Tag Archives: Bowdoin College

Max Garcia Conover with Kafari

Friday, June 29, 2019

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

This was a perfect day–a sunny day with a friend at Popham Beach, goat yoga (exactly what it sounds like) at Sunflower Farm in torrential rain that cleared and offered a rainbow, and then a lovely, warm album release show with tons of friends in the crowd to support our dear friend, Max Garcia Conover.

I’ve written enthusiastically about Max’s shows easily a dozen times now, but he keeps getting better and I like him more and more live. My Bowdoin College classmate and dear friend, Ken Templeton, interviewed Max ahead of this Stagger albumrelease show, and you should read it to learn a ton of context and dig into Max’s songwriting process. My good pal Aimsel Ponti is also a Max fan, and she interviewed him and talks a bit more about the songs on Stagger.

Max introduced his friend, Ahmad Kafari, to the stage to open the show. Max told us that he met Kafari when he was a prospective student visiting Bowdoin College. After dinner, he sat down at a piano outside the dining hall and played some of the most beautiful sounds Max said he’d ever heard. It drew a crowd. Kafari plays piano, rhythm bones, and mixes. His music is soothing and soulful and layered. He is humble and sweet. As a good teacher does, Kafari explained the surprising origins of rhythm bones to us (they came from Ireland and ended up in minstrel shows) and asked someone in the audience to hand out a bunch to the crowd so folks could learn to play them. Kafari played for about half an hour and then welcomed Max to the stage.

Max is a quiet and introspective guy. I listened to him sing a few songs and answer some questions on 98.9 WCLZ the day before the show, and I was struck by how very humble he is. Max had just gotten home from a month-long tour of Spain, Poland, Switzerland, and Sweden, and he seemed glad to be playing in Portland to a room full of his closest friends and supporters. He said, “there are lots of people here who are very close to me and who I admire and feel so much for. It’s just on the edge of overwhelming and too good.” Max played more than the eleven songs on Stagger, including a favorite older song of his called “The Wedding Line.” To introduce the song, he told us that when his dad got remarried about ten years ago, Max remembered seeing his dad standing at the altar in a vulnerable, hopeful way.

Max grew up in a religious town in western New York, and used to go to church because everyone else did, too. After he stopped going, he went for nature walks on Sundays with his awesome mom (Hi, Vivian!)  and they’d read and recite poetry together. Max said, “I thought we were praying, which says a lot about how I got here.” About his next song, “Holy Rider Pt. 4,” Max said, “this is the fourth time I’ve written this song about a preacher.” A lyric that sticks out to me is “The last thing I want / is to burn something down / The last thing I want is to ruin this song / To make anyone feel like they’re / hearing it wrong.” One of the things that Ken talked to Max about is how many times Max comes back to songs and changes them. On Stagger, 3 of 11 songs are titled as PT. 2, one is PT. 4, and one is PT. 1. Songwriting for Max is a never ending process, for sure.

Max is also writing songs about what’s going on in our world today–the good, the bad, and the ugly. He talked about the for profit prison system in Louisiana, which had the world largest prison population per capita. He talked about the crazy laws there designed to keep people in jail. For example, the second time you steal a car in Louisiana, you have to go to jail for 24 years. He wrote a song about the guy who profits from the system–he “probably has a house and wife and kids and this is a song about that guy.”

“Gone” is a song from Max’s 2017 release, Motorhome. Maybe five years after quitting church, Max started going back to because “this girl I liked was going there and one day we both admitted to each other that we didn’t like church at all.” They snuck away from church during the 4th of July fireworks, got on a bus, and took off to Canada together.

Max encouraged us to ask questions throughout the night, and someone asked about “Funeral Guests,” which is a stunning song. The lyrics are heart-wrenching:

I asked him not to tell everyone else
Alright he said
But they all like you
so much more than you like yourself

When he died
his mother called
to talk to me about his funeral guests
She said she wanted
to get to know me
to understand what I was to him

I said I don’t know myself
but I think he did

Someone asked if it was autobiographical, I think, but it’s not. Max said he was leaving a show in Burlington, Vermont headed for Cleveland, and he was listening to A Little Life and crying in the car a lot, so he didn’t notice that Google maps had adjusted his route to save him 5 minutes by sending him along the Trans-Canada Highway until he found himself sitting at the border without a passport. He finagled his way onward, but pulled over to write that song so he could spend a bit more time with the character in the book.

