Good Old War with Juke Ross

Monday, June 4, 2018

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I needed this show to go well more than I’d realized. I’ve seen many of my favorite musicians play in the last couple of years to crowds that were rudely on their phones or talking the whole show. It’s gotten disheartening, but this show was different, and helped restore my faith in audiences a little bit. Last night’s crowd was small (it was a Monday, after all), attentive, polite, and clearly appreciated being there. A special thanks to my fellow show-goers for making this such a great night!

I saw Philadelphia’s Keith [Good]win, Tim Arn[old], and Dan Sch[war]tz of Good Old War for the first time opening for my beloved Brandi Carlile at Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom back in 2010, but I’ve known their music for the whole decade they’ve been together. You know a band is great when they open the show for someone you really love, but you’re not in a hurry for them to get off stage. I’ve seen them a handful of times in person, and they are always great. I last saw them open for Josh Ritter at State Theatre in October 2017, and before that at Port City Music Hallin September of 2015. I was so glad to see they were coming back to town just six months after their last stop in Portland.

I checked out show opener, Juke Ross, online before heading down to Portland, and was eager to see him in person after watching this video of a gorgeous live performance of his song, “Colour Me.”Juke is a young singer-songwriter from Guyana, South America, which is on the Caribbean. Doors opened at Port City Music Hall an hour earlier than normal last night, and Juke Ross took the stage a few minutes after 7. There may have been 20 people in the room when he took the stage, but he decided to engage us even though we were such a small crowd, and I commend him for that. His voice is unique and lovely. He told us a little bit of the backstory behind most of his simple songs, and he shined on his cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” I had a photo pass for the show last night from Good Old War, and I’d meant to take a few shots of Juke, but his songs were so delicate and the crowd was so attentive, that I decided my shutter would be a distraction. It’s really rare to have people at a show be so quiet and focused on the performer that taking a picture would be disruptive. I was psyched that was the case, for a change!

Juke Ross

I was pretty excited that this was an early show, and that Good Old War was on stage by 8pm. They played for a solid two hours, which was such a treat. They opened with “Coney Island,” and then told us that to celebrate their 10 year band anniversary, they’d play their first album, Only Way to Be Alone, from start to finish for us. The crowd had grown by then, and people around me seemed pretty excited to hear that announcement. Keith introduced “We’ve Come A Long Way” by telling us that he and his wife had dated and broken up in 8th grade, but that they got back together about a decade ago as Good Old War formed.

 

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Keith Goodwin

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Tim Arnold

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Good Old War, from L to R:  Kevin Goodwin, Dan Schwartz, and Tim Arnold

IMG_6335After they finished playing Only Way to Be Alone, GOW took and played many, many audience requests, including “Amazing Eyes,” “My Own Sinking Ship,” and the song Keith said is his favorite to play live, Woody’s Hood Boogie Woogie.” Keith remembered that they usually unplug and play part of their set from the floor at Port City Music Hall shows (which is just awesome), and asked us “should we play the rest of the songs down there?” We agreed enthusiastically, so the crowd parted for Keith, Tim, and Dan and the maybe 80-100 of us there encircled them for the rest of the night. Dan played guitar, and we all sang the last ten songs of the night together, which I thought was lovely and special. Also, the people around me had nice voices! Bonus!They started with “Loud Love,” which is one of my favorites. There was a kiddo named Clover who requested “Never Gonna See Me Cry,” so they played that for her even though they hadn’t practiced it and weren’t confident they knew the words (they didn’t, but figured it out). I was really happy to hear “I Should Go” and “That’s Some Dream.” They played “Here Are The Problems” as a request even though they weren’t sure they’d remember it, either. After a couple of songs they didn’t remember well, Keith wanted to play some newer songs they knew better and so they played “In a Heartbeat” and “That Feeling” from their 2018 EP, Part of You.

