Monthly Archives: September 2014

Max Garcia Conover with Ben Cosgrove

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mayo Street Arts, Portland, Maine

Max Garcia Conover is a name that’s popped up on whatbreesees more than most. Max is a helluva guy—humble, talented, soft-spoken, introspective. If you haven’t seen Max live, it feels a lot like being serenaded in your own living room—intimate and warm. There’s not much more I can say about Max that I haven’t in countless posts about him and his live show, and this night was similarly wonderful but also somewhat bittersweet. Max, Sophie, and their dog Arlo are off in their RV on a three-month family tour of the US to promote their new album, ellery, and this was their sendoff. The gang was all assembled for a final hoorah before saying goodbye for a while to a couple of our favorite people.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

I got to Mayo Street Arts early after a great Friday afternoon happy hour with dear colleagues in Freeport just in time to snuggle Arlo and keep Sophie company in the RV while she got ready for the show. She introduced me to the now famous Ben Cosgrove, who not only arranged and produced ellery, but also played too many instruments on it to count. Max has been singing the praises of Ben for a long while now, so it was great to meet him and also to hear him play in person.

Mayo Street Arts filled in just as the show started, and the kind folks who work there had to fetch more and more seating from the back room to seat everyone, including a bunch of Max’s students from Breakwater School. Max opened the show by thanking us all for coming out and introducing Ben Cosgrove, who sat in for the entire show and wowed the crowd with his instrumental prowess. They opened with “Teem,” and Max told us that Ben really made that song happen—a difficult, instrumental piece that opens Max’s 2013 album, Burrow. Ben liked “Teem” and so learned it just by listening to it on his drive to Maine and then played it from memory at a show he and Max played together in Portland. Take a listen. You’ll start to understand how truly gifted Ben is.

Ben Cosgrove and Max Garcia Conover

Ben Cosgrove and Max Garcia Conover

Max is from Ellery, New York, and he told us that the album is about the idea of home and trying to belong somewhere. He called his new wife (!) Sophie Nelson onstage to sing “Amapolas, Part One” together. Max said this song (which means ‘poppies’ in Spanish) is meant to continue on in future albums. Sophie’s airy vocals are a nice juxtaposition to Max’s grittier sound. Ben accompanied them not only on piano but also on the flugelhorn at the same time.

Sophie Nelson joins Ben and Max

Sophie Nelson joins Ben and Max

Ben played a couple of songs solo. He said that his instrumental music is inspired by landscape and played two impressive piano pieces—“Montreal Song” and “Abilene.” I just drove cross country last month, and so I appreciated Ben’s introductory words about how disorienting it is to drive through Kansas. Max joined Ben onstage and read lyrics for one more of Ben’s songs—“The Contoured Shape of the Ground”—which I think Ben said he’d never played live before. They played “The Songs” from ellery before the break, which is a song about writing songs. I particularly like the driving tempo in the song and the lyric “they don’t want truth/just tell better lies.”

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Max called us back together after intermission and played “I Won’t Mess You Up”—a song he said is about getting married. He told us that growing up in Ellery he didn’t really know what a singer songwriter was, except he read about a guy who toured New York in a canoe with his ukulele. And then he pointed to Chris, the very sweet guy I’d been sitting with, and welcomed him to the stage! Chris Bell didn’t have his ukulele with him, but played a couple of bold, looping songs with his electric cello and a serious array of foot pedals instead.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

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Max told a story about driving home to upstate New York with Sophie and Arlo when their car died with an hour to go in the middle of the night. Sophie fell asleep in the tow truck and soon, so did the driver. Max, feeling a need to protect his new wife, had to break out of his shell to engage the driver in conversation to keep him awake. He didn’t know where to start, so he just asked him about the gigantic crack down the middle of the windshield. It worked. Max invited Sammie Francis-Taylor to the stage to play shaker on “Say That You Know Me,” which is partially about having to connect with people even when you don’t know how or even really want to.

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I was really excited when Max started to introduce “Wildfires Outside Laramie, WY.” It’s one of those songs that cuts right to the heart of the matter and is one of my favorites of all of Max’s songs. He said it’s about when you can’t find common ground. He also told us that he just booked a gig in Laramie, and I’ll be interested to hear how playing that song there goes. It’s a heavy one.

