-- Rob Cline
I don’t speak the language Joan Soriano was singing in, but it was clear his songs delivered one message to most of the crowd Friday night at CSPS. That message? Dance. Soriano is from the Dominican Republic and is known as The Duke of Bachata, the style of music he performs. He and five other musicians, including two of his siblings, presided over a dance party all evening. With his sweet voice and distinctive steel-string guitar sound (the music occasionally called to mind 1950s rock-n-roll, if that music had been driven by bongos, tambora, and guira), Soriano was a pleasure to simply sit and listen to. But bachata is a dance music, and it was a joy to see dancers of different ages, ethnicities, and skill levels (some of whom had taken advantage of free, pre-show dance lessons) take to the floor. Admittedly, watching some of them dance felt fairly voyeuristic—the signature dancing is sensual with plenty of movement in the hips and lots of body contact. But for all of its intimacy, this event was also clearly a social occasion, with plenty of partner swapping throughout the evening. The band knows the dancing is central to the experience. Even as they performed the energetic music, the members of the band were remarkably still on stage. Griselda Soriano, a wonderful vocalist, danced in place, but for the most part, the band simply provided a setting—an excellent setting to be sure—for the dancing. There was very little chatting with the audience from the stage. The band just kept the music coming. At intermission, Legion Arts Executive Director F. John Herbert announced the lineup for this fall’s fifth annual Landfall Music Festival, a celebration of sounds from around the world. This year’s slate includes musicians from Finland, Sweden, Mexico, Mali, Brazil, Tunisia, China, and the United States. The crowd wasn’t terribly attentive during this announcement, enjoying the social time between the sets. Before he left the stage, Herbert called the crowd “one of the most social and vibrant audiences we’ve had here,” and that certainly seemed true. During the second set, Joan gave both his brother Fernando (who also plays guitar) and his sister Griselda turns at the center microphone. Both sang well (and all of them certainly sing well together), but it is clear that there’s something particularly special about Joan Soriano—a charisma that combines with his voice and guitar playing to set him just a bit apart. He drew the crowd’s attention to himself for the set closer and encore, and while many folks had been focused on their dance partners all evening, it was obvious in the end that Soriano had grabbed hold of their hearts, as well.