Mai Cramer was a beloved figure in local roots-music circles. For 24 years she hosted the popular show “Blues After Hours” on WBGH radio and was a tireless champion of the music.
Cramer died of breast cancer in 2002, and her loss is still felt by the blues community. On April 15 at 7:30 pm, some of its most prominent local members — including guitarist Ronnie Earl, piano kingpin David Maxwell, former Roomful of Blues frontman Sugar Ray Norcia and his band the Bluetones, chanteuse Michelle Willson, and the group 2120 South Michigan Avenue — will gather at the Arlington Regent Theatre (7 Medford St, Arlington; 781.646.4849) to pay tribute to Cramer. Proceeds will benefit Boston’s Pine Street Inn shelter for the homeless, one of her favorite charities. The show — one of many notable events on the local roots-music schedule this spring — is a long-awaited return to the local stage for Earl, who though he’s remained active in recording rarely performs and hasn’t played in the Boston area for more than a year. It’s also something of a return for Willson, another home-town performer with an international reputation who’s been absent from the scene.
Cramer’s husband, the gifted six-stringer Peter “Hi-Fi” Ward, will also appear as part of 2120 South Michigan Avenue, who take their name from the original location of the Chess Records studio in Chicago, where great recordings were made by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williams, and dozens of other performers during the music’s transitional years in the 1950s and ’60s.
Although not specifically a blues artist, Cambridge singer AndreaGillis has a voice inherited from the likes of Koko Taylor and Etta James at their strongest and rawest. She opens for punk ’n’ roots legend JohnDoe this Wednesday, March 15, at T.T. the Bear’s Place (10 Brookline St, Cambridge, 617.492.BEAR).
But the roots-music scene reaches well beyond blues this season. Johnny D’s (17 Holland St, Somerville; 617.776.2004) has a schedule that’s shaping up as a microcosmic sampler of what’s ahead. On March 24, harmonica man JamesMontgomery brings in his band; the next night it’s Louisiana’s Cajun-fueled BeausoleiL. On March 28, bluegrass gets its due with Crooked Jade and the Hunger Mountain Boys. A night later it’s flamenco and jazz guitarist Goran Ivanovic. Local champions of the roots scene the Tarbox Ramblers hold the stage on April Fool’s Day, and Austin git-steel fret burner Junior Brown takes over on April 5. The Boston area’s own West African outfit Lamine Toure & Saloum appear for a dance-intensive April 6; the next night it’s a weird blend of ethnic diversity with reggae group the Joint Chiefs and Slavic Soul Party. Folksinger Peter Mulvey pulls in behind his new The Knuckleball Suite (Signature Sounds) on April 8 with opener Chris Pureka. Uganda’s Samite appears on the 12th, and the Soul Band featuring local blues hotshots Mike Welch and Brad Helene play on the 14th. More reggae on the 22nd with Roots Nation and Dub is a Weapon. Then it’s back to Africa, at least sonically, with locals Sankai Sound 7 on April 28.
For sheer ethnodiversity, however, it’s hard to beat the roster of internationally respected local promoter World Music. (See www.worldmusic.org for ticket information on all shows.) On March 31 WM presents Portuguese diva Cesaria Évora at the Orpheum Theatre. On April 9 the Kronos Quartet and India film-music master Asha Bhosle team for “India Calling: Songs from R.D. Burman’s Bollywood,” a touring tribute to film composer Burman’s soaring, quirky scores, at the Berklee Performance Center. Afropop grandpappy Hugh Masekela hits the Somerville Theatre on April 14; Celtic group Solas follow on the 15th. Aptly named music and dance troupe Children of Uganda are at Berklee on the 22nd; Polish folk sextet the Warsaw Village Band are at the Somerville on May 13. On May 18 at Berklee it’s the popular Zakir Hussain & Masters of Indian Percussion, whose local stops are always driven by breathtaking virtuosity and lightning tempi. But watch the local rock clubs’ schedules too. For example, new-wave ska pioneers the English Beat will be at the Middle East (472 Mass Ave, Cambridge; 617.864.EAST) in Central Square on March 21.
Scullers Jazz Club (DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston; 617.562.4111) also has a diverse line-up; it includes the world fusion of Natraj on March 15, youthful bluesman Joe Bonamassa on March 21 and 22, Afro-British-Caribbean singer Tessa Souter on April 11, and the enduring Tower of Power April 12-15.