Max, Sophie, and Ben left the stage and said goodnight, but we weren’t ready for the night to end. They came back and played another favorite, the very lovely “You’re the Farthest I Go” and went right into “Evelyn O.” to end their encore. I loved watching Sophie and Max looking at each other with sideways glances and knowing smiles during the songs they sang together. It is really sweet, how those two are together. It was a real treat to be there for this sendoff show. We didn’t get in our traditional Mayo Street sing along! I’ve gotten used to belting out the chorus on “The Start of Fables,” but Max wanted to be sure he built in some time for us all to hang out after the show since they’re off on tour for so long. Miss you guys already. Thanks for a great night!

xo,

bree

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Max Garcia Conover

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blue, Portland, Maine

*Max’s ellery release show is tomorrow night at Mayo Street Arts at 7:30pm. We are all so excited for this moment for Max. The album is beautiful. He, Sophie, and their dog Arlo are about to embark on a many month long national tour in their little RV, so this is your last chance to see Max locally for some time. See y’all tomorrow!? Regular whatbreesees contributor Ken Templeton saw Max last week at Blue. I decided I couldn’t muster the strength to stay up that late so far from home on a school night! Thanks for sharing, Ken!*

I moved to Massachusetts in July. It’s been wonderful–the people here have been incredibly welcoming and outgoing in a way that has surprised me (I grew up in New Jersey–‘nuff said). Musically, it’s been incredible. I got to see Sturgill Simpson the other night and have my eye on Shovels & Rope and Charlie Parr in the next couple of weeks. One thing I am bummed about though is missing some of my friend Max Garcia Conover’s gigs as he embarks on his national tour in support of his truly stunning album ellery. But I happened to be in Portland last week and caught his show with Matt Wheeler at Blue.

Max trades songs with other songwriters at Blue once a month. This is fun because you almost always get a very different sensibility from each songwriter, and this night was no different. Matt’s songs are mostly narrative in nature, with strong nods to literature and history. One song, “Lexington” describes a young man longing both to join the revolution against Britain and to see his love; another song “River (A Dark Chase)” is based on a chapter in Les Miserables. I walked in as Matt was covering Josh Ritter’s tune Idaho,” and there are many similarities between Matt’s songwriting and Ritter’s approach. You can imagine these lyrics (from Matt’s song “Gold”) on a Josh Ritter album: “Sometimes bitter roots / Give rise to sweeter fruits / And all your sticks and stones, they turn to gold.” Matt and Josh use similarly playful rhyme schemes and opposition of emotions. Matt’s guitar playing is rhythmic and crisp, both while strumming and finger-picking, and he engages the audience nicely by asking for sing-alongs with songs like Indigo.” He ended the show with a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Max Garcia Conover back in July at One Longfellow Square in Portland

Max Garcia Conover back in July at One Longfellow Square in Portland

Max’s songs during the set were mostly from ellery. The crowd at Blue was so attentive–they were really there to listen to music. Everyone was leaning forward when Max sat down at a table with his wife Sophie Nelson to sing Wildfires Outside Laramie, WY.” He said he wrote the song as a reflection on the times like Ferguson, where Max’s friend DeRay has been recently, holding a sign “My blackness is not a weapon.” Max described DeRay as one of the nicest people he’s ever met, and it is so difficult that the nicest person he’s ever met has to hold that sign. The performance was perfect–understated, emotional (but not sentimental), and it felt like we were at a house concert for a few minutes.

Keep Us All is the first track on ellery, but Max wasn’t sure it would even make the record. His genius producer, Ben Cosgrove, convinced him to lead off the album with it, and it’s grown so much on Max that he has added a transfixing, fingerpicked introduction to the live performance of the song. Max played one of his older songs, from his first EP, “As Much A Rising Sun As A Setting One,” and that was beautiful (here is an almost-as-good-if-you-can’t-be-there-in-person version). The Songs is another favorite from ellery, with it’s perfect juxtaposition of truth and artifice:  “time busted engines barked and choked / forgotten for useless as wedding coats / the towers of men the starving ford / he don’t want truth he wants something more / subcontracted gardeners for cul de sacs / slow moving parades of white cadillacs / the national mascot, the savior sighs / they don’t want truth just tell better lies.” The Start of Fables,” was great too, as the audience sang loudly along with the chorus:  “Honey we been tryin’ / honey we been tryin’ / honey we tryin’ like a barnswallow tries / piling sticks so high.”

Max hits the road on September 12. Check out his tour dates here and pick up ellery so you can sing along.