Keith told us that he loves Portland and even brought his family on vacation to Maine. He said “I took a boat cruise for an hour and a half and you have Eventide and Fore Street! This place is the best!” Mainers tend to agree that this is a pretty special place, so I appreciated the compliment. GOW wrapped their delightful unplugged set with “Calling Me Names,” a “Happy Birthday” song that we all sang for Tanner, who turned 28 yesterday, and “Not Quite Happiness.” They thanked us for being a great audience and told us they’d be back soon. I sure hope so. They are such a pleasure to see live, every single time. I’m always a little surprised that this band isn’t more famous than they are. They deserve the recognition, for sure. Thanks for a really lovely night, y’all!

xo,

bree

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Apocalyptica

Friday, May 25, 2018

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I think nearly every song could be taken to the next level with the addition of a string section, so it shouldn’t surprise you (totally) that I’ve loved Metallica’s S&M (Symphony and Metallica) album for 20 years now. I saw a post from the State Theatre on Facebook announcing a show called Apocalyptica Plays Metallica by Four Cellos, and had literally no idea what it meant. I saw Metallica and cellos together in the same sentence, though, so put the show in my concert calendar without any additional research. A few days ahead of the show, the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra posted a contest on their Facebook and Instagram accounts for a single third row center ticket for the show, which I entered and won. I am SO GLAD that I went to this show on a whim. It was supremely entertaining.

I grabbed my seat and chatted with other Metallica fans around me, who totally knew Apocalyptica and were really excited for the show. I took that as a good sign, but I was SO surprised by how cool and just totally fun this show was. Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, Paavo Lötjönen, and Antero Manninen were the current touring lineup of Apocalyptica, and the first half of the show was literally the four of them playing four cellos across the stage. They were amazing! I obviously had to look Apocalyptica up after the show, and learned that they are a Finnish orchestral rock band with eight studio releases, including their debut album from 1996, which was Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. I watched an interview with Eicca Toppinen, where he said he was told that Apocalyptica’s album of Metallica covers inspired Metallica to do their collaboration with The San Francisco Symphony in 1999 that became the S&M album. Apocalyptica was even invited to the performance.

After a pretty long intermission, Apocalyptica came back to the stage with Mikko Sirén on a giant drum kit for the second half of their show, which was a total blast and very much a rock concert. I had so much fun at this engaging, unexpectedly awesome show. Thanks for the ticket, MYRO!

xo,

bree

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Brandi Carlile with The Secret Sisters

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Orpheum Theatre, Boston

I hadn’t planned on going to this show because I’m really over the logistical hassles that come with any Boston show, but my best friend very thoughtfully bought me two tickets for this show for Christmas because she knows how much I love Brandi Carlile. I thought about selling the tickets because they were in the back of the room at Orpheum and I have a pretty firm 10 rows or less from the stage rule (I’m visually impaired and seeing performers’ faces matters to me), but I decided to make a weekend of it. I bet that’s probably just what my bestie was hoping I’d do, because this show just happened to fall on my birthday weekend.

My awesome friend Dot and I took the bus from Portland to Boston (we saw Malia Obama in the Concord Trailways station, too), had a delicious lunch in Chinatown, checked in early to our beautiful room at the Revere Hotel Boston Common, explored Boston Common on a perfect, sunny day, grabbed a drink on our hotel’s gorgeous rooftop deck, had a very uncomfortable dinner sitting next to a drunk husband verbally attacking his wife, recovered with a bonus stop for coffee and a lemon tart, and made it to Orpheum with time to spare to catch up with my pal Aimsel Ponti.

Aimsel had a great seat for the Friday night show, and she was so taken (duh, it’s Brandi), that she decided to buy a seat for the next night online, too. Aimsel’s seats both nights were about a thousand rows (okay, more like 25) in front of ours, so her show experience was much different than mine. 

Dot had never heard of The Secret Sisters, but I’ve seen them a handful of times now, and knew she’d enjoy their harmonies and pretty songs. Their most recent album, You Don’t Own Me Anymore, was produced by Brandi Carlile and earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Folk AlbumI’ve read interviews that The Secret Sisters almost quit making music after their label dropped them, but Brandi swooped in and fought hard for them to keep going. The crowd was sadly pretty chatty in the Orpheum all night, so it was hard for me to stay connected to either performance, which was quite disappointing.

