Dietrich Strause and Austin Nevins with Max Garcia Conover

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mayo Street Arts, Portland, Maine

*I meant to write this post before the start of the school year. Oops. And now that school’s in session, I basically try not to fall asleep on the couch every afternoon when I get home. I love teaching, but it takes a lot of energy! I apologize for the delay!*

You all know Max Garcia Conover is a great friend of mine and he can really do no wrong in my eyes, but man—he is so good live! Max toured for six solid weeks right after our school year got out in June, and he came back stronger than ever. It was great to see him again onstage in Portland after a four-month interlude.

Max and Sammie Francis sound checking before the show

Max and Sammie Francis sound checking before the show

Max Garcia Conover

Max Garcia Conover

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I didn’t know that someone broke into Max’s car in Delaware when he was on tour and stole his electric guitar and banjo! Max shook it off when he told us and said that he was bad at electric guitar anyway and didn’t know how to play the banjo anyhow. He bought the classical guitar he played that night instead of replacing the stolen instruments.

I absolutely love “The Wedding Line.” I think I can finally say it’s my favorite song on Max’s album, Burrow. Max interrupted the song to tell us he’s getting married next year (!!!) and said it seemed almost superfluous because “she’s been such a part of me for so long.” I can see what people search online that brings them to, and “is Max Garcia Conover married” is a top referrer! Sorry, folks—he’s taken!

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Max introduced his friend and fellow singer songwriter, Sammie Francis, who joined him onstage for “As Much a Rising Sun as a Setting One.” Sammie’s CD release show will be at Mayo Street Arts on September 28. Max told us a story about how he’d tried to play the very quiet song outside in Boston when he was on tour because someone in the attentive audience had requested it. Out of nowhere, a guy came by and stole the garbage out of a trash can, fell, dropped everything, created a serious stench, cleaned it up, and then got chased down by the guy in the garbage truck when he came by and saw what was happening. Max played through it all.

Max and Sammie Francis

Max and Sammie Francis

Max is a quiet guy and talked about how he’s never been very talkative but that he always felt people would be more comfortable around people who talk more. He wrote a new song about that notion called “Say That You Know Me.” It was great to hear new songs from Max, and he even departed from his signature finger picking guitar playing for a couple of songs. I was totally floored by another one of his new songs, a response to a tragic news story called “Wildfires Outside Laramie, Wyoming.”

Max handed around the set list and a mailing list sign up in a notebook and asked us to put a happy or sad face next to the songs we liked or didn’t like. I loved the idea. People really followed directions (Max has a lot of teacher friends!) and some even left thorough feedback. Cool idea! Max told us that introducing “In City Light” as the song he wrote about living on the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in Maine—on the eighth floor—just wasn’t impressing crowds in bigger cities when he was on tour.

A favorite tradition we have at Max’s Mayo Street Arts gigs is to have a sing along where pitch is less important than volume. We were a small, but enthusiastic crowd, and heartily sang along our part—“Honey we’ve been trying/Like the barn swallow tries.” The best sing along so far, of course, is this one of “Goin’ to Acapulco” from Max’s Birches Lo EP release show. We’ll top that someday, but it was magical. Max stepped off stage and sang his last song on the floor in the audience.

Max playing from the floor

Max playing from the floor

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We took an intermission while Dietrich and Austin tuned for their set. I was really excited to see them. I’d seen Dietrich open for cello virtuoso Ben Sollee at One Longfellow Square last fall, and I was taken with his simple, pretty songs. I chatted with him after the show on my way out, and he was a delight. I saw Dietrich again in March at Blue in Portland. He was playing after one of my former students, the fabulous Genvieve Beaudoin. I wish I’d been able to stay for his set that night, so I was especially glad when I found out that he and Max were playing this show together. I’d also seen the very talented Austin Nevins play with Josh Ritter at The State Theatre back in May. It was quite a show. I was excited to be in a room with such talented musicians.

Austin Nevins and Dietrich Strause

Austin Nevins and Dietrich Strause

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Dietrich has such a lovely tone, and Austin’s guitar parts added what felt like another voice to the songs. It was fabulous and quite a treat. Dietrich told us he’d been on tour with the great Aoife O’Donovan (he’s playing with some amazing musicians) and was mixing an album with Austin (his producer) in Massachusetts the next day.

I especially enjoyed “Our Lady Ponderosa”—it was thought provoking and yet musically accessible. Dietrich told us he’d just spent a week in Maine on the Moose River, and everyone else on the trip saw moose (a few of them) while he was asleep. I guess you need to come back to Maine soon, Dietrich!

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“Like a Rock” is Dietrich’s retelling of the story of David and Goliath. He joked about his Sunday school teacher who was tough and hit him over the head with a Bible when he fell asleep in class. Dietrich Strause fun facts: Dietrich’s from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and his dad is a Lutheran pastor. You can definitely hear that influence in his songs.

I absolutely loved the story Dietrich told about traveling for a week in Canada over the summer with his parents, sister, and 87 year-old grandparents in a minivan. Forgive me, because the details are a little fuzzy. On the way home, they stopped in New York to visit his grandfather’s (?) hometown. They stopped at the town office to see if his grandfather’s neighbor, Wendy, was still alive (she’s 97). The person at the office (I think I remember there was a small world moment where this person was Wendy’s grandchild) directed them to Wendy’s nursing home, and they went to visit her. Apparently, Dietrich’s grandfather (great-grandfather?) once played a fantastic prank on Wendy (who was obsessed with her tomato plants) where he taped ripe tomatoes on her plants in the middle of the night. It was a sweet segue to get us to “Tell Me Mary,” which includes the lyric “tell me Mary/I’ve got to know/what makes your garden grow.” Austin Nevins is featured in this video of “Tell Me Mary.”

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Austin spoke through his awesome guitar playing for the most part, but he did speak up at the end of the night to say that the room was really beautiful, but the lights were so bright that it was a little like an interrogation room up on stage. I got to chat with Austin a bit after the show and he was so kind. He’s producing in Jamaica Plain, MA when he’s not on tour playing a mean lead guitar.

Dietrich and Austin ended the night with two songs I really loved. Check out “Lemonade Springs” and “Annie Dear.” You can hear both songs and get some biographical information about Dietrich and Austin on this episode of The Lancast. If you can catch Dietrich and Austin near you, don’t miss out!




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