To introduce “New Sweden,” Max joked that “people in Sweden don’t love the idea of New Sweden.” That song is heavy, and it’s evolved over the years to its current incarnation. Afterwards, Max introduced us to his band–his mom’s suitcase from when she was in college and one of her suitcases from when she was in her twenties. Max introduced “Rich Man” by saying it feels like the first song he’s written that’s completely in his voice. Spencer Albee produced the song and wrote about “Rich Man” on his Facebook page ahead of the show:

“This song is intimate, honest and vulnerable. To my ears, ‘protest’ songs are usually heavy handed, or they are pandering to a particular audience, but this one is different. What I hear in this song, and what I relate to most, is that this is the voice of a person in the world who is trying to make sense of all the crazy shit going on around them.

It strikes a chord.

That’s why I really wanted to help bring it to life. Max is a tremendous guy. ‘Rich Man’ is a tremendous song.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Spencer, and I hope you’ll give “Rich Man” a listen. Max also played it on 207 the week before this show. I am so glad that Max is getting the attention we know he deserves, though I doubt he thinks he deserves any attention at all.

Max told us the backstory of the “Crow Song.” His record label, Son Canciones, invites two musicians from their label to meet on a working farm in Barcelona and spend a week together to write and record an album. Max said, “it sounded wonderful and romantic, but I got there and it was the worst.” He said it was beautiful on the farm–he watched horses galloping by–but he couldn’t think of any songs at all. He searched for inspiration inside the very old farmhouse, and eventually found a dark room and sat down to strum a few chords when a crow randomly stepped out of the fireplace, got upset that Max was there and tried to escape, but just kept hitting the walls again and again, missing the small exit, until he died. We tried not to laugh when Max told us that the poor crow inspired the first he wrote that week. Max is decidedly an introvert, so when he asked us to sing along with “Crow Song,” he readily admitted he probably wouldn’t if he were in the crowd. Our friend Ken has a booming voice, and without naming him, I knew why Max knew it would work on this particular night to ask us to sing. We closed Max’s set together while he unplugged and came to the front of the stage with the hopeful lines “I’ll be home where I go / I’ll be home wherever I go / I’ll be home where I go / Someday.”

We cheered for an encore, so Max played “Grand Marquis” for us. The main character of the song is a 1986 Grand Marquis that Max found on Craigslist when his van died. Max chuckled as he told us that it “wasn’t listed as a car–it was listed as a one bedroom apartment. I called the guy and we talked about it over the phone and after a long time, he told me it didn’t have an engine. So I didn’t get it, and wrote a song about it instead.”

This was a spectacular night. Max has hit his stride with banter even though it pains him some and he made us laugh a lot, despite how serious and heavy many of his songs are. I grabbed a physical copy of Stagger that night, but I suspect they’re all gone by now. The only place where you can find it for now is here, and I really encourage you to listen. I am not at all exaggerating when I say that I have listened to it probably 20 times straight through on repeat in the couple of weeks since the show. It is by far my favorite MGC album.

I can’t pick a favorite song on Stagger, but a handful of lines that I haven’t mentioned above really do stick out to me at every listen. In “We’ll Be Friends,” I love the notion that“this is bravery / this is the romance of the century / this is music right in front of me.” Also, in “The End of Fables,” the image that “the shepherd shot the sheep / Fell to his knees and he cried / They looked like wolves to me” is particularly heartbreaking. Stagger is incredibly well-written and Max’s songs are more melodic than I’m used to in a way that I find intriguing.

This post is so long, but it was a night worthy of a thorough recap. I do that for the musicians I really love. Max is surely one of them.

xo,

bree

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SnugHouse

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Portland House of Music and Events

My friend Aimsel Ponti hosts the Music from 207 radio show on WCLZ. She’s been playing “I Couldn’t Be” by Portland’s SnugHouse regularly, and it hits me right in the feels. Aimsel also called “I Couldn’t Be” one of her favorite songs of 2017. I finally looked SnugHouse up, and have been listening to their songs nonstop for weeks now. Nikhil Dasgupta is the primary songwriter for SnugHouse, and we talked local music shop talk by email and he let me know they were playing at Portland House of Music and Events last night. I decided to stay up late on a school night and check them out live mostly to hear “Brunswick” live, but also because Nikhil is also a Bowdoin College alumnus and that makes us family. SnugHouse was excellent live. Put this band on your radar.

I am a person who likes context, so I read this band feature on Rawkus and listened to their Studio Z performance on WCLZ to learn a bit about where SnugHouse came from. In it, I learned that their name is derived from local Portland pub, The Snug. It’s also evident that SnugHouse has gone through a few lineup and genre changes, but they seem to have settled on their current folky vibe and the lineup of Nikhil Dasgupta, Alex Millan, Rosie Borden, and Laura Pauline. SnugHouse also played on 207 this week ahead of their show at PHOME.

