Tag Archives: Ben Cosgrove

Ghostland Festival

Saturday, September 1, 2019

Thompson’s Point, Portland, Maine

I missed a ton of concerts this summer because my sweet dad and his awesome girlfriend came up from Florida to help me renovate my cute new house on a tight schedule, so I was so pumped to make up some missed music all at one at Ghostland. I’d forgotten, but I was at the first Ghostland Festival that The Ghost of Paul Revere put together back in 2014 at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick. This show, just four years later, was massive in comparison, and speaks to Ghost’s success and the community of fans they’ve built.

This was my last weekend before kids came back to school, and I was determined to make the most of it. Dan and I made it to Thompson’s Point to pick up our VIP bracelets (seven years of concert blogging has its perks) for the show and I gave my friends Rachel and Ian my spare presale ticket for the show. Colin saved us a spot up front and we made it to him just in time for Sibylline’s set. I’m a big fan of Sibylline, who you may recognize as Hannah Daman and the Martelle Sisters. I’ve seen them a few times, and their rich harmonies, soulful lyrics, and string arrangements are lovely.

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Sibylline

My dear friend Max Garcia Conover took the stage next, and wowed the crowd with his frank and passionate lyrics about social justice and greed. Max is a troubadour in the truest sense, and his banter was inspiring. He said, “I think we are all living through a time when our society is defined by constant vilification and our government is defined by selfishness. I think when you’re living in that kind of time, any act of empathy is an act of civil disobedience and every song is a protest song and every music festival is a rally.” Max clearly impressed everyone around me up front, and I was proud to be part of his fan club while he played for his biggest crowd to date. For more about Max, here’s my review of his last show at One Longfellow Square.

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Max Garcia Conover (right) and Ben Cosgrove (left)

I’d promised Dan a normal concert experience, but that’s not my jam. Typically, I get to a show before doors open, get a spot along the barricade right up front, and forgo food and drink to maintain a spot up close for the entire show. Dan was hungry, so he made his way to the food trucks along the water at Thompson’s Point, but there were so few that he ended up being in line for almost an hour and he sadly missed one of my favorite bands, The Ballroom Thieves. Martin explained that one of their new songs was “meant to be a song about love and kindness and about speaking up for people who don’t have a voice and can’t stand up for themselves. We need to find common ground with people who we disagree with to move forward.”

The Ballroom Thieves–Martin, Devin, and Callie–have chemistry and talent to spare, and I’m always happy to get to see them live. They were joined onstage for a couple of songs by the insanely talented Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, which takes any musical experience and makes it exponentially better. The Thieves all live in Maine now, so they’re playing here more, and just announceda show on December 28at Port City Music Hall. Check out this post for more on the Thieves.

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The Ballroom Thieves with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

I was a little floored when I saw that South Carolina’s Shovels & Rope was slated to play Ghostland. Michael and Cary Ann are the real deal with percussive, rowdy songs and so much warmth onstage. My pal Aimsel and I saw them from the front row at Port City back last October, which was a truly special and unbeatable experience. The crowd started to swell during their boisterous set, so Dan and I left Colin and ventured over to the renovated shipping container that Thompson’s Point uses as a VIP lounge.

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Shovels & Rope

When The Ghost of Paul Revere took the stage, there were solidly 3,500 fans gathered to cheer them on. I think every single Buxton resident was there, for sure, because Ghostland was a hometown celebration of a band that locals have loved for many years now. Ghost–Griffin, Sean, and Max–always puts on a great show, and they were joined for their whole set by the immensely talented duo of Ben Cosgrove on piano and accordion and Kevin Oates on cello, which made their set exceptional. The Maine Youth Rock Orchestra joined them for a couple of songs, too, and I loved watching all the guys in the band turn around to cheer for the kids before they left the stage.

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From L to R: Ben Cosgrove, Griffin Sherry, Sean McCarthy, Max Davis, and Kevin Oates

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Cheering for MYRO

Sean asked if we’d be willing to turn on the flashlights on our cell phones, and the crowd happily obliged and lit up the lovely night at Thompson’s Point. I saw The Ghost of Paul Revere last on New Year’s Eve, and was especially happy to hear “Next Year”–the first song I heard in 2018–again live. The Ballroom Thieves joined Ghost onstage for an awesome cover of “Under Pressure” to end the night on a high note.

img_5766img_5814So many thanks to Griffin, Sean, and Max from Ghost for their painstaking effort to organize such an awesome party to celebrate the end of summer. So many of my friends were at this show and certainly most of my favorite bands were. Until next year?!

xo,

bree

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Ben Cosgrove and Friends

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Blue, Portland, Maine

My friend Ben Cosgrove is an insanely talented pianist and a mighty fine accordion player, too. I met him back in 2014 when he produced our friend Max Garcia Conover’s Ellery album. Ben tours non-stop, crisscrossing the United States and playing really any venue that will have him. I follow Ben on Instagram, and he’ll post a beautiful picture from St. Louis one night and from Wyoming the next. His determination to play for people is really commendable. His music is inspired by the landscape he experiences in his travel, which is plentiful. I heard him play on 98.9 WCLZ last summer, and if you like context like I do, check out my friendKen Templeton’s interview with Ben ahead of his 2017 release, Salt.