Brandi Carlile and the twins–Phil and Tim Hanseroth–slayed like they always do. They give 110% every night, for sure, but I was sitting so far away from them that I really couldn’t see their faces. That, and people around me talked all night, and a handful of people a few rows in front of me decided to stand for the bulk of the show, so those of us behind them had to stand, and that just made it hard for me to see the stage and feel like part of a concert experience. Clearly, this was my least favorite Brandi show (this one was my favorite), but it had literally nothing to do with Brandi and the band–which included a lot storytelling (which I love), a string and horn section, and even The Secret Sisters on background vocals for some of the night.

Brandi said “if ever there was a band that should have been called something else, it’s this one, because there’s no lead singer” to introduce the stunning three part harmonies of “The Eye.” To introduce “The Mother” Brandi told us that most of the advice she’d gotten before becoming a mom didn’t ring true for her, and “if you’re thinking about having kids, give it some thought, because it will fundamentally shift your life.”

Brandi told us that “Phil was up late one night reading the news about an unidentified woman’s body found in a field in Georgia and no one never claimed her body. She was 30 years old and she’d given birth to someone at some point in her life. She had a tattoo of Jesus on her hand. It bothered him so much, that someone could leave the world without a proper name, that he wrote her a song”–“Fulton County Jane Doe.”

It took me a few songs to realize that they played every song from their new, deeply personal album, By the Way, I Forgive You, which included string arrangements by Paul Buckmaster, who passed away unexpectedly before the album was released. Brandi introduced “Party Of One” by telling us it was the last string arrangement Paul ever wrote, and that “I’ll never play it without thinking of him.” Brandi and the band cleared the stage, to thunderous applause.

They returned for a three song encore, and Brandi dedicated “Hold Out Your Hand” to the youth leading the March For Our Lives moment and to “all who amplify their voices.” You HAVE to watch the video for that song that came out last week. I cried. Laura, Lydia, and Brandi closed the night with a stunning a cappella version of “Amazing Grace,” which hit just the right note and sent us home with hope in our hearts.

I’ll see Brandi and the twins again this summer at Newport Folk Festival. I can’t wait to see them again, with what will surely be a far more attentive audience. This audience, from where I sat, didn’t deserve the show it got. We can do better, y’all.

xo,

bree

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Caitlin Canty with Noam Pikelny

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

I saw Caitlin Canty by chance back in May of 2012. I was at a Jeffrey Foucault show at One Longfellow Square. At some point in the night he introduced his friend and fellow musician, Vermont’s Caitlin Canty. She was in Portland working on a new record with Sam Kapala (a founding member of Darlingside), and he had taken her out for dinner before the show. He asked her to join him for a song, and I was smitten with her airy, mesmerizing voice. What I didn’t know at the time was that I’d witnessed their first of what would be many, many performances together. I chatted for a while with Caitlin after that show back in 2012, and she has become a friend-in-music who I look forward to seeing whenever she’s in town. I hadn’t seen Caitlin live since 2015 when she moved away to Nashville, so I was really looking forward to seeing her back in Portland.

Colin kindly saved me a seat in the front row, and I arrived a few minutes before show time. I’d had a migraine at school earlier in the day, but I took a nap and rallied for the show. Caitlin and Noam Pikelny took the stage just after 8, and opened with a beautiful song that caught the attention of NPR, “Get Up.” I love that song, and Caitlin grabbed everyone’s attention from the first measure of it, too. Something I noticed even more at this show than last time is that Caitlin has this Alison Krauss quality to her voice where every single sound she makes is truly gorgeous.

