Tag Archives: Aimsel Ponti

An Evening with Shovels & Rope

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

Some nights are good for your soul. This was one of them. It was just what I needed, actually. I guess that’s what makes this a longer post than I’d intended to write. Here goes!

I booked my ticket to Florida to visit my dad in February, introduced my beloved rescue cats Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher to friends, and made my way to Portland in time to grab a quick dinner at Empire with my friend-in-music, Aimsel Ponti. I actually saw husband and wife duo Shovels & Rope upstairs at Empire for the first time back in March of 2012. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are a force. I was really glad to have the chance to see them again in Portland.

Aimsel and I nerded out about our favorite new albums, recent shows we’ve seen or booked, and bands we love over a delicious dinner, and we got to Port City Music Hall when doors opened. Port City graciously posted on Facebook to remind us that this was an intimate sold out “Evening with” Shovels & Rope, and that there was no opening act. I was psyched about that, too. It was awesome to be home and in bed at 10:30 on a school night.

Thanks, Aims, for taking this selfie. I am never in show pictures!

Aimsel and I grabbed a spot front row center next to preschool teacher Elise (she’s a regular Newport Folk Festival goer) and we all chatted about bands we love (man, that is good for what ails you). Charleston’s Cary Ann and Michael took the stage right at 8 o’clock, and they wowed for two solid hours. Their music is a powerful Southern folky rock and their mastery of so many instruments–their voices, guitar, kick drum, snare, tambourine, harmonica, shaker, and keys–are downright impressive. If I could sing like someone, I might just pick Cary Ann. Her raspy, powerful voice cuts right through. It was an absolute pleasure to be in their company. It was a real treat to be just five feet away, too, because I was clearly able to witness their passion and chemistry.

Cary Ann and Michael opened with a cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” that gathered our attention beautifully. Cary Ann told us about a trip to New Orleans for a wedding they went on where they got mixed up in a pedestrian parade of revelers by the river dressed in beautiful costumes. There was a moment at the river before the wedding where the revelers sang to say goodbye to people they’d lost in the year. She said it was a full circle moment of seeing life and death celebrated together, and it inspired “St. Anne’s Parade.”

This blurry picture sums up Shovels & Rope quite nicely

Times are hard for those who care about others these days. Cary Ann told us “We will be hopeful for you. You just hold on. We will keep holding on and will be holding onto it for you for when you’re ready to come back to the hopeful side.” It was nice to hear. Michael introduced “San Andreas Fault Line Blues” by telling us about driving their van from California to the east coast listening to Grapes of Wrath. The book was inspired by that part of the country, and they started to get loopy from the drive and imagined being able to hop into the book to tell the characters to watch out for the dangers in the book.

A newer song, “Come On Utah,” imagines a hero horse named Utah that helps people reconnect after a wall that was put up comes down. Cary Ann told us that they used to play four hour rock ‘n roll cover gigs in Charleston and used to depend on Tom Petty’s “Anything That’s Rock ‘n Roll” to propel them into the third set. She said “It was a dream back then that we would be out of that club and here playing for you someday. And on Tom Petty’s wings we will sail into the future.”

I go to shows because I want to have a concert experience. When musicians tell us the inspiration for their songs, I am happy to listen and learn. It makes the music mean more to me. Michael spoke for a bit about his dad, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. He told us that they’d recently had to move his dad into a place, “and that’s terrible. My parents have been married for 56 years and my dad is a musician. We used to jam with him a lot, and we still do, just in a new, weird way. He used to rope my mom into playing music with him and would buy weird instruments like an autoharp for her to play. We wrote this song a couple of years ago when he was a little bit better than he is now. We wrote it for my mother. Cary and my mom are besties. This is called ‘Mourning Song’ and it’s kind of weird to play because there’s real human stuff going on. . .”

Someone in the crowd responded “People can relate!”

