Monthly Archives: June 2013

Want free tickets to see Sam Amidon tomorrow night (June 20)?!

The fine folks at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine gave me two tickets for tomorrow night’s Sam Amidon show to give away. I’d go myself, but I’m huddled in a VERY CROWDED Terminal D at Laguardia waiting for my flight to New Orleans! Email your name and the best way to contact you to and I’ll choose someone at random at 4pm tomorrow!


*Congratulations to Mary Montalvo! Enjoy the show!*


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ZZ Ward with Swear and Shake

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I had such a busy Saturday! I saw ZZ Ward’s Studio Z performance earlier (here’s my interview with her, too), went to her full show later that night with Swear and Shake, and then caught my friend Sam’s late night set with his band Comanchero at The Big Easy. I totally slept in on Sunday.

I left Studio Z earlier in the day and ran into Brooklyn’s Swear and Shake walking towards the Old Port. I’d seen them open for The Lone Bellow the night before and chatted with Adam and Kari after the show. I said hello and we chatted as we walked for a few blocks together towards their tour van. Kari is such a sweetheart—my goodness. I told them I’d see them later. I grabbed some tea and then met up with my dear friend Michelle for dinner and drinks at Shay’s in Monument Square. My friend Tracy (who has three awesome kids and amazing taste in music) was there, too, and we got to catch up a bit. One of the most ridiculous things that’s ever happened to me in my dating life went down while I was there, and so I was late for Swear and Shake! Boo! I’ll spare you the details, but I’m laughing about it already. Mostly. Okay, not yet, but I will.

I made my way to the stage and was glad it was so crowded at Port City Music Hall. I got to a great spot in the front row and caught the last half of Swear and Shake’s set. The crowd was energized and singing along—mirroring the band’s enthusiasm. I thought they sounded even better tonight than the night before. I really like their songs, but “Brother,” “Marbles,” and “These White Walls” stuck out to me. Kari has a lush voice and is just a delight to listen to. They sound really cohesive as a band—it was a great set.

Brooklyn's Swear and Shake

Brooklyn’s Swear and Shake


Adam McHeffey, Kari Spieler, and Shaun Savage

Adam McHeffey, Kari Spieler, and Shaun Savage

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There's Benny Goldstein on drums!

There’s Benny Goldstein on drums!


ZZ Ward and her band took the stage and rocked. Her smooth, bluesy voice is impressive, and her songs about heartbreak and wasting time on a failing relationship are incredibly relatable. She said her whole album, Til the Casket Drops, is about the same guy she spent waaaaay too much time on. Her song “Last Love Song” sums it up quiet nicely.

ZZ Ward

ZZ Ward

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I love this one! I think ZZ was happy with the energized crowd!

I love this one! I think ZZ was happy with the energized crowd!

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ZZ loves Etta James, and wrote “Charlie Ain’t Home” as a response to Etta’s “Waiting for Charlie.” She said it’s about being sick of waiting. She also did a sort of adapted cover of Son House’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face.” She told us “If I Could Be Her” is about moving from a tiny town in Oregon to LA. ZZ said she hoped we couldn’t relate to “Cryin Wolf,” because it’s about being with someone who drinks too much and always lets you down.

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Here’s ZZ’s set list:


ZZ is heavily influenced by the blues and hip hop and really rocks on stage. There’s a depth to her that shines through during her live show. I was entertained from start to finish. ZZ interacted with the crowd with ease—telling us background about the songs, coming to the edge of the stage to dance with us, and asking us to sing along, too. I was really impressed with her live show. I was glad to hear “Blue Eyes Blind,” which ZZ left us with as her encore.

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I’d gotten to meet ZZ earlier and realized I could make it over to The Big Easy to see my friend Sam’s band, so I swung by Swear and Shake’s merch area to chat for a few minutes before taking off. Kari spotted me coming and started chanting my name. It was a warm welcome. I had a long chat with Swear and Shake’s somewhat new drummer Benny who produced their first full-length album, Maple Ridge. When I said goodnight to him, he gave me a hug. Swear and Shake are some lovely, approachable (and talented!) folks. I chatted with Kari about how they met as students (mostly) at SUNY Purchase and I noticed their matching tattoos of maple tree seeds. She said, “Yeah—we really like each other.” So precious. Kari heard I had a long ride home and sent me away with both their EP (extended play) and Maple Ridge. I ended up liking the EP so much that I listened to it twice before moving on to the next CD. I especially liked the first song, “Being And Time.” I listened to it three times before I moved on to the second song. “Bones” is great, too. I love “Marbles,” “These White Walls,” “Moving Parts,” and “The Light” on Maple Ridge. That’s nearly half the album. I can’t help it. Thanks, Swear and Shake! You guys are fabulous.

