of the most sought-after violinists in the classical world, known for her virtuosic playing and sweet tone. Working alongside Wynton Marsalis on his Concerto in D (which was co-commissioned by Ravinia), she will perform the American premiere of the piece as the opening of CSO’s 80th-anniversary residency at Ravinia on July 12.

Lyle Lovett

Lyle Lovett always brings a calm charisma to his performances, and this Tiny Desk performance is no different. NPR states, “It’s appropriate that Lovett would open this performance … by performing ‘Cowboy Man,’ the first track on his 1986 debut: He may be a music-industry veteran, but in many ways, he’s starting over. … Lovett gives a loose, engaging performance that feels like both an introduction and a victory lap.” Lovett returns to Ravinia on July 18 with country music superstar Emmylou Harris.

Alisa Weilerstein

In Alisa Weilerstein’s performance of a Bach Bourrée and Gigue, her passion is palpable and her performance style has a rock-star quality not often found in classical performances. On July 16 Alisa Weilerstein plays Elgar’s Cello Concerto on a program that also includes Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Mavis Staples

The legendary gospel singer Mavis Staples is no stranger to Ravinia; she rocked the house in 2014 on a double bill featuring Buddy Guy. Even those unfamiliar with her will recognize her hits “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” from her time with her family band, The Staples Singers. This year Ravinia is pleased to welcome her back on a double bill with Bob Dylan on June 24.

Zuill Bailey

Besides being an accomplished cello player, Zuill Bailey’s resumé includes an acting gig on HBO’s Oz, wherein his character is a murderer who uses the endpoint of his cello to kill his victims. In this clip, he slays the audience with some expert technique and humorous notes about his instrument, which he compares to singer/actress Jennifer Lopez. Catch him in an all-Russian evening on August 23.

Roomful Of Teeth

The vocal group Roomful of Teeth has been on an upward trajectory of successes, from ensemble member Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize win in 2013, to the group’s 2014 Grammy Award win and Shaw’s collaboration with superstar Kanye West. In this clip, you can witness firsthand the ensemble’s boundless approach to choral music, incorporating diverse techniques which include yodeling and Tuvan throat singing. They return to Ravinia on August 21.

If you want more Tiny Desk, you can check out this YouTube playlist consisting of 27 Tiny Desk Concerts by past Ravinia artists, including John Legend, Tom Jones, Ben Folds, Andra Day, Pat Benetar, and more.