Check out Max on his upcoming national tour!

Check out Max on his upcoming national tour!

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Sturgill Simpson

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Brighton Music Hall, Boston, MA

*My dear friend and comrade-in-music, the uber-talented Ken Templeton, is obsessed with Sturgill Simpson. He’s posted about Sturgill on Facebook so many times that I finally sat down and listened to the Kentucky native’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert myself to see what the buzz is about. Ken recently moved to Massachusetts and got the chance to see Sturgill live a couple of weeks back. Here’s his guest post. Thanks, Ken!*

Laur Joamets and Sturgill Simpson at Brighton Music Hall. Photo courtesy of Ken Templeton.

Laur Joamets and Sturgill Simpson at Brighton Music Hall. Photo courtesy of Ken Templeton.

Sturgill Simpson looked around at the packed room at Brighton Music Hall last week, seemingly sizing us up. “What’s up, Boston,” he said, then launched into Livin’ The Dream,” with the crowd more shouting-along than singing. The date at BMH was rescheduled from July 12, as he was tapped to open for Zac Brown on a string of dates in July and August.

Sturgill has the perfect balance of humility (when he’s talking) and cockiness (when he’s singing). He plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, knowing that he and his band are really good; also knowing that they have played a lot of empty rooms over the years, leading him to quit music for a while. Miles Miller plays drums and Kevin Black plays bass–the only reason you might overlook their understated, spot-on rhythm is that every solo Laur Joamets takes on lead guitar is jaw-slackening and Simpson’s vocals are so forceful.

After a couple of songs, someone shouted Long White Line!” Without missing a beat, Sturgill just said, “We’ll get there,” in a settle-down tone. Then, he elaborated, “I don’t write set lists,” he said, “and we play what we feel like playing. But we’ll play ‘em all, so you don’t have to worry about it.” He was as good as his word. He played all but one song from his debut High Top Mountain, most of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and a few covers, because, as he said, “Even though most people haven’t heard ‘em, I get tired of playing my shit.” While introducing Turtles All The Way Down,” a song with references to hallucinogenic drugs that has been picked apart by journalists (“And none of ‘em have got it right”), Sturgill pointed out Graham Uhelski in the audience, who directed the song’s music video, thanking him for his support and artistry. After the song, he walked to the front of the stage, and Uhelski came forward–they shook hands and exchanged a few words, with clear mutual respect and affection.

This was probably the last chance to see him in a venue where you talk directly to the performer. When Sturgill reflected that it’s been a “crazy couple of months,” since Metamodern broke through and garnered him national attention, a fan said “Congratulations, man,” and Sturgill looked right at him, thanking him. “You made it!” someone else said. He smiled a little and said, “We’ve crawled our way to the beginning. That’s still a van parked out back.” When he comes back through Boston, it will be at a bigger venue with a tour bus parked outside. But he’ll still play what he feels like and the crowd will be lucky to shout along.

 

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America, the Beautiful!

I’ve gotten some emails from steadfast readers (thanks, guys!) asking where I’ve been and why I haven’t been posting about shows lately. Well, I haven’t seen a proper concert in over a month, but I have seen a whole lot of America! I had an amazing opportunity to drive from Sierra Vista (southeastern) Arizona all the way back to Maine in August. How do you say no to something so wonderfully bucket listy?! My dear friend Rachel and I met up in Arizona for a few days and then drove her VW Bug for nine packed days through 16 states for a grand total of 4,079 miles. And we still like each other! Thanks so much to Nick, Elizabeth, Val, and Dan who put us up during our road trip and to my great friends who took care of my fur family while I was out seeing all of these beautiful new places! Here are the highlights:

xo,

bree

PRE-ROAD TRIP EXPLORING IN ARIZONA:

First stop off the plane: La Casa Poca Cosa in Tucson, Arizona. Amazing! Even got hugs from the owner who used to live in Maine!

First stop off the plane:  La Casa Poca Cosa in Tucson, Arizona. Amazing! Even got hugs from the owner who used to live in Maine!

Cacti heading up Mt. Lemmon in Tucson

Cacti heading up Mt. Lemmon in Tucson

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Amazing sunset in Tucson. We had delicious Mexican food in a gas station/barber shop/restaurant that night, too.

Amazing sunset in Tucson. We had delicious Mexican food in a gas station/barber shop/restaurant that night, too.

