Christopher Cross is still sailing

Friday, September 26, 2003

When Christopher Cross' ship came in in 1981, it dropped anchor at the top of the pop music world. His self-titled first album won five Grammy Awards that year and an Oscar for "Arthur's Theme," from the Dudley Moore-Liza Minnelli movie. The album's hits, the evocative "Sailing," upbeat "Ride Like the Wind" and sentimental "Arthur's Theme," made a Texas singer-songwriter who happens to look like an average guy into an instant star.

This was just before the age of MTV began and every new musician was required to cultivate a video image. "I would really hate to be trying to start a career right now," the 52-year-old Cross said in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "It would be hard to have a career that lasted more than 15 minutes."

Cross will headline this weekend's City or Roses Music Festival in downtown Cape Girardeau. He and his band will perform at 7:30 Saturday night on the Main Stage, a barge on the Mississippi River.

Dennis "Doc" Cain, who is running this year's seventh annual festival, has emphasized variety in scheduling acts. Jazz, heavy metal, classic rock 'n' roll, alternative rock, art rock, blues, reggae, ska, Cajun, acoustic folk, bluegrass, country and pop are all represented.

"I don't think you would have any trouble finding any type of music you want," Cain says.

In the last two years the festival ran a third day to present gospel music on the riverfront. The first year the concert was well attended. Last year only about 30 people at a time were in Riverfront Park on Sunday to listen to the gospel music. For that reason, the gospel music day was dropped this year, Cain said.

Classical music also is missing this year. Last year, the Arts

Council of Southeast Missouri presented an event called ArtsCape in conjunction with the festival, and classical music was part of the program. This year the organization presented an arts festival in the spring instead. Executive director Becky Fulgham said the arts festival was able to accomplish more as a separate event.

The festival also doesn't have any hip-hop groups. Cain said none applied to be in the festival. "We tried to pursue Earth, Wind & Fire, but they get 50 grand," he said.

Much of the music will be played tonight and Saturday night in downtown clubs. The Bel Air Grill, Our House, Buckner Brewing Co., Broussard's, Mollie's, Port Cape, Jeremiah's and the Rude Dog Pub will each host two bands per night.

The festival will open at 8 tonight with music by the Southeast Missouri State University Jazz Band on the Main Stage. They will be followed to the stage by the Acme Blues Band and Mid-life Crisis, two veteran Cape Girardeau rock 'n' roll outfits.

The festival's first-ever Metalfest will begin at 8 tonight at the Wall of Fame stage in the parking lot at the south end of the downtown commercial district. The bands include Frogsweat, Emaciation, Tribal Dust and Drivin Rain.

Those who like their music a bit softer can congregate at the gazebo in the Common Pleas Courthouse Park. Acoustic musicians will play there beginning at 7 tonight and beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Country on Saturday

Country music lovers will have to wait until Saturday, when Nashville singer-pianist Brandon Giles takes to the Wall of Fame Stage at 5:30 p.m. Giles has been compared to Jerry Lee Lewis and says gospel is his favorite kind of music.

He will be followed to the stage by the country band Neon Nights.

Also scheduled Saturday are a Battle of the Bands from noon to 4 p.m. at the River City Yacht Club, with 10 young bands vying for glory, and the KBSI Regional Idol Search from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Wall of Fame Stage. The winner gets a chance to try out for the "American Idol" show.

One of the more unusual ensembles performing this weekend will be the art rock band Dead Musicians Society, who lead off on the Main Stage at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The Carbondale, Ill.-area band is led by a virtuoso marimba player, plays original instrumentals, and fuses jazz, classical, new age and world music into a sound difficult to categorize. They use a vocalist when they play covers like "Sweet Home Chicago" and tunes by Dave Matthews, Brian Adams and Pink Floyd.

Following Cross to the Main Stage Saturday night will be Dennis Stroughmatt and Creole Stomp, a Southern Illinois Cajun band that tours nationally.

Another nonlocal group to check out is Martha's Trouble, a three-piece acoustic act from Canada. Jen Slocumb's voice has been compared to Natalie Merchant's and Aimee Mann's. The band will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Buckner Brewing Co.