Happy 30th, Ben Cosgrove!

Ben turned 30 last week, and he asked the kind folks at Blue if they’d open their doors on a Tuesday (it’s usually their day off) so he could play a birthday show. It was such a treat to spend the evening listening to Ben and his talented friends play for us. I showed up while Hannah Daman (she was a highlight of my 2017concerts) was on stage. Griffin Sherry and Max Davis, both from the Ghost of Paul Revere, played a couple of songs with Ben, as did Max Garcia Conover. To close the night, Ben and his friends covered Dawes’ “All Your Favorite Bands.”Ben played with the Ghost of Paul Reverelast summer when they opened for Guster at Thompson’s Point, and he is about to head out on tour with them for the next month or so.

If you’re sad you missed this fun night, Ben, Max Garcia Conover, Griffin Sherry, and Max Davis play tonight at Blue at 6pm.

xo,

bree

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Ellis Paul with Laurie MacAllister

Friday, December 29, 2017

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

This was my 49th Ellis Paul show! I hope I get to sing on stage with him at my 50th show. I can sing, Ellis!

I started seeing Ellis Paul in 2002, so that’s 15 years of great music I’ve gotten to hear him perform live. He’s still my favorite singer songwriter, and I love seeing him live at his now annual warm up to New Year’s Eve show at One Longfellow Square. I used to ring in the New Year with Ellis and friends every year at Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but Portland is so much closer!  

I picked up my friend Hedda in the snow and we slowly made it to Portland on a slippery highway. We had a delicious dinner nearby at Mi Sen, but were squeezed for time and had to miss seeing my talented pianist friend, Ben Cosgrove, at Blue. We made it to One Longfellow Square right after 7 to get good seats up front, and there were easily already 25 people in the room. I know where the super fans sit (I am a fan, not a super fan), and decided I needed a couple of rows of buffer, so grabbed seats for Colin, Hedda, and me in the fourth row. We chatted for an hour and then Laurie MacAllister (of Red Molly) took the stage to start the show.

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David Glaser, Laurie McAllister, and Radoslav Lorkovic

Hedda saw her first Ellis Paul show (my 46th) with me last year at Brunswick’s Unitarian Universalist Church, and Laurie sang with him then, too. We thought their chemistry was obvious, and wondered if they were a couple back then. They were, we discovered at this show. Laurie MacAllister has a very pretty voice and was so grateful to perform her first solo show in 14 years in front of such a polite audience. Her new solo record, The Lies the Poets Tell, is out in late January. It’s a cover album of songs from artists you may not know–including Shawn Mullins (one of my all time favorites), Mark Erelli (who Laurie called her favorite songwriter and urged us to see live), Antje Duvekot, oh, and some guy named Ellis Paul. She opened with Shawn Mullins’ “My Stupid Heart.”David Glaser joined her on guitar–she told us she’d heard him play last year during preparations for Ellis’ annual New Year’s Eve shows and asked him to be her guitarist on her new album–and Radoslav Lorkovic, the “Croatian Sensation,” accompanied on piano and accordion. Laurie told us she met Rad for the first time back in 2005 when they played at the same music festival. When she and her Red Molly bandmates told him they were off to New York City for a gig later that evening, he asked if he could come with them and play, too, which they all quickly agreed to. David, Rad, and Laurie were also Ellis’ band that evening. They are obviously friends and it was fun to watch them together.

Ellis Paul took the stage to a sold out crowd after intermission. He told us he wrote a song with a friend in mind that was supposed to be more of a joke, but turned into his love song, “I Ain’t No Jesus.” I’d never heard Ellis talk about dating Laurie before, but he talked about her saying “I’ll Never Be this Young Again” in reference to recording a new album, and he stole her line and wrote a song featuring it. Laurie interjected that she came down to the living room the next morning and he played it for her–completely finished overnight. He told us it was one of the first times he’d ever played it live.

Ellis also played another new song I hadn’t heard before, which is always exciting when you see someone play as often as I do. He projected a picture onto the screen behind him and it was of Ellis and his father in front of a huge fire. He told us about a family reunion that turned into a major fire house fire over the 4th of July weekend in 1979. He thanked his relatives in the crowd who were there to support him, and told us about a relative who’d fought for the Union Army in the Civil War and was injured at Gettysburg. They gave him a farm–150 acres in Wasburn, Maine–and every generation in his family has produced potato farmers since then until now. He joked that he went into the more lucrative folk singer business. His grandparents had 9 kids and 40 grandchildren. He laughed as he told us “none of the names have been changed because everyone who is guilty deserves to be in this song.”