Bisbee, Arizona:  former copper mining town turned artistic community

Bisbee, Arizona: former copper mining town turned artistic community

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Met this puppy and his brother who were up for adoption in Bisbee, Arizona. We think they were adopted as a pair. Heart melting.

Met this puppy and his brother who were up for adoption in Bisbee, Arizona. We think they were adopted as a pair. Heart melting.

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I came to Bisbee. I shopped. I hid my credit card the rest of the trip! :)

I came to Bisbee. I shopped. I hid my credit card the rest of the trip! 🙂

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Cows in Sierra Vista the night before our road trip began

Cows in Sierra Vista the night before our road trip began

ROAD TRIPPIN’–DAY ONE:

Stunning red rocks outside Sedona, Arizona. Day one of the road trip!

Stunning red rocks outside Sedona, Arizona. Day one of the road trip!

Elk at our campsite!

Elk at our campsite!

Sending Maine love from the Grand Canyon!

Sending Maine love from the Grand Canyon!

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DAY TWO:

Day two:  sunrise at the Grand Canyon and this pup from Arkansas named Sammy.

Day two:  sunrise at the Grand Canyon and this pup from Arkansas named Sammy.

 

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The Four Corners was out of the way and a zillion degrees.

The Four Corners was out of the way and a zillion degrees.

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Thank goodness for sno cones. SO HOT!

Thank goodness for sno cones. SO HOT!

Introducing Elkington Mather, affectionately known as Elkie.

Introducing Elkington Mather, affectionately known as Elkie.

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The Four Corners was out of the way and a zillion degrees.

The Four Corners was out of the way and a zillion degrees.

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DAY THREE:

Day three:  Moab, Utah's Arches National Park

Day three:  Moab, Utah’s Arches National Park

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Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains

DAY FOUR:

Day four:  Voodoo Donuts in Denver, which fueled us for the long drive through eastern Colorado and most of Kansas.

Day four:  Voodoo Donuts in Denver, which fueled us for the long drive through eastern Colorado and most of Kansas.

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Food trucks in downtown Denver

Food trucks in downtown Denver

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Kansas sky

Kansas sky

World's biggest easel in Goodland, Kansas

World’s biggest easel in Goodland, Kansas

I'm on team buffalo. Buffalo Bill statue in Kansas.

I’m on team buffalo. Buffalo Bill statue in Kansas.

Hays, Kansas

Hays, Kansas

DAY FIVE:

Day five:  Brown v. Board of Education museum in Topeka, Kansas. Very much worth a visit.

Day five:  Brown v. Board of Education museum in Topeka, Kansas. Very much worth a visit.

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St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri

Hi, Mississippi River!

Hi, Mississippi River!

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The St. Louis Gateway Arch. We rode a tram up to the top. It was a little scary, but worth it.

The St. Louis Gateway Arch. We rode a tram up to the top. It was a little scary, but worth it.

View of St. Louis from the top of the arch

View of St. Louis from the top of the arch

Adorable little one at the arch

Adorable little one at the arch

DAY SIX:

Day six:  Memphis, Tennessee--home of Graceland.

Day six:  Memphis, Tennessee–home of Graceland.

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Elvis' living room

Elvis’ living room

The pool room

The pool room

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A beautiful outpouring of love for Elvis at his gravesite. Really liked Graceland.

A beautiful outpouring of love for Elvis at his gravesite. Really liked Graceland.

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BBQ at A&R in Memphis

BBQ at A&R in Memphis

Nashville!

Nashville!

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Parthenon in Nashville

Parthenon in Nashville

DAY SEVEN:

Day seven:  backstage tour of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville

Day seven:  backstage tour of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville

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Rest in Peace, Minnie Pearl

Rest in Peace, Minnie Pearl

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Kind of overjoyed to be in one of the homes of the Grand Ole Opry!

I was kind of overjoyed to be in one of the homes of the Grand Ole Opry!

DAY EIGHT:

Day eight:  Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive. We hit a bear. Well, it hit us. We think it's okay. We're okay. Oh my.

Day eight: Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive. We hit a bear. Well, it hit us. We think it’s okay. We’re okay. Oh my.

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DAY NINE:

After hours and hours of traffic in MA, welcome home to MAINE!

After hours and hours of traffic in MA, welcome home to MAINE!

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4.079 miles completed and back home in Maine. Still friends! What an adventure!

4.079 miles completed and back home in Maine. Still friends! What an adventure!

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