Shawn Mullins

Sunday, November 18, 2019

Johnson Hall, Gardiner, Maine

I’ve been a Shawn Mullins fan since the mid-90s. I got through a sophomore slump in college with help from his 1998 album, Soul’s Core, and it was one of the few albums I took with me to my study abroad program in Namibia in 1999. I listened to it when I was homesick. To say that album has been there for me is really an understatement. 98.9 WCLZ briefly did a thing where they’d play listeners’ “Desert Island Discs” from start to finish at noon with snippets of an interview with the nominator. Obviously, my desert island disc was Soul’s Core. I finally got to tell Shawn how much his music means to me at a show at The Strand in Rockland back in 2011. I almost never stay after a show to meet musicians. I took a gamble that night, though, and he was so kind.

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I had the pleasure of seeing Shawn again at One Longfellow Square in 2013. Shawn shared the stage with Chuck Cannon and Tom Ryan that night, and they were lovely and had such a positive vibe. I’m not sure Shawn’s been back to Maine since, though. I saw that Shawn was crowdfunding to record a 20th anniversary release of Soul’s Core, so I promptly sent $150 to show support that also put my name in the liner notes and came with an autographed copy of the final product. It came in the mail a few days after this show, actually, and I’ve loved listening to Soul’s Core Revival. I’ve only heard the acoustic disc so far, but was thrilled to learn (and this is my favorite thing) that it includes Shawn talking about what inspired each of the songs on the album. That’s honestly my dream as a listener, so I’m extra happy!

Late in the summer I noticed that Shawn was touring in Maine, and I just happen to be on the Board of Directors of Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center in Gardiner, Maine, so I asked our amazing executive director if he might be able to book Shawn while he was in the area. I was overjoyed that he could and that Shawn came to teeny Gardiner, Maine for an intimate night of storytelling and song. The crowd was obviously thrilled and there was a lot of love and admiration in the room that night. I had a chance to catch up with Tom about the album and the tour before the show, and it was great to see him again, too.

Johnson Hall executive director Mike Miclon welcomed Shawn to the stage and left him a dollar because “Lullaby” was the first song he ever downloaded on Napster. Shawn made his way to the stage with Tom and Radoslav Lorkovic! I’ve seen Rad a ton of times touring with Ellis Paul over the years. He played piano and accordion on the anniversary release of Soul’s Core, too, and it’s always a pleasure to see him live.

I was thrilled to hear songs that have meant so much to me for so long in person again. Shawn’s voice is a stunning and beautiful bass with rasp and character. He played a few songs from Soul’s Core–but also covered “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” and “House of the Rising Sun,” which he recorded in 2006 on 9th Ward Pickin Parlor.

img_7785The audience was particularly pumped for “Light You Up” and clapped along poorly, but with such enthusiasm that I wasn’t annoyed that they were so offbeat. Shawn told us about recording his My Stupid Heart album at Chuck and Lari Cannon’s home studio. He had a dream that Bing Crosby was singing the title song and doing a wonderful job with it while Shawn was on the film crew making a video. He woke up a lot more confident about the song.

Shawn introduced a friend of his from high school who came to the stage to interpret “Shimmer” in American Sign Language. I was surprised to hear the story Shawn told on Soul’s Core Revival about the events that inspired “Shimmer,” by the way, but I won’t ruin it for you.

img_7805I’ve got to say that “Lullaby” is even better in person. Shawn talked about how grateful he is for the song, although he doesn’t understand why this particular song (written just like any other, he said) went “worldwide big.” He told us that a local DJ in Atlanta liked the song, believed in it, and played it a lot and it just got picked up by other stations. After 9 years of being on his own, he had his pick of record label and management. As he glanced around the room he joked that “one song can change things for you–and also not–as you can see by the stadium we’re sitting in.” “Lullaby” came out of a poem Shawn wrote while in Los Angeles. He’d played a show at a tiny venue in LA that he finally sold out on his third show there–even though “it was free to get in and only 25 people could fit in the room.” The song was such a hit that it landed Shawn a record deal, on MTV, and touring with the Backstreet Boys, which Shawn said was completely out of his element.

img_7817A devout and very appreciative audience asked for an encore, and Shawn, Tom, and Rad played one last song from Soul’s Core–his cover of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” I was so happy to be in the room for this lovely show. What a treat for Gardiner to have talent of this caliber come to town. I hope they’ll come back in a couple of years when Johnson Hall’s upstairs 400-seat theater is renovated!