Caitlin told us about a song from the Golden Hour album she released back in 2012, “Dotted Line,” that made its way onto House of Cards. She told us “it’s a very good day for a songwriter” when a television show picks up a song. Caitlin, her mom, and her brother watched the episode to hear her song, but didn’t hear it. She’d already cashed the check, so she was puzzled. They watched it again, and realized that they heard three instrumental measures of it during a creepy moment where a woman carrying groceries was being followed down a street. Caitlin laughed and told us it was pretty ironic that one of her “kindest, friendliest” songs was the soundtrack of such a creepy on screen moment.We saw Caitlin and Noam at the end of the release tour for her newest album, Motel Bouquet, which they played every song from for us. Noam produced her album, although he normally tours with The Punch Brothers. It was really a treat to hear him play in such a tiny venue. Caitlin had played a hometown show in Vermont a night or two earlier, and she said it was a community effort. The show was in a space that’s not normally a venue, so her dad and brother set up chairs, her high school music teacher ran the sound, and they borrowed a rug from a neighbor to absorb some of the echo on stage. She joked that compared to that show “you’re all sitting so quietly and you’re not sweaty from setting up chairs or anything.”

Caitlin’s album is named for a bouquet of flowers someone left for her after a show that inspired a song, but she’d thought about naming it Who after one of her favorite songs on the album. She said she was so lucky to have Noam as her producer for many reasons, but also because he talked her out of naming her album Caitlin Canty: Who? Noam chimed in that it was “better than Caitlin Canty: Why?” Noam and Caitlin struck a deal that she’d play a song solo if he would. Noam introduced his solo song by telling us that a year and a half ago, “it became apparent that it was time, yet again, to milk the instrumental banjo cash cow.” His 2017 release, Universal Favorite, is mostly instrumental banjo music. He joked, “I’ll play you guys the first track off the record, a 53 minute piece, so lock the doors.” The song he played, “Wavelength,” was GORGEOUS. I had no idea that banjo could sound like that. Noam didn’t say much, but he was funny when he did talk. Caitlin mentioned that Noam’s friend texted that he couldn’t make it to the show because his guinea pig died. Noam chimed in, “some of you are laughing right now, but not me. It’s the strangest excuse yet, and shows folks are having to dig real deep to find excuses to not come out to hear me play.”

Caitlin told the story of how she’d come to sing her first song on stage at One Longfellow Square with Jeffrey Foucault, and thanked OLS for their continued support. She generously offered to give anyone who signed up to become a One Longfellow Square member that night one of her albums, which was very kind. She told us that she loves playing her songs for “cold weather folks, but they tend to scoot right out the door after the show.” She asked us to stop by the merch table and say hello before heading home.

I can’t remember what Caitlin played last, but my favorite song on Hotel Bouquet (which I’ve listened to a lot in the car over the last week) so far is “Leaping Out.” I do know that she and Noam earned and we gave a standing ovation. They treated us to one last song, a cover of Emmylou Harris’ “Tennessee Waltz” in honor of heading home to Nashville the next day after a successful record release tour. Caitlin remembered me when I saw her after the show and we chatted about how much she’s loved living in Nashville. I’m so happy for her success.

Colin saw Caitlin open for Josh Ritter last night in Portsmouth, and she’ll be back in town on July 20 opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter at the State Theatre. Caitlin is so worth hearing in person, and I hope you’ll check her out!

xo,

bree

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An Evening with Drew Holcomb and Josh Garrels with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

Friday, April 27, 2018

Aura, Portland, Maine

This is somehow a much longer post than I’d meant to write.

I’d wanted to check out Drew Holcomband Josh Garrels for quite a while, so I was really glad to have the opportunity to see both bands together right in Portland. When I saw that Maine Youth Rock Orchestra was playing with both of them, I knew it would be an even better show. I’m a sucker for a string section, and MYRO is so impressive.

I made it to Aura with about ten minutes before showtime. I have to say this–I don’t like Aura, and I try to avoid going to shows there. Primarily, it’s because of the staff at the door. I’ve been there a handful of times, and the folks at the door are never welcoming. In fact, every time I’ve been, the first words someone says to me are “are you drinking tonight?” I’d recommend trying “Hello! Welcome to Aura” instead. I am never drinking at a show, because I’m there for the music, so I bought a ticket and started to head towards the metal detectors. Someone after the ID checker grabbed me and told me I needed a bracelet because I’m over 21. I told her that I wasn’t drinking, but she insisted that I needed to have my ID checked and needed a bracelet. The show was all ages, so I was really confused. The person checking IDs and the woman who stopped me before security disagreed about whether or not I needed to wear a bracelet in front of me. One insisted that they’d received directions to make everyone over 21 wear a bracelet. The other hadn’t gotten the memo. Either way, there shouldn’t be confusion at the door like that, and front of house staff should be on the same page and much friendlier. The whole time this exchange happened, the manager was steps away in the ticket office staring at a computer screen, ignoring all of the patrons he should be working hard to foster a positive impression of Aura with. This ends the constructive criticism portion of this post.