I grabbed a quick dinner at El Rayo, and made it to PHOME with time to catch up with my concert friend and fellow Bowdoin alumna Ally and her roommate, Jill. I met them both this summer at The Head and The Heart’s show at Thompson’s Point, and Ally and I have run into each other at lots of shows since then already. I found a good spot to take some photos of the band, and I ended up chatting with Nikhil’s adorably proud dad, who’d driven up from Boston from the show and had Nikhil’s mom on FaceTime the whole night so she could watch the show. It was precious.

SnugHouse played a long opening set–over an hour, and the audience was hooked. Everyone in the band took the lead on at least one song, and most of them write songs for the band, too. This is a talented group of musicians–with soulful songwriting, multi instrumentalists, and rich, lovely harmonies. They are wise beyond their years.

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SnugHouse is (from left to right):  Laura Pauline, Rosie Borden, Nikhil Dasgupta, and Alex Millan

IMG_6159SnugHouse played some incredibly well-received and creative covers, too–Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and “Philadelphia,” the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” the Commodores’ “Easy,” and “I Can’t Make you Love Me.” I was so glad to hear “Brunswick” and “I Couldn’t Be” in person. I really liked the songs that Rosie and Alex wrote and took lead on, too, including the one that Alex wrote and the group performed on 207 earlier this week.IMG_6162IMG_6206IMG_6215I chatted with Nikhil’s dad after the show for a while, and got to talk to both Nikhil and Alex for a while. This is a creative, talented group of musicians with many musical projects going, but I like the sound and vibe of this particular ensemble A LOT. Check them out!

xo,

bree

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Guster

Friday, October 16, 2015

Morrell Gym, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine

Guster is a band that immediately takes me back to my college days in the late 90s (oh my). Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, and Brian Rosenworcel have been together since the beginning of their college days at Tufts in the early 90s, and have made music together for over 25 years. I was excited when the announcement came that Guster would play a show in Morrell Gym during Bowdoin College Homecoming to celebrate the inauguration of Bowdoin’s new president, Clayton Rose. My favorite Guster memory comes from the fall of my senior year at Bowdoin (2000), when my good friend was the head of the student group that brought concerts to campus, and she assigned me to “keep Guster happy” for the day leading up to their show. I brought them meals, helped them find internet on campus (which was a big challenge in those days), and got to hang out with them a bit ahead of their great show (also in Morrell Gym) that night with Jump, Little Children. I looked through my past shows list and was a little surprised to see that I’ve only seen Guster live nine times, which seems quite few given the impact their music has had on me throughout the years. I was lucky to be at their show at the State Theatre with Howie Day back in 2003 that was recorded and released as a live album, Guster on Ice—Live from Portland Maine. I hadn’t seen Guster since 2013 at L.L.Bean, and it was a treat to have them back at Bowdoin for a private show.

My friends Rachel, Ian, and Jan met me for a delicious dinner at Shere Punjab in Brunswick and we made our way over to Morrell Gym a little bit early to get a good spot up front. I forgot about “college time” and that no one is ever on time ever, and so we were the only people anywhere near the gym when we arrived. We took a walk and hung out a bit in Smith Union and circled back when doors opened and grabbed spots along the barricade at the stage. I was glad to see a lot of Bowdoin staff and alumni friends in the crowd. Guster took the stage to a pretty empty room (see “college time” above), but it was full of exuberant college students a few songs in. Ryan, Adam, and Brian were joined by Luke Reynolds (of Blue Merle), who has been part of the group for about the last five years, and had a couple other musicians join throughout their set, including a Bowdoin student named Roya who played a killer violin part during “Satellite.”

   
    
    
    
    
    
 Ryan took the lead on chatting with the crowd and entertaining song requests from the audience. Someone kept asking for “Parachute,” (which I would have loved to hear myself) and it earned him a conversation with Ryan and a song that Ryan improvised in his honor (but no, they didn’t play “Parachute.”) Ryan joked about playing coming out of retirement to play a show in a gymnasium and welcomed new Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose with a song he ad libbed just for him.

They opened with “Careful” from 2003’s Keep It Together and their encore, “Demons,” was from their 1997 release, Goldfly. I was glad to hear “Happier” and “Barrel Of A Gun” from their 1999 album, Lost and Gone Forever, and I would have LOVED to hear “What You Wish For,” too. While writing this, I realize how many hundreds of times I’ve listened to Lost and Gone Forever, and how much it was the soundtrack to my life in college. Thanks for hosting a great show, Bowdoin College, and welcome, President Rose! Guster—thanks for playing a show in a gym on a Friday night in the middle of Maine. And for everything else, too. 

xo,

bree

   
   

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Mipso with Dan Mills

Friday, January 16, 2015

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

This show was one of those rare gems—it was such a treat to see both of these bands live!