I chatted briefly with Rad after the show and told him I’ll see him in a few weeks at One Longfellow Square for my 50th Ellis Paul show! I love a milestone!

xo,

bree

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SnugHouse

Friday, November 9, 2018

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

I’m a big fan of Portland’s SnugHouse, and based on the love in the room at this near sell-out EP release show, many of you are, too. SnugHouse’s star has risen quickly in the year they’ve been a band. They played the WCLZ stage at the Old Port Festival in June, are played in regular rotation on Aimsel Ponti’s Music from 207 show on 98.9 WCLZ, and have been featured on 207 twice. If you somehow haven’t heard about SnugHouse yet, let me introduce you. Nikhil Dasgupta, Alex Millan, Laura Pauline, and Rosie Borden came together as solo artists and regulars at the open mic night at the Dogfish Bar in Portland. What they’ve created together is really special.

I was surprised to learn this was only my second SnugHouse show, because I like them so very much. I ran into Nikhil and Sam Kyzivat from Maine Youth Rock Orchestra a week earlier at a Mipso show at Portland House of Music and Events. Sam told me that he was joining SnugHouse on violin and keys for their upcoming tour, so I was even more excited for their Like Water EP release show at One Longfellow Square. I asked Dan to join me and he surprised me by making my favorite Indian dish and pakoras at home before the show. We made our way over to OLS and it was crowded when we got there at the end of the show opener’s set. We grabbed a front row balcony seat, and I got to say hello to Kevin Oates of MYRO and Geneviève Beaudoin (my delightful former student!) of Dead Gowns during intermission.

The energy in the room was supportive and warm. The audience was clearly full of friends, family, and fans, and the band obviously felt the love and were all smiles all night. They told us a bit about some of their songs, their recording process, and highlights from their EP release tour. I always appreciate storytelling on stage–it makes a show more of an experience. Something else I like about SnugHouse is that everyone in the band is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. They share the lead depending on who wrote the song they’re playing and move about the stage from instrument to instrument.

I thought their cover of “Fever” was fun and Laura debuted a new song she wrote called “A Love I’ve Never Had Before.” Laura told us that they didn’t have time to arrange it to play with the full band, so everyone cleared the stage while she sang and you could feel the positive energy her bandmates sent her way from the wings. It makes me happy to see a band that genuinely likes and supports one another. SnugHouse covered a sad, beautiful song by Donovan Woods called “I Ain’t Never Loved No One.” The original song features Rose Cousins, who is one of my top favorite artists.

Take a few minutes and check out SnugHouse. They’ve just put out videos for “Firefly” and “Glass” from Like Water.  They’re a treat in person.

xo,

bree

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Iron & Wine

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

This was my third Iron & Wine show. My first was way back in 2011. I met Bob that night and we’ve been concert friends ever since. We were both at the last Iron & Wine show in Maine back in 2013 at the State Theatre, and together again earlier this week to see them again. It had been a while! Dan jokes that my favorite musicians are all sad singer-songwriters with guitars, and he’s not wrong. I’d obviously rather see Sam Beam live solo with just a guitar, but he seems to tour with a sizeable backing band all the time. This tour, he is joined by Helen Gillet on cello, Eliza Hardy Jones on piano and backing vocals, Elizabeth Goodfellow on percussion and backing vocals, and Sebastian Steinberg on bass. I think Sam had 10 musicians with him on stage last time, too, so he always brings a full band to round out his sound.

Sam played a nice variety of his songs from maybe 10 or so of his recordings, with the most songs coming from his 2017 release, Beast Epic. I was surprised and happy to hear “The Trapeze Swinger” so early in his set. Sam doesn’t really like to talk on stage–his banter game is pretty weak with lots of “you guys are great!” and “Thanks, Portland!” moments–so I guess his storytelling is entrenched in his songs. He also sacrifices audience interaction to play as many songs as possible. I think he played 25 songs the last time we saw him and probably 20 at this show.

