Sunday, April 3, 2016
One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
I’ve taken a very necessary break from blogging over the last few weeks. I’m in charge of all of the senior class events at my school and I’m selling my house and moving. It’s a crazy time in my life. I can’t remember a time I’ve been so busy!
I have fond memories of seeing Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat live early last month at One Longfellow Square. Basia came across my radar back in January of 2011, when I saw her Tiny Desk Concert on NPR. I’d seen Twin Limb open for Houndmouth back in September at Port City Music Hall, and I’d liked them and was looking forward to seeing them again, as well. Colin and I had just seen Darlingside a couple of nights earlier and he had another show to go to, so I went solo.
I was surprised and a bit disappointed to find that the bulk of the seats at One Longfellow were stacked and pushed to the sides when I arrived. I’ve seen it once before, for a bluegrass show where the band really thought people would want to dance. We didn’t. People helped themselves to the stacks of chairs and set up rows before that show even started. One Longfellow Square is a listening room with a mature audience (I am often one of the youngest people in the audience when I see shows there) and we’ve come to expect having seats in rows so we can sit close and enjoy the show comfortably. I asked one of the staff members and was told one of the bands (she didn’t know which) had asked that the chairs be cleared to create a dance floor. I’ve heard lots of Twin Limb and Basia Bulat music and, trust me, it’s not dance music. I was annoyed. What ended up happening is that people sat really far away from the stage in the few seats that were set up. It ruined the intimacy we’ve come to count on at OLS shows and I’d ask the well meaning folks there to really discourage the vast majority of bands from using this seating arrangement in the future. I watched Twin Limb’s set from one of the few seats in the corner of the room and couldn’t see any of their facial expressions (have I mentioned that I’m pretty significantly visually impaired?) and their set fell totally flat for me because of it even though I’d really enjoyed them six or so months earlier. I was grumpy. I considered going home.
Basia Bulat came out to watch Twin Limb’s set, and she sat on the floor, front and center. Again, my belief is that people shouldn’t come to a show and have to sit on the floor to be respectful to those seated in the back and on the sides. That type of seating situation is a mess, because anyone who wants to be up front has to either stand in front of seated people and be a jerk or sit on the floor. It was really endearing that Basia was so cool and enjoyed the set from the floor. People in the crowd were definitely her fans—a nice couple initially sitting behind me had driven nine hours from Halifax to be at the show. They were giddy when she plopped down on the floor and went to join her. So, Basia was the one who broke the ice and got people closer to the stage. This was the turning point of the night and things started moving in a better direction.
I’d been sitting with Jen Dean, a Westbrook photographer whose friend was sick and had decided to also come to the show solo. Even when I go to a show alone, it never lasts long. She was a dear. Basia and her band took the stage. I’d heard her music and although I didn’t expect this, she made it perfectly swayable. She really worked the stage with high energy dancing and switching instruments (she plays guitar, autoharp, dulcimer, piano, ukulele, and charango—which is a South American ukulele-like instrument I had to Google) and interacting sweetly with the crowd. She is a natural born entertainer, and even though I would have preferred a seated show (I’m done with the rant now), she jumped off stage and danced with the swaying crowd and even gave Jen a turn on the dance floor. My grumpiness about the seats dissipated and I found myself swaying along.
I don’t know a single one of Basia’s song titles, but I was glad I got to see her live in such a tiny venue. I get the feeling that she’s going places, not just because so many folks in the audience knew every word of every one of her songs, but also because she dazzled on stage and made it a feel-good night. Her most recent album, Good Advice, was released earlier this year (check out her song “Fool”), and her tour schedule is packed. Definitely get out to see Basia Bulat live if she’s in your corner of the world.