Cross was just another singer in a cover band, albeit one with a highly distinctive voice, when Warners signed him to make his first album. "They signed my voice really. They weren't that confident about the material," he said.

He had pursued Warners because it was the label of Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman and "a lot of artists I really revered," he said.

It could be argued that Cross' own career was short-lived, since the singles mainly stopped after his big year. He co-wrote "A Chance for Heaven," the theme song for the 1984 Summer Olympics, and he co-wrote and sang the tune "Loving Strangers" for the 1986 Tom Hanks movie "Nothing in Common."

After all the success of 1981, Cross received plenty of record-executive advice about what he should do to continue having hits. He tried some, like going for a rock edge on one album to change his pop image, and rejected most of it. At this point, those choices don't matter, he said. "You can't second-guess that stuff."

What matters is that he has kept on recording, eight albums in all. He has maintained a small, loyal following, both in the United States and in Japan and South America.

He considers his latest CD, "Walking In Avalon," the best work he has ever done.

He likens his show to one James Taylor or Jackson Browne, two of his contemporaries, are still putting on.

Cross' opinion is that MTV destroyed the singer-songwriter culture that enabled him to record. But he isn't discouraged. He points to Sara McLachlan as a wonderful singer who's having a career on her own terms.

"There are still people trying to do that, but it's hard," he says. "This is such an image-based time. It's hard for those artists to make a major impact without all the bells and whistles."

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182


City of Roses Music Festival schedule

Friday, Sept. 26

Main stage

8 p.m.Opening ceremony:
Southeast Jazz Band, Acme Blues, Mid-life Crisis

Wall of Fame stage

8 p.m.Metalfest: Frogsweat, Emaciation, Tribal Dust, Drivin Rain

Courthouse gazebo

Free bluegrass, folk

7 p.m.Jennifer Noble
8 p.m.Julie Walker
9 p.m.Dale Haskell

Bel Air Grill

8 p.m.Frontal Nudity
11 p.m.Intergalactic Taxi

Our House

8 p.m.Little Sisters
11 p.m.Funky Donkey Cheese

Buckner Brewing Co.

8 p.m.Mustapha
11 p.m.Orange

Broussard's

8 p.m.Noziroh
11 p.m.Closure

Mollie's

8 p.m.Otto Modest
11 p.m.Tunnelvision

Port Cape

8 p.m.Dan Wiethop
11 p.m.Water Street Band

Jeremiah's

8 p.m.Flood Plain
11 p.m.Terra Firma

Rude Dog Pub

8 p.m.Electric Shag
11 p.m.The Intention

Saturday, Sept. 27

Main stage

5:30 p.m.Dead Musicians Society
7:30 p.m.Christopher Cross
10 p.m.Dennis Stroughmat and Creole Stomp

Port Cape

noonBattle of the Bands

Wall of Fame stage

2 p.m.Regional Idol
5:30 p.m.Brandon GIles
10 p.m.Neon Nights

Courthouse gazebo

Free bluegrass, folk

2 p.m.Jennifer Noble
3 p.m.Mike Meyer
4 p.m.Dale Haskell
5 p.m.Shade Tree Folk Company
6 p.m.Dan Wiethop
7 p.m.Julie Walker
8 p.m.Doc Bertram
9 p.m.Lincoln Barr

Bel Air Grill

8 p.m.Southpaw
11 p.m.Orange

Our House

8 p.m.The Switch
11 p.m.Closure

Buckner Brewing Co.

8 p.m.Martha's Trouble
11 p.m.Tunnelvision

Broussard's

8 p.m.Dennis Stroughmat and Creole Stomp
11 p.m.The Melroys

Mollie's

8 p.m.Dead Musicians Society
11 p.m.Bruce Zimmerman Band

Port Cape

8 p.m.Neon Lights
11 p.m.Acme Blues

Jeremiah's

8 p.m.Otto Modest
11 p.m.Intergalactic Taxi

Rude Dog Pub

8 p.m.The Intention
11 p.m.Electric Shag
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