Sam did make my solo Sam dreams come true for two songs midway through his set when he played “Naked as We Came” and his well-known cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Waitin’ for a Superman” solo. Something I noticed about then is just how quiet and attentive the crowd at the State Theatre was. That’s rare, especially in the last few years. Sam commented a number of times that we were “so well behaved,” and we were. Rude audiences have ruined a ton of show experiences for me in the last few years, so I especially appreciated how attentive everyone was. If you’re curious about what NOT to do at a show, check this out and spread the word!

I was also spoiled by Bob (who’d been first to arrive outside State Theatre much earlier that afternoon for the show) who saved a front row center spot along the barricade for me. People up front are usually at shows to listen, and it was also great not to get pushed around by folks after the opening set trying to push their way to the front, which happens a ton, too. A+ for audience concert etiquette, y’all! Thank you!

I quite liked “Call It Dreaming” from Beast Epic. The stage was also a beautiful, simple set of almost 20 fluffy clouds and a pretty light show. Sam closed with “Boy With a Coin” and came back for an encore and played “Claim Your Ghost.” If all of my Iron & Wine dreams had come true, I also would have heard “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” and “Walking Far From Home,” but I was so pleased with the crowd, the set, and the band that it would be selfish to wish for more.

xo,

bree

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Mipso

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Portland House of Music and Events, Portland, Maine

This was my fifth Mipso show. Libby Rodenbough, who plays fiddle and sings in Mipso,  emailed me back in 2015 to invite me to their first-ever show in Maine at One Longfellow Square in Portland, and I’m so glad I went. I don’t think I’ve missed them in Portland since. They’re touring to support their brand new album, Edges Run. Dan really liked “Moonlight” from that album and has mentioned it a couple of times since the show. “People Change” is also from their new album and it’s so depressing, which is right up my alley. The lyrics– “I used to love you like the world would end. I used to love you like a child. The thing about people is that they change when they walk away.” Ugh. I love an honest lyric.

 

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From left to right, Mipso is Libby Rodenbough, Wood Robinson, Joseph Terrell, Jacob Sharp, and Yan Westerlund.

Mipso has an Americana, bluegrassy vibe, and I love their heartfelt songs and tight harmonies. Jacob Sharp (mandolin), Wood Robinson (upright bass), Joseph Terrell (lead vocal and guitar), and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle) met at UNC Chapel Hill and have been a band for about five years, but they play together like it’s been longer. They added Yan Westerlund on drums in 2017, too, which has amplified their sound. The most important thing to me about Mipso’s music is that their lyrics are crystal clear and are at the forefront of their songs. For me, lyrics are the most compelling reason to fall in love with a song. I especially like “When I’m Gone” and “Down in the River.” They also circled one microphone to cover Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend.” It was perfect and Dan and I have watched the video more than once in the few days since the show.

If Mipso isn’t on your radar, you’re missing out. Mipso IS on SnugHouse and Maine Youth Rock Orchestra’s radar. I saw both Nikhil Dasgupta and Sam Kyzivat at the show, and they’ll be celebrating the release of SnugHouse’s new EP, Like Water, together on Friday night (November 9) at One Longfellow Square. I will definitely be there, and you should come check them out, too!

xo,

bree

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The Lone Bellow TRIIIO Tour

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Music Hall, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

When Dan and I started dating, he surprised me with a mix CD of some of his favorite songs because he knows how important music is in my life and wanted me to get to know him better through the songs he loves. I melted. My huge music collection lives on a hard-to-access hard drive, so I reciprocated by buying him The Lone Bellow’s first CD from 2013. A week later, he joked with me, “I just want to tell them it’s going to be okay.” I explained the inspiration for those first songs, and then he understood. He picks on me for liking sad songs so much, and we joke that the more unplugged, the fewer percussive instruments, and the more harmonies there are, the more I’ll love a show. He’s not wrong. So when I saw that The Lone Bellow was going to leave the band behind (sorry, Jason!) and tour with just Zach, Kanene, and Brian, I was pumped. I wanted to win Dan over about The Lone Bellow (because they’re my favorite band), so I asked him to join me to see their TRIIO tour at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I haven’t seen as many concerts lately because I’m dating someone entrenched in the theater world–we saw 5 shows last month alone–so I was really glad to share an important part of my music world with Dan. I promised him that The Lone Bellow give 110% live and that I was positive he’d love them. I was totally right!