One of my favorite bands is Johnnyswim. They are husband and wife duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano from Los Angeles. They were easily the best live show I saw last year, and I’ll see them again this summer in Boston opening for NEEDTOBREATHE. Anyhow, Johnnyswim formed in Nashville, and they’re good friends with Drew Holcomb. Abner, Amanda, and Drew worked together to write some songs and just released an EP together called Goodbye Road. As if that collaboration wasn’t exciting enough, then they asked another of my true favorites, Penny & Sparrow, to work on the EP with them, including a gorgeous cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” that I learned after the fact was recorded last summer a week after Tom Petty’s death. Penny & Sparrow is another favorite band of mine that aren’t mainstream yet, so I hope you will check them out. I also put Penny & Sparrow on my list of top five shows of 2017, coming in right behind Johnnyswim at number two on my list. Both groups are an absolute pleasure to see live, and I hope you will at some point, because they’re both so good for what ails you.

Back to the this show.

Drew Holcomb and his band took the stage soon after I arrived, and they were great live. They were down a bandmate who’d gotten a call from his wife when they arrived in Portland, and hopped a flight home to meet their new baby. Drew’s guitarist decided to play piano to fill the void in sound, and I thought it was beautiful. Drew played “Ring the Bells” early in the set, which is one of the songs he co-wrote on the Goodbye Road EP. Drew chatted with the audience a fair amount during his set, which is the kind of personalized attention I really appreciate as a concert goer. He told us that he fell in love with his wife long before she returned the favor. They met in college and he tried not to be the guy that played music to get the girl, but had to go for it. He wrote “I Like To Be With Me When I’m With You” for her, and he joked that it took her from a “no” to a “maybe.” Someone in the crowd has sent him a message asking him to play “The Wine We Drink,” so he added it to his setlist. The lyrics are beautiful, too–“It’s in the miles we drive, never having to say goodbye/to the things we tell each other without saying a word./You are the one thing that I know.”

The Maine Youth Rock Orchestra joined Drew and the band for “American Beauty” and “Live Forever.” One of my favorite things about seeing MYRO play with bands is that the bands are always enamored with them and they often turn to watch the kids play with huge smiles on their faces. MYRO–y’all are impressive. Your hard work shows. You make the songs richer and more beautiful. It’s such a pleasure to hear you play!

Drew told us that he’s often asked what his favorite song he’s written is.  He said “if I had just one song to be proud of” it would be “What Would I Do Without You,” which he said almost didn’t make the cut to be on his 2013 album, Good Light, because the producer and a couple of guys in the band didn’t like the song much. He said he was glad they’d be wrong about it. He also told us a funny story about his all time favorite fan interaction. He’d been at the Austin City Limits Festival when he noticed a guy walking his way wearing a Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors t shirt and carrying a baby in his arms. He thanked Drew for his music and told him the baby had been conceived while listening to his music. Drew said it was the best compliment he’d ever gotten about his music.