Michael heard her and nodded, and said “and for that reason, we wanted to share it for you, to have a moment, whether it’s dark or joyful or whatever with you. And the idea of the song is that after he has left, he left my mom a few chords and a tune to remember him by, which I think would be a sweet thing for somebody to do. Anyhow, thank you for the indulgence.” Check out the lyrics:

Morning song, mourning song/You were always on my mind and even though now I am gone/I taught you these four chords so you could sing your mourning song.

It cuts right to the heart of everything, doesn’t it?

After a high octane, personal, interactive set, Shovels & Rope left the stage. They came back for a few songs, including a brand new one. They grabbed a piece of paper with typed lyrics and sang a powerful song for us (they’ve since started calling it “Oh Great, America”). Cary Ann told us that it is a reflection on the current state of affairs. There was a collective sigh. Michael told us, “Some of you might not agree with all of this and that’s fine. I’m just glad we are all here together in one room trying to celebrate something and have fun together, and I think that’s important given everything that’s going on. If it pisses you off, maybe just laugh it off and have a drink.” Check out some of the lyrics:

There’s a steady stream of insanity/In 2017/There’s a dog with the nuclear bomb in his mouth/ Everybody’s scared, everybody’s inspired/The world is under water/It’s also on fire/In 2017/You talk this, but you live like that/It says “Go back home” on your welcome mat/There’s constant unchecked brutality/A brave man takes a stand by dropping to a knee.

It’s heavy and timely, and gets right to the point. It would piss off my Uncle Steve, too. Oh well.

Oh Great, America!

This was an evening that I didn’t know I needed so much. It was really edifying. If Shovels & Rope come to your town, you owe it to yourself to check them out. If you think a wall between the US and Mexico is a good idea, maybe you won’t like them in person. I think you should check them out anyway.

xo,

bree

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The Wind and The Wave with The Native Sibling and Justin Kawika Young

Friday, May 19, 2017

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

Some nights just feel really good, and this was surely one of them. I was surprised by how quiet it was at Port City Music Hall for this triple bill on a Friday night, but it meant the small crowd had plenty of personal space and room to dance, which was a treat.

I got to Port City around 7:45 and noticed a guy I’d seen at Jamestown Revival, so I said hi. He said, “don’t you write that music blog?,” which made me feel a little famous. Sean and I chatted about bands we love and upcoming shows until Seattle’s The Native Sibling took the stage. My Spotify “discover weekly” playlist introduced me to them a while back, and I kept going back to their songs and was really excited to see them in person. Brother and sister duo Ryan and Kaylee Williams were engaging, kind, and genuine. Ryan asked if anyone knew their music, and I raised my hand from front and center. I bought their 2014 album, Letters Kept to Ourselves, after the show and have listened to it on repeat. Kaylee and Ryan were nice in real life and were glad to know I’d already been a fan. Sometimes their song “Here With Me” makes me a little teary. If you like lovely songs with airy harmonies, you’ll like The Native Sibling.

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The Native Sibling–Kaylee and Ryan Williams

Hawaii’s Justin Kawika Young took the stage next, and my friend Marian showed up to enjoy the rest of the night with me. He had tons of stage presence and warmly interacted with the crowd. He asked if any of us had been to Hawaii, so I raised my hand and we ended up having a quick chat during his set. He told us he’d written a song about justice based on a book he’d just finished reading and I was impressed with his passion for social justice. He also played a fantastic medley of songs from the 90s that made my night. Justin had a smooth voice and lots of charisma. Here’s a video of Justin performing his song “Three Weeks From Tomorrow.” I spoke to Justin after the show and he told me that I sounded like a native when I pronounced Hawaiian places, which was a huge compliment.

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Justin Kawika Young

Aimsel Ponti showed up just in time for The Wind and The Wave’s set. She’s a fan. You can read her interview with the band here. Austin’s The Wind and The Wave sounded great. Patty Lynn has a lovely voice. Guitarist/vocalist Dwight Baker told us he was really high, and it showed. The band didn’t interact with us hardly at all. I know we were a small crowd (which might have been disappointing to them), but we were enthusiastic, and it was a bummer that we didn’t get a chance to get to have much of a show experience. Their newest album, Happiness Is Not A Place, was recorded live and is worth a listen. Maybe the band had an off night, but that album is better than their live show was. I ended up chatting with Patty Lynn after the show, and she was very nice, so I expect they have the potential for a more energetic, engaging live show. Their song “Grand Canyon” is about not taking things for granted, and it’s excellent.