We had a leisurely dinner across the street at The Friendly Toast before the show, but still made it to our seats (my first time in the balcony at The Music Hall) in time for show opener Naia Izumi. I watched his NPR Tiny Desk Concert after he was named 2018 Tiny Desk Concert winner, and am always hopeful that I’ll love an opening act. I was not so lucky this night, however. Naia sat down and played a handful of songs for us. He lacked interest and energy in the performance. I was surprised and disappointed.

Zach, Brian, and Kanene took the stage a while later and the house had pretty much filled in by then. I think they’re mesmerizing, passionate, and generous live–truly the very best a band can be in person. I loved hearing them tell stories, trade instruments, cover Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and The National’s “Pink Rabbits,” and impromptuly sing some of  “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” too. “Pink Rabbits” is on The Lone Bellow’s new Restless EP.

I think “Watch Over Us” is always going to be so stunning live that I catch myself holding my breath every single time. Zach told us the sweetest story about his daughters getting the idea they wanted to build a treehouse the day before he left for tour for three weeks. He and his wife wondered if their friend (and fellow Nashville musician) Hugh Masterson might be able to price out how much one would cost, and, without them knowing, their daughter called him to ask him to come over to do an estimate. Zach told us that his wife sent him a photo of Hugh and their friend Micah out in the backyard building his family a treehouse. He was stunned when he told us, “they built my children a treehouse. They are fellas with jobs, too. I feel so loved by my neighbors and I hope you’ll get to know your neighbors.” I took a couple of screenshots of the treehouse in progress from Zach’s Instagram account to share with you. There so much love in this, and we need it.

In the next breath, Zach told us what I’m going to call his “nipple story.” He told us that he went on a long run earlier in the day. He joked that “I think I went to Maine.” He’d been wearing the same shirt for several days in a row, and his nipples started to chafe. He hurt so bad that he went to a running store in Portsmouth and whispered to a sales associate about his chafed nipples. They were out of the nipple stickers, so the sales guy called another store to get some for him. Before Zach left, the sales associate said to him “by the way, I’m really looking forward to the show tonight!” I love how small our world is.

I think they wrapped up a 15 or so song set with “May You Be Well,” which has such hopeful lyrics–”Whatever darkness/That you are concerned with/May you find peace/That is everlasting/Even when circumstances/They are crashing/Oh you can stand firm on the everlasting/May you be well.” It’s a lovely sentiment to end a show with, but The Lone Bellow came back for two more songs, “Tree to Grow” and “Green Eyes and Heart of Gold.” It really lifted my spirit to hear these three songs back to back. “Tree to Grow” is a top favorite Lone Bellow song, will the reassuring refrain “I’ll never leave, I’ll always stay/I swear on all that I keep safe.” I loved singing that line with them. Zach, Brian, and Kanene unplugged and climbed off stage and sang “Green Eyes and Heart of Gold” from the floor. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than hearing your favorite band sing “Our song is not a dying dream/You’re not alone, you’re not alone” at the end of a heartfelt night of connection through song. I love them so much, and if you still don’t know them, I know you would, too.

xo,

bree

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Noah Gundersen

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

If you’re lucky, every so often, a musician speaks right to your soul. I think Noah Gundersen does this for a lot of people, and I feel fortunate to count myself among them.

I saw Noah Gundersen open for City & Color back in June of 2017, and he stole the show. I’ve been a devoted City & Color fan for years, but Noah was just way more captivating that night. He’s a good example of why I try not to miss opening acts. I was really excited when he announced a headlining show at Port City Music Hall for February of this year. Our friend Max Garcia Conover was going to open, which in my mind is a very compatible match, but we got a major snowstorm and the show was postponed–for more than six months. Fortunately, Noah Gundersen is worth the wait.

I finally introduced two of my Portland concert friends, Colin and Sean, to each other a couple of weeks ago at an awesome Joseph show, and this was (already) our next show as a trio. I arrived while Harrison Whitford opened the show, and Colin and Sean were already standing along the stage when I showed up. Harrison’s music is very mellow, and many people were sitting on the floor during his set, which was kind of dear. His electric guitar reminded me a bit of Jeff Buckley. He sang a handful of songs for us and I was impressed by how attentive the small crowd was.IMG_6522

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Harrison Whitford

After Harrison’s set, my friends Bartlett and Brady came up front to say hi. Bartlett reminded me (I’d forgotten) that Max was originally supposed to open the show, so he’d checked out Noah to prep for that show and fell in love. I was glad to take in a show with some surprise bonus friends two weeks in a row at Port City.