I knew nothing about Josh Garrels except that his song “Farther Along” has been popping up on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist for ages. I didn’t know any of his other music, but liked that one song enough to know I wanted to see him live someday. I had not caught on that Josh is definitely a Christian artist. One of the first songs he played for us was called “Break Bread,” which was my first clue. It got much more evident after “Slip Away,” because Josh spoke for a solid five minutes about redemption. He said, and I am paraphrasing, “Some things that happen can’t be taken back or put back together. There is tragedy and loss, but there is redemption, which is making something new and potentially even more beautiful than it was before. For those of you who believe there is a God, he is in the business of redemption. I know the room. Some of you agree and some roll their eyes. Can there be good made from the awful things around us? I think we’re supposed to be agents of redemption in the world. We are not islands. Our decisions affect others. It’s scary to turn back and face it, though, but that’s called repentance. If you have the courage to turn around and face the wake you’ve created, you can see the things you thought were lost can be transformed.” I went to Seminary for five years and have a Master’s degree in Theology, so I was happy to hear from him about his beliefs, but I was a little surprised that the show turned more church meeting than concert. He acknowledged it, too, because he told us all of that had been “more than I’d planned to share.” He got a lot of amens from the crowd, though, so maybe I was the only one who didn’t know what to expect from him. No matter what I expected, his vibe was genuine and positive. He followed up his short sermon with “Ulysses,” which answers the question in “Slip Away”–can something be done about this? Josh says emphatically yes, there is hope for redemption.

MYRO joined Josh and his band for “Born Again” and “Morning Light.” They played beautifully, and it totally elevated the songs. A bit later in the set, Josh told us that his albums are all inspired by artists. His Home album was inspired by Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky apparently had a condition (Josh called it a “gift”) where he could see sound and hear color. His parents didn’t want him to be an artist, but he walked away from his lucrative job to be a painter and is considered a father of abstract art. Josh said he believes that color is connected to sound and that there’s more than our five senses can comprehend. He introduced “Colors”by asking us to consider “what are we singing and speaking and putting out into the world? Is it corruption, slander, jealousy, or are we speaking life and blessing and singing songs that blossom in the atmosphere and banish corruption?”

I saw Kevin Oates, MYRO’s founder and director, head towards the merch table towards the end of the night, so I skipped the last couple of songs of Josh Garrels’ set to catch up with him about MYRO and to chat about Portland’s summer music landscape. Kevin told me later that one of his MYRO artists came back from college to play that night because she’d been the one who’d asked for them to play with Josh Garrels someday. What an awesome opportunity for these kids to play with artists that mean a lot to them! Kevin is a passionate advocate for his students and for music education and MYRO students and families are lucky to have such a fabulous leader at the helm.

It was time for the encore, so I scooted back over towards the stage in time to enjoy Josh Garrels and his band invite Drew Holcomb and his band to the stage to join them for “Farther Along.” It was uplifting and energetic and a great note to leave the night on. Both bands were warm and conversational with the audience, played beautifully, and left Portland’s music scene a bit better than they found it.

xo,

bree

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Bill Murray, Jan Vogler, and Friends

Monday, April 23, 2018

Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine

I love Bill Murray a bit more than the next person. I was sitting in the passenger seat, enjoying the sunshine and watching beautiful green hills roll by just south of Monterey, California, when I noticed on Facebook that Maine Todaywas offering a chance to win tickets to an upcoming show. But not just any show, because *the* Bill Murray was coming to perform at Merrill Auditorium the following week. Maine Today asked folks to comment with where they’d like to run into Bill Murray in Portland before his show with Jan Vogler and Friends. I commented that I’d love to share some garlic green beans with Bill at Empire Chinese Kitchen and that I had specifically visited Sullivan Island, South Carolina (where Bill lives), just hoping I’d run into him last April when I traveled to Charleston. Sadly, I didn’t have a Bill Murray sighting that day, but Maine Today must have felt for me because they “randomly” picked me to win tickets! My friend Sheila had also commented on the post, so I invited her to join me. We even saved a seat for Bill (just in case) at Empire, hoping he’d join us for dinner before the show. Maybe you ran into Bill while he was in town? I know some people were so lucky!

Sheila and I were surprised by how close our seats at Merrill Auditorium were. Thank you, Maine Today! I ran into my fellow music enthusiast and friend, Aimsel Ponti, and we got to catch up a bit before the show. We had lots of music business to discuss, including Aimsel’s “Summer of Brandi” (Carlile) and our excitement for the Newport Folk Festival, too. Here’s Aimsel’s review of the show, which you should definitely check out.