Overall, this was an effortless, fun night, and I am glad I was there.

xo,

bree

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Ryan Adams with Alex Edelman

Sunday, May 7, 2017

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I’d avoided seeing Ryan Adams in the past because I’d heard he was temperamental live. A friend told me that an audience member heckled him at a show they attended, so Ryan cut his set short and walked off the stage. That kind of energy doesn’t appeal to me, so I needed some urging to give him a try. When I found out he was coming to our very own State Theatre in Portland, I decided to give him a shot and see for myself. Tickets sold out in minutes, so I was planning on going to the show solo, but both Bob and Colin bought tickets on StubHub the day of the show and joined me, which was awesome. Bob and I had dinner at Empire and got in line about 30 minutes before doors. The line already stretched around the corner by then and we stood out in the cold drizzle waiting for doors to open. I was glad to hear that the main bars were going to be closed at Ryan’s request. I think alcohol had a negative impact on Regina Spektor’s sold out show and encouraged rude audience behavior, so I was just fine with that call.


Bob, Colin, and I convened at our usual spot–second row center on the floor. We met a couple who’d driven up from Connecticut for the show and made a long weekend of it. They’d run into Ryan earlier in the day and spoken with him briefly and said he was approachable. We all enjoyed and laughed pretty hard at Alex Edelman’s brief comedy set. I loved that we didn’t have to stand through a full opening act set by someone we didn’t know and assumed it meant it would be an early night. I was wrong. Ryan Adams played nearly 25 songs, many of which I knew even though I haven’t really thought of myself as much of a fan. Colin and I’d both never seen Ryan live, and I’m glad I finally did. Fans of Ryan’s said it was a really “focused” show for him. He probably played eight songs before saying a word, and it’s clear that interacting with people isn’t easy for Ryan and he feels awkward and self-conscious about it.

I forgot how much they used the smoke machine at this show until I saw this. I get the feeling Ryan doesn’t like the spotlight.

His show was all rock ‘n roll and he and the band brought it. It was loud and people seemed into it. I was tired from standing for so long and couldn’t believe (in a good way) that he played so many songs for us. I think he’d rather play a ton of music and fill up the night that way, rather than say very much. That’s not my preference, but it seems like what works best for him. Ryan did initiative a conversation with a guy in the front row, who had approached him earlier in the day, but Ryan had avoided. He apologized from the stage and said he’d just needed some time alone in his head, and then they had a chat for a few minutes while we listened on. Ryan was very complimentary of our audience, and there were clearly some big fans in the room.

This is the guy Ryan stopped to have a conversation with. Nice photo, @rumbeggar!

I think Ryan had a good night, too


I’m glad I was there. Seeing Ryan Adams on a good night is a good time. Aimsel was there and here’s her review of the show.

xo,

bree

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Regina Spektor

Thursday, March 9, 2017

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

This night gets a mixed review, but it’s not Regina’s fault. I met up with my concert friend Bob (six years as concert buddies and going strong!) at Empire for dinner, but couldn’t find parking after a long search and ended up late to dinner, so succumbed to paying $16 in a nearby parking lot (ugh). My fortune cookie had no fortune, which concerned me. Bob and I arrived at State Theatre before doors opened to stake out a good spot for my first-ever Regina Spektor show. We ended up third row center, in a pocket of real Regina fans. It turns out, we were lucky to be exactly where we ended up, because there were a lot of disrespectful people in the crowd.

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Getting a fortune cookie without a fortune kind of freaked me out.

