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Patti Smith Gets By with a Little Help from Her Friends

June 6th, 2013

Patti Smith and Friends – The Bowery Ballroom – June 5, 2013


In 1929, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca traveled from his native Spain to New York City, living here for a year. In 1936, he submitted a manuscript for Poet in New York to his publisher, but he never saw it go to print because within a few weeks he’d been shot by one of Franco’s firing squads for his outspoken antifascist views. This history lesson is crucial to understanding last night’s Patti Smith show at The Bowery Ballroom, which she organized with Lorca in NYC, a four-month festival dedicated to celebrating Lorca’s life.

The singer kicked off the night by addressing the crowd directly to let us know how the night would work: First, there would be some poetry and performances by some of her friends, and then she’d play a few tunes. But she knew what people were really there for—a set from the legendary rocker. “I’m very happy to have you tonight in our celebration of Lorca,” said Smith. Then, with sarcastic charm, she added: “I can see
you’re all avid readers.”

Despite everyone coming to see Smith, the audience listened intently as a collection of her friends, including Lorca’s niece, read some of the outstanding work from the collection. Smith kept the mood light as an emcee, but still impressed upon us the importance of Lorca’s legacy. “Our country might suck in a lot of ways,” she said. “But we can still use our voice.” And boy, can Patti Smith still use hers. After the thought-provoking readings and performances, she played an energetic set fitting of the legendary status she’s built for herself. It was what the Bowery crowd had been eagerly anticipating all night, and she didn’t disappoint. By the end of the night, we were all enraptured by one of America’s greatest poets. —Alex Kapelman

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com