I had no idea what to expect of this show, but was confident it would be entertaining. Apparently Bill and Jan Vogler met in an airport when Bill noted Jan’s cello case and struck up a conversation. They decided to “do something together,” and created a concept, an album, and a tour. We saw them on the last night of the tour, and it was obvious that they were sad it was ending. Their album, New Worlds, features Murray on vocals and narration, Vogler on cello, Vanessa Perez on piano, and Mira Wang on violin. Bill read from American classics, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and sang songs, like Van Morrison’s “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?” Bill sings imperfectly but sincerely, and he was incredibly well received. Vogler on cello, Wang on violin, and Perez on piano together were absolutely stunning, too. Bill joked some with the audience, though this was definitely not a comedic show. We laughed heartily after they’d performed their first pieces when he said, “this is generally when people in the audience look at each other and shrug their shoulders and think, ‘meh.’ Trust me, it’s going to get better.” I really enjoyed the show and am so glad I happened to see Maine Today’s Facebookpost, or I wouldn’t even have known it was happening in the first place.

After many encores (why I’m so sure the quartet was sad the tour was ending), a couple of audience sing alongs (“Loch Lomond” and “El Paso” come to mind), and a plug for Karen Duffy’s book Backbone about living with chronic pain, the show came almost actually to an end. But then Bill was handed two dozen long stemmed red roses by a stagehand. He stepped off stage to the orchestra seating and started handing out roses to folks in the doting crowd. He launched one to an eager fan in the balcony, which earned raucous applause because it was no easy feat to throw it that far. Bill worked his way around the rear of the orchestra seating to the side I was on. HE MADE EYE CONTACT WITH ME, AND GAVE ME A ROSE! My friend Sheila captured the very next moment, and I think you’ll be able to tell from my crazy eyes that I was pretty ecstatic about the whole thing. It didn’t even matter when I found out the next day that Bill handed out roses on other nights of the tour and it wasn’t an impromptu thing at all, because BILL AND I HAD A MOMENT, damn it. Frankly, I’m thrilled that other people did, too. Bill has enough heart to go around, and it was a pleasure to witness it in person.I am so thankful for this unexpectedly uplifting, entertaining night.

xo,

bree

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Rodriguez with Lily & Madeleine

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I saw Searching for Sugar Man in 2012. It’s the true story of SixtoRodriguez–a singer-songwriter from Detroit who made a couple of folk albums in the 1970s that didn’t reach much of an audience in the US. What he didn’t know, though, was that his album Cold Fact made it to Apartheid-era South Africa, where he outsold Elvis Presley. Rodriguez had droves of dedicated fans in South Africa, but he never knew that and his South African fans didn’t know how to find him or even if he was alive. For two solid decades, while Rodriguez worked in construction and political activism, he was famous in South Africa. His fans tracked him down in the 1990s and it revived Rodriguez’s music career. I missed him by an hour in 2012 at the Newport Folk Festival and this show was scheduled for nearly a year ago, but was postponed. Six years after learning about him, and with Sixto Rodriguez clocking in at 75 years old, I finally had this opportunity to see him in person. I think most of us in the room knew we were lucky to be there.

Sisters Lily & Madeleine Jurkiewicz from Indianapolis opened the show with sparse, pretty songs and perfect sibling harmony. They were grateful for a listening audience, and sang a handful songs for us before turning the stage over to Rodriguez. I imagine it would be extra nerve-wracking to open a show for a legend, but they seemed calm and collected. Lily & Madeleine played piano and guitar, and have been recording together since 2013. Check out their 2014 NPR Tiny Desk Concert (Bob notes that they’re one of the youngest groups ever to record a session) to see what they’re about.

I was so glad I splurged on a second row seat at State Theatre so I could be closer to Rodriguez on stage. The whole night felt like sitting in a relative’s kitchen over coffee–including rants about politics, jokes, and storytelling. Given how hard he’s worked his whole life, I should have expected that Rodriguez shows his age. A couple of people helped him get out on stage, got him comfortable on his stool, positioned the microphone near his mouth, and set his two cups of tea (with lids) down on the table immediately next to him. He wore sunglasses all night, and it was obvious from where I was sitting that his vision is severely compromised at best. He’d touch the microphone to feel how close it was to his mouth. I noticed he’d feel around the lid of his cups of tea to find the slot to drink from. I thought about how much easier his life might have been if he’d been discovered for his talent in the US in the 70s, too, but I don’t think Rodriguez is worried about that at all. He joked that he uses his “senior advantage.”