What a night! It wasn’t even over yet! I’m off to New Orleans tomorrow morning (!), so it might be a week until I can post about Comanchero and the shows I’m hopefully going to see in NOLA!



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Studio ZZ (An Intimate Pre-Show Performance from ZZ Ward)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I had the pleasure of chatting with ZZ Ward a couple of weeks ago on the phone while she was in a laundromat. Life on the road isn’t always so glamorous. She was very kind and I was even more excited after our conversation to see her live. Ethan Minton, 98.9 WCLZ’s program director, saw my interview with ZZ online and invited me to come to her intimate performance before the night show with just a few lucky fans. 98.9 WCLZ is my favorite local radio station that plays the music I love the most, so I was happy to accept his kind invitation.


Waiting outside Port City Music Hall for Studio ZZ!


My favorite local radio station!

My favorite local radio station!

You can listen to ZZ’s whole Studio Z (Studio ZZ in this case!) performance here.

The very talented ZZ Ward

The very talented ZZ Ward

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Ethan Minton asking ZZ some good questions

Ethan Minton asking ZZ some good questions


She played “Put the Gun Down” and “365 Days” for us. Her album, Til the Casket Drops, is great from start to finish and is clearly about a failed relationship. She told us that “365 Days” is about waiting for “way too long” for someone to change their ways. Ethan asked good questions and we learned about ZZ’s love for the blues that inspired her signature hats (including some she’s designing) and her brother’s hip hop musical influence. Ethan surprised her with her own ZZ Ward WCLZ water bottles (which are SO cool!), and she was really excited to see her name on them.

Ethan gave ZZ a Fitz and The Tantrums 98.9 WCLZ custom water bottle. . .

Ethan gave ZZ a Fitz and The Tantrums 98.9 WCLZ custom water bottle. . .

And then Ethan surprised ZZ with water bottles with her name on them!

. . .and then Ethan surprised ZZ with water bottles with her name on them!

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I met some great folks at Studio ZZ and got to say hi to ZZ in person and have this photo snapped, too:

Me and ZZ

Me and ZZ

Thanks, Ethan! Thanks, 98.9 WCLZ! Check out more pictures from Studio ZZ below!



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The Lone Bellow with Swear and Shake and The Ballroom Thieves

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA

I saw six bands in three venues in two states in just 28 hours over the weekend. I can tell it’s nearly summer vacation for this teacher! Here’s installment one of three.

My friend Andrea and I had tickets to see The Lone Bellow in April at Brighton Music Hall, but we weren’t ready to go to Boston just hours after the lockdown was lifted and the Boston Marathon suspects captured. My friend Bob was there and said it was a poignant night. He texted me a week later to let me know The Lone Bellow was coming back to Boston in June and I bought tickets that second. I don’t remember exactly when The Lone Bellow came into my life—probably very early in 2013—but life is better with their passionate, soulful music in it.

I gave a final exam Friday morning and hurried out of the building later that afternoon to meet Andrea to drive to Cambridge together. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we oddly encountered no traffic on our way to Harvard Square. We ended up parking directly in front of The Sinclair and the ease of travel and parking gave us a lot of unexpected time to enjoy Harvard Square. We walked around and listened to some buskers, caught Catie Curtis’ sound check while having a delicious dinner at Veggie Planet at Club Passim, and enjoyed chocolate coconut vegan ice cream from JP Licks. We checked in at The Sinclair about half an hour before doors opened and ran into Julie, who I met at an Audra Mae/Matt Nathanson show in January of 2012 and have seen again and again at random shows. She gave Andrea and I the rundown of The Sinclair. We were tenth in line to get in and they saved me a spot touching the stage while I picked up my photo pass at the box office (thanks, Tracy Zamot!).