There was no show opener, and we were told Regina was going on right at 8 PM. She went on a little after 8:30 instead, and people were restless and some had time to get drunk at the bar by then. It really negatively affected the show experience. Regina was a delight–her vocals and piano were spot on, her audience interaction on point, and she was humble and adorable. At one point, she sweetly told us that “every time you guys start clapping, I turn around to see who’s behind me.” She joked that she shouldn’t have worn jeans because “Portland is a delicious city” and she’d overindulged. Sadly, the crowd was a NIGHTMARE. Drunk, loud people talked over her the entire night. The interruptions were so frequent and loud that Regina stopped mid song to ask very politely for people to talk a bit quieter because it was hard for her to concentrate with all the noise. Have I ever witnessed a performer ask a crowd to be quiet because they were being so loud? I don’t think so. It was so sad. She handled it like a champ, but it persisted. I talked to other friends who were at the show later, and we agreed that a seated show for a singer-songwriter and her piano would probably have created a better listening environment than the sold out standing show we attended.

Regina forgot the lyrics to her last song, “Us,” but the crowd helped her find her way (the ones who were actually listening, that is). She played a generous four song encore, including “Fidelity” and “Samson, which were thrilling to hear live for the first time. This should have been a great show. Regina was engaging, sweet, and talented, but the crowd was AWFUL. Good luck booking her in Portland again! Concert etiquette tip–don’t be the drunk person yelling all through a show–it makes you a jerk!

My friend Aimsel Ponti’s take on the night.

xo,

bree

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Soundcheck with The Head and the Heart

Monday, March 6 2017

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I love The Head and the Heart’s music, but saw them live in 2012, and I was so disappointed. Their songs are truly lovely and emotive, but their live show was b-o-r-i-n-g and phoned in. You know by now that the primary reason I go to see artists live is to have a concert experience, up close and personal. So, The Head and the Heart live is not for me. When I see they’re coming to town, I don’t bother to buy a ticket. Watching their YouTube channel is about as interactive as their live show is, so I’d rather not be in a crowded venue with a bunch of drunk, loud people to see a band if they’re not going to say very much. But I am conflicted about this, because THATH’s music is so moving, and I sometimes wonder if I’ve been too hard on them. Turns out, I don’t think so.

I felt undeserving when my friend Colin invited me to join him to The Head and the Heart’s soundcheck hosted by 98.9 WCLZ ahead of their sold out show at State Theatre. I decided that seeing them with just a handful of people in the room might provide a more intimate concert experience, so I went. We waited outside in the frigid cold for a solid thirty minutes, which was fine because MaineToday/Portland Press Herald/98.9 WCLZ Maine music maven Aimsel Ponti was with us and kept us chatting as a big group.

Once inside, the band assembled to say hello and patiently take pictures with all twenty or so of us. They were all completely nice, if a bit shy. It helped me better understand that they’re probably not super socially confident on the whole and that’s why their live show is flat. I chatted mostly with pianist Kenny Hensley and drummer Tyler Williams, who are the most outgoing in the group, and even had an unexpected conversation about the Sphinx with Tyler.

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Hey! I’m with the band. Thanks to 98.9 WCLZ for this opportunity and for the pic!

When Colin approached to get his picture taken, someone in the band recognized him and exclaimed “Colin!”

Aimsel and the band

The band played two songs–“Another Story” and “False Alarm”–for us after the meet and greet, and then we took off so their show opener could have their soundcheck. I had a twinge of regret about not getting a ticket for the show since they were very nice in person, but I went to two hours of jiu jitsu instead, which is a new love of mine. I felt fine about my decision when I learned (as expected) that they sounded great that night, but didn’t say much to the crowd, which is exactly what I don’t want in a concert experience. So, mixed reviews, but I was grateful for the opportunity to see THATH in a slightly different light.

Here’s Aimsel’s take on the show from her great Aimsel on the Record blog.

xo,

bree

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Lake Street Dive with Joey Dosik

Friday, February 17, 2017

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I wasn’t planning on going to this show. I love Lake Street Dive, but so does everyone else. I used to see them play at teeny One Longfellow Square, back when there were maybe 40 people in the audience and I could sit a few feet from the stage. I don’t always rally for their sold out shows, because being squished together with a lot of enthusiastic fans at maximum capacity is cozier than I prefer. I miss the old days, even though I’m thrilled for Lake Street Dive and their much-deserved success. I saw on Facebook that my friend-in-music Aimsel Ponti did an interview with the band the afternoon of the show, and I commented on her post. She zipped me an immediate message back, and invited me to be her photographer for the show for MaineToday.com. A photo pass at the State gives you access for a few songs to the space right at the foot of the stage–in front of the barricade–exactly the proximity I want at a live show. I was in.

