LUMBERTON — For fans of a certain age, the plaintive folk of Suzanne Vega conjures images of coffee houses, college courtyards and other Bohemian hot spots.
After releasing a string of hit singles including “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner,” the New York troubadour found herself at the forefront of a female-driven folk revival during the late-1980s — a period that also marked the emergence of artists such as Tracy Chapman and the Indigo Girls.
Hot on the heels of an acclaimed new album, her first in seven years, Vega is set to perform at the Carolina Civic Center in downtown Lumberton on May 10.
According to the venue’s executive director, Richard Sceiford, it’s no coincidence that the concert is taking place on Mother’s Day weekend.
“My thought was that Vega has a number of songs that are about family,” he said. “But also, I can’t think of a more amazing and original Mother’s Day gift to give to moms of a certain generation. All of us who were in college in the 1980s and 1990s are familiar with her work.”
Vega, 54, first gained exposure playing intimate acoustic sets at small clubs and cafes across Greenwich Village. She was signed to A&M records in 1984 and released her platinum-selling, self-titled debut album the following year.
In addition to her role as the unofficial spokesperson for a new wave of female folk singers in the 1980s, Vega is also partly responsible for the invention of the mp3. Her 1987 song “Tom’s Diner” was used as a reference track by German audio engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg while he was developing the now ubiquitous audio compression format. This has led to Vega being commonly referred to among audiophiles as “the mother of the mp3.”
Her most recent studio album and eighth overall, “Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles,” was released on Feb. 18 to positive reviews. Several critics have noted that the album represents a stylistic departure for Vega in that it features gritty rockers and, perhaps most surprisingly, a track that samples rapper 50 Cent’s 2005 hit “Candy Shop.”
“I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do as an artist, go where your inspiration takes you and go where your imagination takes you,” Vega said during an interview with The Associated Press published March 19. “I don’t feel like I’m experimenting for the sake of experimentation.”
Sceiford said that Vega’s upcoming appearance in Lumberton has attracted fans from across the Southeast, some of whom will be traveling from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to see the show. The director believes that the influx of out-of-towners will boost the local economy.
“We’ve been selling very well, especially outside of Robeson County. These are folks who have never been to Lumberton and are making the drive and will be staying in the hotels and eating in the restaurants,” he said. “Her performance here is one of only two in the southernmost part of her tour, with the other show being in Charlotte. She has a strong following and people love her music.”
Vega’s opening act will be Ari Hest, another New York singer-songwriter whose music has appeared in multiple television dramas, including “One Tree Hill,” “Army Wives,” and “Private Practice.” Hest made headlines and built up a sizable following of his own in 2008 when he recorded and released a new song each week for the entire year.
“It’s going to be an amazing concert and people are really getting a lot for the money,” Sceiford said.
The show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, or $20 each in advance for groups of 10 or more. Tickets can be purchased online at carolinaciviccenter.com, over the phone at 910-738-4339, Ext. 106, or in-person inside the venue’s lobby from 1 until 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.
The Carolina Civic Center is at 314 N. Chestnut St. in downtown Lumberton.
Jaymie Baxley can be reached at 910-272-6146, or on Twitter @Jaymie_Baxley