Noah took the stage with his sister Abby on violin, and even though I had a photo pass, I only took photos during the first song. The crowd was so captivated that I could hear my shutter over any other noise in the room, and it felt like an unnecessary distraction. In fact, the crowd was so attentive, I can remember the three times I heard anything other than Noah all night–a drink being shaken at the bar, when a guy sneezed and Noah stopped to say “Bless You” to him, and towards the end of the night when a heavy footed woman made her way in boots across the room. How often at a show do you get to hear every single word with no distractions? It felt special.

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Noah and Abby Gundersen

I just really want you to know Noah’s music. His songs have depth, texture, and a kick in the feels if that’s up your alley. A handful of his songs that I particularly loved live were “Isaiah,” “Fear & Loathing,” “First Defeat,” “Family,” and “The Sound.” I was really sad to miss the Newport Folk Festival this summer (I had to sell my ticket and stay home to renovate while my dad was in town to help), because Noah performed there with Glorietta. I enjoyed “Lincoln Creek” from that project a whole lot, too. After a heavy, powerful, emotional set, Noah treated us to a two more beautifully depressing songs about death as an encore–“Send The Rain” and “Dying Now.” It was a pretty stunning night of music. I saw Brady and Bartlett over the weekend and we were excited to have the chance to relive the experience together. If Noah Gundersen is playing in your town, I couldn’t recommend seeing him live more highly. He is such a talent. I was really grateful to have been in that enthralled crowd listening to him last week. It was a true pleasure.

xo,

bree

 

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Joseph with Kelsey Kopecky

Monday, September 17, 2019

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

This night was exactly what I needed. It was such a pleasure to see a band for the first time whose music I love in a room full of people who were actually listening. That should be the norm for a crowd at a show, but sadly, it typically isn’t. To my fellow show-goers–thank you for this night. I was so happy to share this night with you.

I made it to Port City Music Hall just after show opener Kelsey Kopecky took the stage. I recognized the name and Kelsey mentioned she’d played in Portland years ago opening for Michael Franti with her former band, the Kopecky Family Band, which I’d heard of. Kelsey has a pretty voice, but her banter was sometimes awkward and her songs all hit the same note to me. She made a lot of jokes about “her band,” which she called “Alexa and Siri.” I liked her cover of “Kids” by MGMT. She seems like someone learning how to be a solo act and even solicited ideas for a new band name and told us some of her mom’s suggestions.

Kelsey Kopecky

I had been wanting to see Oregon’s sister trio Joseph for years. I missed them at Newport Folk Festival in 2017 (I had a ticket, but didn’t get to go), but my friend Marian saw them up close there in a tiny show and sent me a video so I knew I’d really missed out. I’d seen a few stressful, crowded shows over the summer, so it was particularly lovely to get to stand right up front along the stage just feet away from the band. It was so nice to get to see and hear at a show for a change.img_6046img_6035Joseph–sisters Natalie Closner Schepman, Allison Closner, and Meegan Closner–are something special. Their harmonies are beautiful, their songs full of heart and honesty, and their stage presence is captivating. I was so glad a handful of friends also came out to see them, because this is a band people really should know. Here’s their NPR Tiny Desk concert, an interview they did that gives good background, and a cover song they performed with Zach Williams from The Lone Bellow (a top favorite band of mine) at their 2017 stop at Newport Folk Festival.

I appreciated that Natalie, Allison, and Meegan shared what some of their songs were about with us. I love it when artists do that at a show. I was particularly glad to hear “White Flag” and “I Don’t Mind” live. Natalie wrote a touching song about her best friend’s baby and the overwhelming feeling of love you have for a newborn and the idea, also, that no matter who who we become, we all started out as innocent as a tiny baby. Natalie gave a shout out to her friend Amber who she used to work with at Starbucks in Portland, Oregon. Amber brought her awesome service dog, Winston, who enjoyed the show with his headphones on right up front. He was the cutest!

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Do you see Winston?

Kelsey joined Joseph on stage for a beautiful, timely cover of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” too. This was such a lovely night. I noticed well into Joseph’s set that I couldn’t hear anything else but them. It’s so rare at a show these days, but we were into them. I sure hope they’ll be back.

xo,

bree

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