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Bob Boilen's Favorite Live Shows of 2011

Sufjan Stevens performing at the bandshell at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park on August 3, 2011. (Ryan Muir)

I am sure I saw more than 300 bands this year. In a world of earbuds and mp3s, there's nothing like the big sound, the charm and edge of a concert. I also love surprise, so each show offers the hope of hearing new songs or new arrangements of old songs, and, of course, the possibility that a completely unknown band will blow me away. Amon Tobin, Caveman, Colin Stetson and Ballake Sissoko with Vincent Segal all fit that description this year.

Spectacle, when theatrics meet great songs, is better than film; it's better than almost anything else in life. This year at Sasquatch, Sleigh Bells brought fiery lights to match blistering guitar and voice. At globalFest, Red Baraat knocked me out with rousing songs and uplifting brass. But no one did it like Sufjan Stevens. On a rainy night in Brooklyn this summer, Stevens made spectacle out of pageantry, and made the audience part of the performance as we sang many of his songs in unison. There's catharsis when thousands of soaking wet fans sing a the line from the song Chicago, "I've made a lot of mistakes, in my mind, in my mind" It was joyous and tearful and unforgettable.

So thanks to the many that lugged gear from town to town, the minstrels of our day. Some barely make a living, some do it because they're compelled to, because they have to and because they love to. Here's a small salute to 15 of you and a greater thanks to all of you that share your souls on a stage. Thanks for the angst and the joy.

Below you'll find YouTube videos from the actual shows I went to this year, some of which you can listen to in their entirety at NPR Music. What were your favorite shows this year?

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