I’d seen Dan Mills play at Bowdoin College in the fall of 2009—my dear friend Megan worked in student activities then and organized a “Shameless Plugs” concert (I found a video) of musicians with ties to Bowdoin. Dan is outgoing Bowdoin College President Barry Mills’ nephew. I joined Megan for the show and was impressed. I’d stayed on his mailing list all of these years, and was excited when he let us know he’d finally be back in Maine for this show at One Longfellow Square.

The One Longfellow Square board member who welcomed us introduced Dan Mills as Dan Hill. Dan smiled and came to the stage, played a sweet song and then said “it’s totally no big deal, but I figured I should tell you early on that I’m actually Dan Mills.” He handled it graciously and showed no ego—a big plus. Newly engaged Dan played a song about asking a girl’s father for her hand. It was a funny juxtaposition with the chatty girl sitting behind me who was texting with boys she was meeting on Tinder during the show (we moved during intermission). Dan appreciated the overall very attentive audience and said it was like playing in his living room. He told us they usually tour as a five-piece band, but it was just Dan, Adam Podd on upright bass, and Mark Goodell on guitar. I particularly liked “The Good Son” and singing along to “Lonely When You’re Gone.” I think Dan’s voice has a James Taylor thing going on. He’s great.

Adam Podd, Dan Mills, and Mark Goodell

Adam Podd, Dan Mills, and Mark Goodell

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I’d never heard of North Carolina’s Mipso, and am SO very glad that I happened to be front and center to see them live. I’ve haven’t been seeing many new-to-me bands lately, and so this fresh, charming, talented group was such a pleasant surprise. From left to right across the stage, Mipso is Jacob Sharp on mandolin, Wood Robinson on upright bass, Joseph Terrell on lead vocal and guitar, and Libby Rodenbough on fiddle. Their website aptly says “the renegade traditionalists of Mipso are doing their part to take three-part harmony and Appalachian influences into new territory.” I liked them immediately. Their songs are meaningful and it was so refreshing to be able to hear every single lyric sung by Joseph with his crystal clear, bright voice. The harmonies and vocals added by Jacob, Wood, and Libby throughout the night made rounded out their lovely, airy sound. I’m going to go on a little bit more because I do that when I’m excited about a band, but if you need to stop reading now just know that this band is one of the best I’ve seen in a while.

Jacob Sharp, Wood Robinson, Joseph Terrell, and Libby Rodenbough

Mipso is Jacob Sharp, Wood Robinson, Joseph Terrell, and Libby Rodenbough

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Mipso told us it was their first time in Maine and they’ve played 160 (!) shows in the last year, including touring Japan (check out this documentary)! The band met at UNC Chapel Hill and Jacob, Wood, and Joseph toured for a year after graduating together while Libby finished her senior year. They joked they’d never had someone open the show for them that was such a show stealer (a nice compliment for Dan Mills and his band). Everyone was genuine and engaging on stage and I found myself completely drawn in. Jacob showed off his flashy “Bluegrass” belt buckle and said (joked?) he’d bought it for a friend for Christmas, but that for some reason they weren’t in touch anymore. When they introduced “Red Eye to Raleigh,” Libby chimed in to tell us “Raleigh is in North Carolina—just for context.”

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Joseph told us about growing up playing guitar with his grandmother and sang “When I’m Gone” for her. I found this blog post with an entire article about the inspiration for just this one song. I love context! Joseph won first place in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2014 for “Angelina Jane Is Long Gone.” No wonder he won, right? The band told us how much they’d enjoyed their time in Portland—being hosted by The Ghost of Paul Revere, meeting talented violin and guitar makers, enjoying local beer and ramen, and having dinner with Joe Walsh (one of Jacob’s idols). It sounded like a great visit to Portland, and the show was packed with people who obviously knew Mipso personally (friends from North Carolina going to medical school in Maine) and a handful of fans who even knew all of the words to their songs. I’m not sure why I’m so late to the Mipso phenomenon, but I’m on board now.

Mipso unplugged

Mipso unplugged

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I loved Libby’s rich lead vocals on “Down in the Water,” and the guys harmonized particularly beautifully on that tune. They tried out a couple of new songs (and a new verb—“guinea pigging”) on us, including one they’d never played anywhere before that I really liked called “50 Bucks.” Another of my favorites of the night was “This Lonely Town” which included the very pretty lyric “When the seasons change/I hope I never stay the same.” I started to be sad about halfway through Mipso’s set when I realized that they’d eventually have to stop playing, and when Mipso said goodnight, I was bummed. Luckily, they played a last song completely unplugged—a New Grass Revival cover—as a lovely sendoff. Mipso–hurry back to Maine! Friends–check this band out!

xo,

bree

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