Ellis told us he’d record an album in 2018, and I think I’m most looking forward to “Scarecrow in a Corn Maze”–a song about a soldier injured in Iraq who comes home from war and struggles. The chorus goes, “scarecrow in a corn maze, just trying to find some way out.” Ellis has always been an excellent storyteller. His songs are relatable because they tell real human stories. This song stuck out to me the most among songs I don’t know very well. We sang along to a song that Ellis wrote about all of the states he’s performed in called “So You Ain’t From these Parts.” The verse about Maine features the crazy names of places here from Damariscotta to the Cobbosseecontee.

Every year, Ellis and his friends play a medley of songs during their NYE shows. This year, they paid tribute to music legends lost in the last couple of years–Tom Petty, Glen Campbell, and Glenn Frey. Their cover of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was incredible. I’ll admit I’d never heard Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” before. Everyone came off the stage into the audience and sang “Seven Bridges Road” (famously covered by the Eagles) for us.

Ellis thanked us for our continued support and for coming out in the bitter cold. He told us his kid just got $3,300 braces, and chuckled when he told us that we’d paid for them. I figure my 49 concert tickets will pay for at least a year of a teenager’s car insurance when his girls start driving.

Did we all sing along to “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down”to close the night? I think we did. I am sleep deprived from New Year’s Eve last night. Thanks for a lovely evening of music that always makes me feel like I’m home, Ellis and friends. I’ll see you soon!

Happy 2018! Let’s all hope for goodness and light in the year ahead!

xo,

bree

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Guster with The Ghost of Paul Revere and the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Thompson’s Point, Portland, Maine

Guster on the Ocean was a great time. I think I’m in the sweet spot age-wise of people who have known Guster since early on in their career as a band, so attending their 25th anniversary show with thousands of fans at Thompson’s Point was a treat.

I’d had a busy week helping my best friend’s dad after back surgery, and I spent the afternoon with him at Maine Med before leaving to meet Rachel and Ian to Uber to the show. We set up a blanket in the front of the blanket area just behind the barricade, but were told to move (of course that area was littered with blankets later in the evening, which seems to happen every time I go to Thompson’s Point). We arrived early to enjoy dinner (I had an awesome grilled cheese with lobster from the SaltBox Cafe) and to explore the Reverb Eco Village (which earned us free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream). I also scored an awesome Guster on the Ocean Nalgene water bottle, which was apparently in short supply.

I ran into so many people from all corners of my life during Spencer Albee’s opening set that I honestly didn’t hear a single one of his songs. I got to catch up with my friend Ben Cosgrove before he joined the Ghost of Paul Revere on stage on keys and accordion. Ben played a few songs on 98.9 WCLZ a few weeks later, and you should definitely check out the session. Ben is incredibly talented.

I loved seeing Portland’s the Ghost of Paul Revere play in front of such a big crowd. They had nearly a dozen musicians with them on stage, including Ben, Kevin Oates from the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra on cello, and a handful of other musicians that beautifully rounded out their sound. They had a blast up there, and I made my way to the stage to see them up close and easily enjoyed their set from the second row with some strangers who became fast friends. Good music is good for that.

I was sporting my “The Way Rock Should Be” t-shirt from the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, and I ran into Kevin’s whole family and got to chat with them in between sets, too. I guess I was technically wearing the shirt of the band to see the band, but I don’t care. So was Matty Oates! I have been listening to Ghost’s new song, “Montreal,” on repeat. It’s fantastic. I am pumped to hear their new album soon. It’s always a pleasure to see GPR live. They also just announced back-to-back shows on December 30 and 31 at Port City Music Hall, which is the next time they’ll play in town because they’re off touring basically every minute until almost 2018. I’m so happy to see this band getting some of the notice they richly deserve.

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Me and Matty Oates showing our MYRO support!

Guster took the stage and we partied for the rest of the night. It was great fun. I loved hearing most of my Guster favorites–“What You Wish For,” “Barrel of a Gun,” “Parachute,” “Either Way,” and “Happier”–live. Guster isn’t playing live much these days, but my alma mater hosted them for a private gig two years ago for Homecoming, and I got to be front and center for that show. I decided to enjoy this show from further away this time, and take it everything Thompson’s Point has to offer.