More buskers that we enjoyed with this precious wee one

Buskers that we enjoyed with this precious wee one in Harvard Square

The infamous Club Passim and delicious Veggie Planet

The infamous Club Passim and delicious Veggie Planet

Buskers in Harvard Square

More buskers in Harvard Square

Julie, Andrea, and I touching the stage at The Sinclair

Julie, Andrea, and I touching the stage at The Sinclair

The Sinclair is a pretty sweet new venue!

The Sinclair is a pretty sweet new venue!

Andrea, Julie, and I chatted with Kellen, Kristen, and Peter who were standing directly behind us. One of the things I most love about live music is its power to bring people together. Boston’s The Ballroom Thieves took the stage and really impressed. Martin on lead vocal and guitar, Rachel on cello, and Devin on drums brought a lot of energy, great harmonies, lots of crowd interaction, and I liked their songs, too. I’m listening to their EP The Devil & The Deep right now. I missed them in Maine a couple of months ago and won’t make that mistake again. I especially liked their new song “Anchors” and “Coward’s Son,” which is on the Boston Strong Music Compilation to benefit The One Fund. Andrea and I both wanted to grab their EP after the show and I discovered that Martin is also from Maine and we went to rival high schools. We’ve agreed to not hold it against each other!

Martin and Rachel of Ballroom Thieves

Martin and Rachel from The Ballroom Thieves

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Devin, Martin, and Rachel

Devin, Martin, and Rachel


Brooklyn’s Swear and Shake took the stage dressed to impress! The boys wore sharp suits and ties and Kari looked amazing in her black and white ensemble. They were happy to be back in Boston and reminisced a little about past shows around town, including one with my college classmate’s band, Kingsley Flood. I liked their song, “Brother,” which they made a music video for in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The band recently premiered the video there and the mayor gave them a key to the city. Kari broke a string, but played “These White Walls” with just five remaining strings to wrap their set. I met Adam and Kari after the show on my way out the door and let them know I’d be seeing them the next night opening for ZZ Ward in Portland, Maine. Kari was a sweetheart. For as much as I typically don’t like to talk to musicians (what if they’re not great in person and then you can’t like their music anymore?!), I chatted with a lot of talented and friendly folks at The Sinclair that night.


Ben and Kari from Swear and Shake

Adam and Kari

Adam and Kari

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Shaun on bass

Shaun on bass


I nearly don’t have the words to talk about seeing The Lone Bellow live. It was overwhelming, powerful, heartbreaking, heartwarming, inspiring, amazing. Definitely one of the best shows I’ve seen. Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipkin were joined by Jason Pipkin on upright bass and Brian Griffin on drums. Their chemistry and closeness was obvious. They took already emotional songs and delivered with more desperation and authenticity than I thought could be possible. It was a magical night.

Brian, Zach, and Kanene of The Lone Bellow

Brian, Zach, and Kanene of The Lone Bellow

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Jason Pipkin on bass

Jason Pipkin on bass

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The force of the lyrics made more sense after I learned that The Lone Bellow came about after Zach’s wife was critically injured in a horseback riding accident. They were told she’d be a quadriplegic, and Zach poured out his feelings in a journal that he kept by his side while they lived together, surrounded by their dear friends, in the hospital. A friend suggested the diary entries would make beautiful songs, and when Zach’s wife miraculously recovered, the whole friend group packed up and moved to New York City to pursue their dreams.

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I’m generally bad with song titles, but I’ve listened to The Lone Bellow’s debut self-titled album so many times that I recreated the set list from the night pretty easily:

1. “You Can Be All Kinds Of Emotional”

2. “You Never Need Nobody”

3. “Two Sides Of Lonely”

4. “Tree To Grow”—we were asked to sing along and Kanene gave me a thumbs up!

5. “Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold”

6. “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To”—a song Zach said was about marital strife

7. “Button”—a song Kanene sang for her dad who is from Boston

8. “Fire Red Horse”—Zach said they don’t often play this live and I was so happy to hear it!

9. Cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” that was dedicated to a couple in the audience who met at a Lone Bellow show a few years ago, fell in love, got married, and are expecting a baby

10. “Bleeding Out”—Kanene said her sister calls it their “empanada” song. Zach added that his daughter calls it the “banana” song.

