Saturday, April 27, 2013
Johnson Hall, Gardiner, Maine
Johnson Hall is a sweet little arts venue right in downtown Gardiner, Maine. It’s a mere half mile from my house. I’ve gone to a couple of their outdoor summer lunchtime shows over the years I’ve lived in town, but overall, I’ve never been particularly drawn to the lineup. Johnson Hall has made a real effort over the last year to make needed improvements, and with the announcement of their new Executive Artistic Director, Mike Miclon, I’m confident they’re moving in the right direction. I had a chance to talk to Mike on his first day on the job, and I was so happy to hear that many of his ideas were compatible with my own. I’d be thrilled to drive to Brunswick, Portland, and Boston significantly less for concerts, and I think a lineup I’m happy with is on the horizon. It was pretty amazing to leave my house at 7:25 PM and still be on time and in the front row of a venue for a show five minutes later. I could really get used to that!
I grabbed my front row center seat just in time for Ed DesJardins, Jenna Campbell, and Luke Cartwright. Jenna and Luke had traveled down from Bangor to open the show with Ed, and they sounded quite cohesive as a trio given their geographical distance. They played a few of Jenna’s songs, a few of Ed’s, a couple more of Jenna’s, another of Ed’s, and then Luke played a couple of his own with Jenna’s help. Jenna’s voice was silky smooth and her songs were deeply personal and autobiographical. One of the lines from her songs that stuck out to me was “memories of the past are like ghosts that never leave.” Ed’s big brother Steve played guitar with the group during Ed’s songs, which included “Help Yourself” and “Old Time Picture Show” off of his album, Innerspace. Ed said “Old Time Picture Show” came to him on a September afternoon at camp after all of the people he’d grown up with there had gone home for the season. Luke had a great voice and sang harmony throughout the set. When he took the lead, his songs were reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional—personal, building, and powerful.
L.A. singer-songwriter Shane Alexander grew up in western Pennsylvania. His mother lived in Hallowell, and he and Ed met and became good friends years ago. I’d missed his show at Johnson Hall last summer, so was very glad to catch him this time. His gentle acoustic finger picked songs in interesting tunings are the foundation for his sound, and his soulful, honest lyrics are captivating. Shane told us stories of his time at Ed’s house this visit—learning how to put a lobster to sleep before cooking it, eating steamers, shooting a potato gun—you know, the normal things we Mainers do on a regular basis. I felt a little like I was in Shane’s living room as he told us stories and drew us in with his haunting and delicate songs.
Shane told us that he comes to Gardiner to play a lot because “I love you.” I started to believe him as he told us tales of his many visits to Maine. The first time he came to Maine to visit, he said, he ended up wasted and on stage at The Wharf in Hallowell within moments of his arrival. He also opened a show for Jewel in Portland, but told us his impromptu gig at The Wharf had been sexier. Shane was touring for his fifth album, Ladera, which came out in April. He’d made a stop at the Guild guitar factory in Connecticut on his way to Maine to play for them and had spent part of the day there meeting literally every employee and seeing how each guitar is made.
Shane played “One So Young” and told us it was about how terrifying it is to become an adult. I liked “The Sky Below,” which showed off Shane’s lovely tone. He played a beautiful cover of Tim Krekel’s “Angel’s Share,” and told us how he’d gotten to know Tim in Maine before he passed away. “Front Porch Serenade” took on a special meaning for Shane when he and his laboring wife showed up at the hospital and she pressed play (a rarity) and they listened to the whole song before going inside. It was surely an appropriate choice—“First time I saw you smile/I could see you walking down the isle/With flowers in your hair and your mama standin’ there/Someday you’ll be my wife/Be the one to share my life/Gonna have us a child/We’ll be happy all the while.” Shane had Ed join him on lap steel for “Front Porch Serenade” and then on piano for “Moore Hotel.”
Shane introduced “Feels Like the End” by talking about how we have to push back against the darkness in the world. During his trip north, he’d been in a traffic jam in New York City and when he stopped for gas afterwards, realized he was in Newtown, Connecticut. It was surreal. He said he felt fortunate to play music for people as his contribution towards bringing a little light to the darkness.
“I Will Die Alone” will show up on an upcoming album. Shane and singer-songwriter pal, Jessie Payo, wrote it together at his house. I saw Jessie open for Eric Hutchison back in October. Shane asked if anyone in the audience had a request, and people were certainly fans who had particular songs in mind. A gentleman next to me asked to hear “Stargazer” and Shane told us it was based on the surfer film, Blue Crush. I’ll go ahead and admit that I own that movie and that my best friend Margaret and I think it’s really layered.
Shane told us a little about growing up in a small town in western Pennsylvania, and said he knew it was time to leave after high school. He goes back to play there regularly, and his nostalgic “Skyway Drive-In” seems to be a favorite of his hometown crowd. Shane said it’s his favorite of his songs, and it’s certainly my favorite of the Shane Alexander songs I’ve heard. Shane kindly gave me a copy of Ladera after his show and I’ve listened to “Skyway Drive-In” easily dozens of times. It’s lyrically heavy—“Ache in my chest when I saw you in your dress/We had small town in our bloodstreams/Wild horses in our hearts/It hurts like hell when first love falls apart.” Definitely have a listen.
Shane played “Coffee Kiss” for another audience member. He wrote it on the balcony of his hotel room on a family trip to Maui and it had been a long time since he’d played it. He thanked us sincerely for coming to the show and left the stage. He gave a shout out to Lucky Clark for the interview he wrote up for the Kennebec Journal. Shane came right out to his merch table to meet and greet fans. I decided to say hello and he gave me a copy of Ladera for the road. It’s a great listen from start to finish. “Skyway Drive-In” is by far my favorite song, but I also really like “Raincloud of Knowable Things.” Thanks, Shane, for coming to tiny Gardiner, Maine! Thanks to Ed DesJardins for bringing him to town to play for us!