I made it to State Theatre a song or two into opener Joey Dosik’s set. He has a great voice that filled the room. His sound reminded me a bit of Gavin DeGraw. He sat behind the piano and the crowd dug him. I ran into a couple of my students after the show, and they’d gotten tickets to the sold out show because they sent a message on Instagram to Joey (they are both in our school band and are big fans of Joey) who happily put the two eager fans on his guest list.

Lake Street Dive took the stage to a spirited audience. I watched a little of the show from the balcony, and couldn’t help but notice how many men were gesticulating wildly on air guitar and singing along to every word that Rachael Price belted out for us. LSD opened with “Bad Self Portraits” and I got to shoot for three songs up close, including “Side Pony.” They honored George Michael with their version of “Faith,” and played one of my favorites from earlier in their career–“Neighbor Song.” I can sure relate to “Don’t Make Me Hold Your Hand,” loved “You Go Down Smooth,” and the band treated us to two encore songs, wrapping the show with “My Speed,” which we sang along to.

Bassist Bridget Kearney has a new solo album, Won’t Let You Down, which releases on March 24. She’ll be playing a show at One Longfellow Square on Monday, April 17. If tickets haven’t sold out already, they certainly will.


Aimsel wrote a great show review, which captures the energy of the enthusiastic crowd beautifully. Thanks for the show invite, Aimsel!

xo,

bree

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Rachael Yamagata with Pressing Strings

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I have a lot of love for Rachael Yamagata. Her 2004 album, Happenstance, played on repeat in my car for a solid year. I saw her once in September of 2005 at my alma mater, so it had been over a decade since I’d seen her live. Now touring to support her new Tightrope Walker album, I was very excited to be able to see Rachael in Portland (much to the chagrin of my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor, whose class I had to skip to get to the show on time!).

I arrived at Port City Music Hall towards the end of opener Pressing Strings’ set. I don’t have much of a recollection of them two and a half weeks later, but I do remember they did a cover of “Going to California” that I thought was really good.

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Pressing Strings

Rachael Yamagata and her band took the stage to a small, but obviously loyal crowd. Rachael was a little under the weather, and had been encouraged not to talk too much between songs (which was clearly a struggle for her). I was thrilled to hear “Be Be Your Love” from Happenstance early in her set. It made my day. She told us that “I Don’t Want to Be Your Mother” was about her tendency to date men who need a lot of support, which women in the crowd near me chuckled and shared knowing glances about while Rachael introduced the song. I thought “Over” was great live. Rachael pushed her voice (I hope she was okay in the days that followed) and covered Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” which sounded lovely.

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Rachael Yamagata

Rachael’s band was great, too. Her drummer was leaving soon to tour with William Fitzsimmons (who I LOVE), Brandon Walters played bass and is in Lord Huron (seriously!), Michael Chavez on lead guitar has toured with Rachael forever, and Grammy nominated producer John Alagía played piano and guitar. Rachael was charming and open and her voice cuts right through.

Her last song, “Nobody,” is about “going for it” and she sampled Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in there, too, which was an unexpected, welcome surprise. The grateful audience cheered for an encore and Rachael came back and played “Elephants” solo. People in the crowd shouted out requests and Rachael seemed happy to hear them and tried to oblige. She also sang a song for local music maven Aimsel Ponti, who is a longtime Rachael fan and was also at the show. Aimsel also made my day by telling me that Rachael had recorded an entirely acoustic version of Happenstance that was for sale at the merch table. So Happenstance is happily back in my car on repeat, and it holds up beautifully, twelve whole years later! So glad I made it to this show!

xo,

bree

P.S.–Check out the video for “Let Me Be Your Girl”–written/directed by Josh Radnor and starring Allison Janney!

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