11. One of Brian’s songs. “Water Over Us?” I didn’t catch the title.

12. A new song—“You Couldn’t Be True”

13. “The One You Should’ve Let Go”


14. Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away”

15. “Teach Me To Know”

Zach spoke the most for the band and thanked us profusely for listening to their songs and making them our own. He seemed genuinely humbled and told us how beautiful it was to be in the room with us. There were funny moments during the show, too, like when Zach told us that Brian overheard him singing “Drops of Jupiter” in the shower years ago and told him he should really sing in front of people. They started playing a song, realized it wasn’t the one they’d meant to play, and joked that their songs “all sound alike.” They obliged a very engaged sold out crowd with a two-song encore. Kanene took the lead and blew me away with a fantastic, rich cover of “Slip Slidin’ Away.” They left us with heavily gospel influenced “Teach Me To Know.” I found myself singing the “Carried Away” refrain from that song for a long while after the show. I’ve rarely been so uplifted after a show. Andrea and I mingled in the lobby for a while afterwards and then hit the road for our three-hour drive home. I pulled into my driveway at 3:30 AM still energized after a beautiful night of music.

I'm a VERY happy camper when I have to step back because the band is dancing ABOVE ME! :)

I’m a VERY happy camper when I have to step back because the band is dancing ABOVE ME! 🙂

Quite the encore!

Quite the encore!


Brian Griffin, Brian Elmquist, Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Jason Pipkin take a final bow

Brian Griffin, Brian Elmquist, Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Jason Pipkin take a final bow

Oh, Lone Bellow, you are amazing. I introduced my dear friend Bartlett to The Lone Bellow and he saw them the night before me opening for Brandi Carlile in New Hampshire. He texted me later—“They’re so great. They stole the show. Thanks a million bazillion for suggesting them!” The Lone Bellow should be on your must-listen list (Bob Boilen at NPR suggested them in 2012, actually). Check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert as a starting point. You will be inspired.




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A Conversation with ZZ Ward

I got to chat with uber talented ZZ Ward yesterday afternoon. She was at a laundromat doing laundry on her day off. Life on the road is definitely not as glamorous as we might think. At least her adorable terrier puppy, Muddy Waters, is along for the ride. ZZ was very kind and I appreciate her taking the time to answer some questions for me (and my students!). ZZ will be playing at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine on Saturday, June 15. You can get your tickets here.

Thanks, ZZ! Thanks to Brooke for putting us in touch! Keep scrolling to see what we talked about.



ZZ Ward. Courtesy of Big Hassle Media.

ZZ Ward. Courtesy of Big Hassle Media.

I took feverish notes. Here’s the gist of our conversation:

B: Hey, ZZ! How are you?

ZZ: I’m good, how are you?

B: I’m doing realy well! How’s Muddy Waters?

ZZ: She good. She has the hiccups right now, but she’ll get through it.

Muddy Waters. From ZZ's Instagram.

Muddy Waters. From ZZ’s Instagram.

B: So she gets to go on tour with you?

ZZ: Yeah, she’s on tour with me right now.

B: That must be so much fun for everyone.

ZZ: Everybody really likes it. We have to pull the tour bus over for her sometimes. She’s a little diva. But she’s great. We love having her on tour with us.

B: And she’s pretty young.

ZZ: Yeah. She’s five months old. I just got her.

B: The town I grew up in in Maine is actually bigger than the one you grew up in in Oregon. I wonder how the transition to big city life in LA is going for you?

ZZ: Well I’m not there much. I live there, but I’m on the road all the time. Moving from a small town was really intimidating. The biggest thing was driving. If you’re from the city you might not even comprehend what I’m talking about. If you’re from the country you’re used to leisurely driving and LA has five lane freeways. It’s really intense. I remember when I first moved down there that I had a friend call and invite me to The Viper Room. I asked him to pick me up and he was like “don’t you have a car?” And even though I did, I wasn’t sure that I could make it down there. It’s the most terrifying thing. So, big changes.

B: You talked about being on tour all the time. Do you prefer songwriting, recording, or touring?

ZZ: I enjoy all of them. The creative process is very different than the live show. With live shows you’re out there interacting with people and fans who love your record. That compared to being in the studio writing songs about my life is very different than being on tour. But I like both in different ways. I love to write, though. That’s my favorite part.

B: I know that you played in Tampa last night and today’s your day off. What’s your daily routine when you’re on tour? Do you ever have time to explore?

