UPC to give students a warm “Welcome” to Spring semester

By Garth Brody

School is back in session, which means that the music of your soul will soon be slowly, systematically drained until you are nothing but a husk, gasping under the crushing weight of higher learning. The University of Massachusetts University Programming Council has seen fit to stave off your spirit’s inevitable suffocation with the upcoming Welcome Back Concert, Jan. 22 at the Fine Arts Center.

The performance lineup will be comprised of rapper B.o.B. (aka Bobby Ray), singer/songwriter Vicci Martinez and headlining R&B artist Ryan Leslie.

B.o.B., hailing from Atlanta, arrived on the hip-hop scene in 2007 with the club-ready single, “Haterz Everywhere.” Releasing since then a slow but steady stream of singles, EPs and free mix-tapes, B.o.B. is signed with T.I.’s Grand Hustle Records and is scheduled to finally release a proper album – “B.o.B. Presents the Adventures of Bobby Ray” – May 25.

His music ranges from big, synthy anthems to mid-tempo R&B jams, often featuring melodic background vocals. His rapping recalls that of fellow Atlanta native André 3000, full of controlled slurring and funky bended cadences. Three of his songs are currently featured, respectively, on the Madden ‘10, Fight Night Round 4 and NBA Live ‘10 soundtracks.

Vicci Martinez, from Seattle, has been writing and playing folk/blues based music since she first picked up a guitar in 1996, at the age of 12. She went on to audition successfully for both American Idol (in 2002) and Star Search (2003), but declined the American Idol contract and was eliminated from Star Search’s second round.

Through the rest of the 2000s she recorded several albums, both live and in the studio, with and without her backup band. As a solo artist (or in duets), her music tends to be gentle and acoustic, complemented by her smoky vocals. Such is the style of the sweeping “Break Away” with Blaire Hansen – featured in the 2009 LGBT film “Hannah Free.”

With her band, the folk influence is still there but augmented with bluesy electricity. Her energetic live shows have continually sold out venues in the Northwest and elsewhere. She has shared a stage with, among others, Sting, Annie Lennox, Avril Lavigne and The Presidents of the United States of America.

Ryan Leslie, from Harlem, forms the third and final corner in the pan-American mainstream musical triangulation of this concert’s lineup. After B.o.B.’s pulsing Atlanta hip-hop heat and Martinez’s rainy Seattle serenades, he will offer up some bona fide urban funk, steeped in the sacred tradition of Prince and the more recent synthesizer-heavy R&B culture. The beats are infectious and danceable, the synth is retro and trendy, and his vocals are as soulful as any contemporary R&B artist.

He graduated high school early, enrolling at Harvard University. There, he performed with an acapella group and honed his production skills in the school’s studio. Not to be distracted from his academics, he graduated at the incredible age of 19, delivering the distinguished Harvard Oration at his commencement.

From there, he was educated by the Boston music scene. After a few years in and out of independent and small scale studios, he landed a production internship that jumpstarted his career and garnered the attention of his soon-to-be manager, Sean “Diddy” Combs. He released his first single – “The Way That U Move Girl!” (featuring Clipse) – in 2005. In 2009, he released his self-titled debut album, followed up later that year with “Transition.” He has another album, entitled “Les Is More,” planned for sometime this year.

So, before you fully succumb to the cruel cycles of academia, celebrate the semester to come (and finish ringing in the new decade) with B.o.B., Martinez, Leslie and your fellow students.

Tickets are free to UMass students with proper ID, $10 for Five-College students and $20 for everyone else.T ickets may be purchased at the Fine Arts Center Box Office, which can be reached for more information at 413-545-2511. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]