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The last time America was in an economic depression, a vibrant chunk of the era’s popular culture involved folk music about heroic left-wing martyrs. Alas, it’s not quite the same this time. If it was, Lady Gaga might be celebrating the legacy of Joe Hill, the Industrial Workers of the World organizer executed by a Utah firing squad in 1915—and celebrated in a classic 1930s folk song that over the years has been performed by Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, and Joan Baez. “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill” declares that the Swedish-born Wobbly never actually died, an assertion that’s especially hard to believe in these Tea Party–afflicted times. Author William M. Adler’s full-length biography of the man behind the song, The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon, explores the mystery behind his dubious death penalty conviction—and depicts a period when America’s plutocrats lived as large as they do today, but faced some significantly more dedicated foes. (Michael Schaffer) Adler discusses his book at 6:30 p.m. at Busboys & Poets. Free.
The Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition is the world’s most prestigious jazz musicians competition, and one of its best talent factories; this year it spotlights its namesake’s instrument of choice, the piano. Last time the keys were on display, in 2006, all of its top three finishers—Tigran Hamasyan (first), Gerald Clayton (second), and Aaron Parks (third)—were able to parlay that success into the start of major careers. Before that came such pianists as Orrin Evans, Eric “ELEW” Lewis, Jacky Terrasson, Bill Cunliffe, Harry Appelman, Marcus Roberts, and Joey DeFrancesco. The next great name on that long list will be decided tonight at the Kennedy Center. It will also comprise a gala concert that includes most of the past winners mentioned above, as well as an astonishing lineup of greats too numerous to list here. The Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. $50-75. (Michael J. West)
True story: The first thing I ever wrote for this paper was a review of a Japandroids show in 2009. At that concert, at DC9, the duo probably used some form of the word “rock” at least a half-dozen times; they apologized for one song that rocked too hard, as well as for two that didn’t seem to rock hard enough. Funny thing is: Their cocky throwback rock is pretty damn well calibrated. Tonight at Red Palace. $14.
Look for Mike Paarlberg’s review of the Washington National Opera’s Tosca later this week and for now take pleasure in this post, in which the production’s premiere was attended by anti-elitist Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
Local electronica artist Yoko K is one of this year’s artists in resident at Strathmore; she’ll have a pair of concerts there in October, but she’s also got something more intimate planned tonight: One of the Pink Line Project’s Salon Contra events, where she’ll play selections from her new album and discuss its making. Only a few spots left, however, so make haste emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. 7 p.m. at Pink Line Project HQ.
Goethe-Institut’s “Looking at the Other” film series continues with a program of short films from Pakistan
DC Shorts continues. Look for more reviews on Arts Desk.