He described himself as a “musical politico,” and added, “so you know what’s coming. Mr President–you’re under arrest. I have five soldiers in my family. Mexican people serve. And it would be wrong of me to not acknowledge their service in light of a draft dodger. My mother and father were both Mexican. And I know the meaning of the word indigenous.” The crowd roared in support. Well, most of the crowd did. Some of the crowd didn’t like his comments at all, which makes me think they didn’t know what show they’d bought tickets for.

Rodriguez played his own songs–“Inner City Blues,”“Crucify Your Mind,”“I Wonder,” and “Sugar Man” come to mind–and plenty of covers. He played Elton John’s “Your Song” early in the night. The timing wasn’t perfect, and I think some of the lyrics were wrong, but there was something mesmerizing about watching Rodriguez on stage doing his folky thing. The thing I love about folk music is that it tells stories about the truth, and Rodriguez did plenty of that. Some people in the crowd from the other side of the aisle surely thought he talked about politics way too much. Rodriguez had a lot to say, including “I’ve run for state representative of Michigan, Detroit city council, and I’ve also run for my life.” He said, “We need more women to run for public offices because we can see quite clearly that men can do it.” Again, most of the crowd loved it. Some did not.

Rodriguez had a table literally full of different hats on a small table right next to him. He’d feel around the table for a new hat after some of his songs and changed hats a handful of times throughout the night. Maybe they each put him in a different mood for particular songs he played? I don’t know, but it was kind of his “thing” that night. He cracked jokes some, too, and told us that “the secret to life is just to keep breathing in and out.”

I need to mention that the guy sitting next to me, who’d driven six hours from New Brunswick, Canada, paid $75 for his second row seat, and was SUPER DRUNK during the show. It was obnoxious. He literally fell out of his seat from a seated position. He trying to engage with people sitting around him, including me, but he was shouting. I don’t understand why people make the effort to get to a show if they’re not going to remember it after the fact. For the most part, though, the audience was notably attentive and respectful. When the guy next to me shouted at me “WHY IS NO ONE UP AND DANCING?” I was able to whisper to him, “because this is a FOLK CONCERT.”

Rodriguez talked a lot–certainly as much as he played. He named some places in the world where the people united to fight back against oppressive rulers–including Mexico, France, and South Africa–and told us that “oppression results in revolution.” Someone in the crowd shouted back “NELSON MANDELA BOMBED CHILDREN.” There was a strange pause in the room where I think many of us just tried to figure out why someone who was anti-Mandela paid $75 for a ticket to see Rodriguez in person. His music is so obviously about taking on the establishment.  Rodriguez replied, “know your enemy, man.” When he finished his song, he circled back to the moment and said, “whenever I speak to people, I appeal to their collective consciousness, because we know who kills children.” [Side note: Nelson Mandela is a hero of mine. He was elected president of South Africa on my 14th birthday. I studied abroad in Southern Africa because of him. My cat is named Nelson Mandela, too.]

Rodriguez’s show was as much a discourse about the state of the world and a meandering history lesson as a folk concert. I’m a social studies teacher, so I was down to learn from his experience, and I wish more of us were open to hearing the voices that have been silenced. He knew he talked a lot, of course, and told us “I shouldn’t talk so much. My father told me I have a big mouth.”

Rodriguez left us with this piece of advice–“Love is strong, so be gentle with your anger.” A couple of people arrived to help him find his way off stage. He (obviously) earned a standing ovation and was helped back to the stage to play a last song for us. He closed the night with a boldcover of The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which felt like the right note to leave on. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever have the opportunity to see him in person again, and I am so glad I was there in the room for this.

xo,

bree

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