ZZ: I’ve been doing this for about a year now. I realize I need to do it so that I can handle it so that I’m not running a marathon all the time. You have to make it work for you, because in every city that I go to there are people who’ve traveled to see me play so I need to be sure I’m my best all the time. If I have the day off I’ll try to see a movie or do something normal. Like, we’re at a laundromat right now doing laundry.

B: Well if it makes you feel better, I have to go mow my lawn after I talk to you. It’s grown a little out of control. How glamorous our lives are!

ZZ: I know! Very glamorous.

B: You clearly like to collaborate with diverse and interesting artists. Who are some people that you’d like to work with?

ZZ: I’d love to work with Gary Clark Jr., Salaam Remy, Kayne West, Azealia Banks…

B: I got to see Gary Clark Jr. from the front row at the Newport Folk Festival last summer and he was so impressive.

ZZ: Right on. He’s a great guy and he is super talented.

B: So you’re touring all the time and are never home in LA, which is good so you don’t have to drive, but are you making any new music?

ZZ: I’ve really been grinding with this record. The first single [“Put The Gun Down”] did really well and went top ten on the AAA radio charts and was on the charts for a long time. We’ve moved on to the second single now and I feel like the crowds are growing and some people know me now. It’s incredible to watch it build. But a lot of people haven’t heard of me still, so we’re really still working this record. I write when I can, but it’s not my main focus right. This record is my focus and I’m trying to get the world to know me.

B: Well the record is fantastic. I love it. I think I heard it early on and have known about you for a while now.

ZZ: Thank you.

B: I’ve been listening for a long time and I’ve enjoyed the album the whole way through. Your song “Last Love Song”I don’t know if I was going through a breakup when I first heard it but it captured exactly how I felt during the last one!

ZZ: Well that’s how I felt, so I’m happy you could relate. Well I’m sad you could relate, but happy.

B: Well I’m sad for you, too, but that must be the amazing gift of music that people can relate to what you’re sharing with them.

ZZ: Well the good thing about me is that I’m kind of desensitized to that I’m talking about very personal things in my life and I’m sharing them with lots of people. But they’re things a lot of people want to share but don’t know how.

B: You were saying that some people still don’t know who you are. I’m a high school social studies teacher and I told my students today that I had an interview with you after school. I told them they’d probably know your song from Pretty Little Liars and sure enough, a lot of them did. They asked me if I’d ask you a question from them and I was impressed with their question, actually.

ZZ: That’s so cute!

B: Their question is—well, Eleanor wants to know your favorite color, and other question is if you have a favorite pre show ritual.

ZZ: I like this question. My favorite color is blue. Probably baby blue. Even though it’s not a color I really wear. And before every show I get together with my band and give a quick speech to help remind us that we can’t ever be perfect on stage so we should just go out there and have fun.

B: My blog actually focuses on the concert experience from a concert goers experience. From my perspective, I know what I think makes a good show, but from a performer’s perspective, what makes for a great show or what makes for a terrible show?

ZZ: Good sound helps. A lot of people don’t think about that, but on stage it makes a big difference. My favorite way to play is not plugged in at all and I’m just singing in a room because nothing can be in the way of me and the song. But for the most part, people come out—my fans come out—and they are so enthusiastic and so supportive that it just makes it easy. So for me as long as my crowd has a good time and when I meet them after the show and they tell me they had a fun experience then at the end of the day that’s what we came to do.

B: I’m excited to finally see you live next Saturday! Will it be your first time in Maine? I mean I know you haven’t played a show in Maine because I would have been at it, but have you been to New England before?

ZZ: No. I know this will sound cliché, but is it really the spot for clam chowder?

B: Yes! [We chatted at length about the delicious clam chowder, lobster rolls, and oysters on the half shell readily available in Portland, and I assured ZZ that there’s plenty of amazing and delicious restaurants within blocks of the venue.]

ZZ: Yay! Awesome. That’s really exciting. We don’t always have a lot of options, so we’re always excited for good food.

B: iTunes defines your album as “Alternative Rock.” I feel like that’s not quite right. What would you call your music?

ZZ: Well I don’t think they have this category, but I’d say back porch blues meets hip hop. Maybe we could make that happen someday.

B: I’m so glad you could squeeze me in while you were doing laundry and I am really looking forward to seeing you next week!


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