The phenomenal Maine Youth Rock Orchestra joined Guster for nearly half of the show, and they enriched the sound and elevated the show to another level. Guster was pleased as punch to host this party, and were chatty and grateful all night long. Ryan asked Kevin who the youngest member of MYRO was, and we all chanted “Luke, Luke, Luke” while he accepted a standing ovation. Ryan even freestyled a song for Luke in that moment and the huge cheered along. It was incredible. What a way to make those kids understand they are already rock stars. I loved everything about this night. Let’s do it again next summer!

xo,

bree

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Max Garcia Conover with Ben Cosgrove

Sunday, January 4, 2014

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

We’re so happy that Max, Sophie, and Arlo the poodle are home from their cross-country fall tour! Our friends Ken, Tasha, and Sammie organized a surprise welcome home party for Max and Sophie before his show later that evening at One Longfellow Square. Ken asked us if we’d be willing to play a song or read something either written by Max or Sophie or inspired by them. It was wonderful to get to catch up with the gang and welcome Max and Sophie back in such a creative way. I was so impressed with friends who learned and reimagined Max’s complex songs and Ellery producer Ben Cosgrove blew us away with an impromptu performance (read: he forgot to prepare and it was still insanely good) of “Evelyn O.” on piano

A welcome home serenade!

A welcome home serenade!

Bartlett and Ben learned a Max song. No easy feat!

Bartlett and Ben learned a Max song. No easy feat!

Ben Cosgrove. You are too good.

Ben Cosgrove. You are too good.

Party organizer Ken Templeton played a Max song, too!

Party organizer Ken Templeton played a Max song, too!

Max played us a song while Sophie lovingly looked on

Max played us a song while Sophie lovingly looked on

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We ventured over to One Longfellow early to grab spots for the show. Ben Cosgrove is a musical prodigy. His piano pieces are layered and interesting. As someone who really loves lyrics (which he doesn’t write), Ben keeps me engaged by talking about the inspiration for each of his songs. He’s regularly inspired by place, he said, and some of the songs he played were “Montreal Song,” “Palo Alto”, and “Abilene”—which is about a cross-Kansas drive and the disorienting feeling of not understanding your place in the expanse. We saw Ben on the second night of his national tour, and he’s ended up in the Pacific Northwest where he’s doing a musical residency for a couple of months. Someone booed when he said he’d be gone a while, and he smiled and said “it’s okay, Mom.” It was a cute moment made better by the fact that Ben’s mom really was in the audience.

 

The insanely talented Ben Cosgrove

The insanely talented Ben Cosgrove

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Max Garcia Conover took the stage after an intermission and told us that playing a show with Ben Cosgrove is the best and also the most harrowing thing possible. Max told us a few stories about his national tour, including a night where he played a “world music night” in Venice Beach (the Garcia in his name must have done it) so he played a song about his Puerto Rican grandfather for good measure. The centerpiece of the tour was the 1986 Toyota Motorhome that Max and Sophie bought for $2,500 to travel America in. It finally gave out in a Wal-Mart parking lot on Thanksgiving and they had to cancel parts of the tour. Max and Sophie decided they really wanted stuffing, so they waiting in the Black Friday line at Wal-Mart to get Stove Top stuffing. Max said it was a low point of the tour. Sophie wrote about this particular adventure on her blog. They eventually made it home to upstate NY where Max learned Bob Dylan’s “I Was Young When I Left Home.”

Max Garcia Conover

Max Garcia Conover

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Sammie Francis-Taylor performed her own interpretation of Max’s “I Won’t Mess You Up” on piano at the welcome home party and Max said it was awesome and the first time he’d ever heard someone play one of his songs. He invited Ben Cosgrove to the stage and they played the rest of the night together. He played “Home,” which is about where he grew up in Ellery, New York. My favorite song on Ellery is “Wildfires Outside Laramie, Wyoming” and Max was nervous about playing the song there on tour. He told us a story about the day he played Laramie (where they liked the song, by the way) and how he had the strange experience of observing a college kid having an existential crisis starting with perusing women’s purses in a used clothing store and ending in the bar where Max played his gig later that night drunk on gin and tonics with chili cheese fries all over his face.

Ben and Max

Ben and Max

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Max introduced “The Start of Fables” with an actually quite funny fable he wrote (finally) about bears and the bear baiting referendum question during Maine’s last election. I won’t ruin it for you since maybe he’ll tell it again. We sang along happily during the audience participation part, too. Max wrapped his set with an unplugged tune on the floor and then asked Ben to play a last song. I liked “Nashua River,” but also wanted to hear one more from Max. We stomped for an encore and Max took the stage to play a final song. Ben joined him and Max said he’d play a Strand of Oaks song called “Leave Ruin” and joked that he wouldn’t even tell Ben what key the song was in and even though Ben didn’t even know the song he’d still play it better than him.

Unplugged from the floor

Unplugged from the floor

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Max told us how grateful he was to be home and to play for us. He told us it can be exhausting to play for new people every night and it felt so good to be back home with the people he loves. He said, “you need your people.” We’re your people, Max. Welcome home!

xo,

bree

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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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