Tag Archives: Penny & Sparrow

An Evening with Drew Holcomb and Josh Garrels with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

Friday, April 27, 2018

Aura, Portland, Maine

This is somehow a much longer post than I’d meant to write.

I’d wanted to check out Drew Holcomband Josh Garrels for quite a while, so I was really glad to have the opportunity to see both bands together right in Portland. When I saw that Maine Youth Rock Orchestra was playing with both of them, I knew it would be an even better show. I’m a sucker for a string section, and MYRO is so impressive.

I made it to Aura with about ten minutes before showtime. I have to say this–I don’t like Aura, and I try to avoid going to shows there. Primarily, it’s because of the staff at the door. I’ve been there a handful of times, and the folks at the door are never welcoming. In fact, every time I’ve been, the first words someone says to me are “are you drinking tonight?” I’d recommend trying “Hello! Welcome to Aura” instead. I am never drinking at a show, because I’m there for the music, so I bought a ticket and started to head towards the metal detectors. Someone after the ID checker grabbed me and told me I needed a bracelet because I’m over 21. I told her that I wasn’t drinking, but she insisted that I needed to have my ID checked and needed a bracelet. The show was all ages, so I was really confused. The person checking IDs and the woman who stopped me before security disagreed about whether or not I needed to wear a bracelet in front of me. One insisted that they’d received directions to make everyone over 21 wear a bracelet. The other hadn’t gotten the memo. Either way, there shouldn’t be confusion at the door like that, and front of house staff should be on the same page and much friendlier. The whole time this exchange happened, the manager was steps away in the ticket office staring at a computer screen, ignoring all of the patrons he should be working hard to foster a positive impression of Aura with. This ends the constructive criticism portion of this post.

One of my favorite bands is Johnnyswim. They are husband and wife duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano from Los Angeles. They were easily the best live show I saw last year, and I’ll see them again this summer in Boston opening for NEEDTOBREATHE. Anyhow, Johnnyswim formed in Nashville, and they’re good friends with Drew Holcomb. Abner, Amanda, and Drew worked together to write some songs and just released an EP together called Goodbye Road. As if that collaboration wasn’t exciting enough, then they asked another of my true favorites, Penny & Sparrow, to work on the EP with them, including a gorgeous cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” that I learned after the fact was recorded last summer a week after Tom Petty’s death. Penny & Sparrow is another favorite band of mine that aren’t mainstream yet, so I hope you will check them out. I also put Penny & Sparrow on my list of top five shows of 2017, coming in right behind Johnnyswim at number two on my list. Both groups are an absolute pleasure to see live, and I hope you will at some point, because they’re both so good for what ails you.

Back to the this show.

Drew Holcomb and his band took the stage soon after I arrived, and they were great live. They were down a bandmate who’d gotten a call from his wife when they arrived in Portland, and hopped a flight home to meet their new baby. Drew’s guitarist decided to play piano to fill the void in sound, and I thought it was beautiful. Drew played “Ring the Bells” early in the set, which is one of the songs he co-wrote on the Goodbye Road EP. Drew chatted with the audience a fair amount during his set, which is the kind of personalized attention I really appreciate as a concert goer. He told us that he fell in love with his wife long before she returned the favor. They met in college and he tried not to be the guy that played music to get the girl, but had to go for it. He wrote “I Like To Be With Me When I’m With You” for her, and he joked that it took her from a “no” to a “maybe.” Someone in the crowd has sent him a message asking him to play “The Wine We Drink,” so he added it to his setlist. The lyrics are beautiful, too–“It’s in the miles we drive, never having to say goodbye/to the things we tell each other without saying a word./You are the one thing that I know.”

The Maine Youth Rock Orchestra joined Drew and the band for “American Beauty” and “Live Forever.” One of my favorite things about seeing MYRO play with bands is that the bands are always enamored with them and they often turn to watch the kids play with huge smiles on their faces. MYRO–y’all are impressive. Your hard work shows. You make the songs richer and more beautiful. It’s such a pleasure to hear you play!

Drew told us that he’s often asked what his favorite song he’s written is.  He said “if I had just one song to be proud of” it would be “What Would I Do Without You,” which he said almost didn’t make the cut to be on his 2013 album, Good Light, because the producer and a couple of guys in the band didn’t like the song much. He said he was glad they’d be wrong about it. He also told us a funny story about his all time favorite fan interaction. He’d been at the Austin City Limits Festival when he noticed a guy walking his way wearing a Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors t shirt and carrying a baby in his arms. He thanked Drew for his music and told him the baby had been conceived while listening to his music. Drew said it was the best compliment he’d ever gotten about his music.

I knew nothing about Josh Garrels except that his song “Farther Along” has been popping up on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist for ages. I didn’t know any of his other music, but liked that one song enough to know I wanted to see him live someday. I had not caught on that Josh is definitely a Christian artist. One of the first songs he played for us was called “Break Bread,” which was my first clue. It got much more evident after “Slip Away,” because Josh spoke for a solid five minutes about redemption. He said, and I am paraphrasing, “Some things that happen can’t be taken back or put back together. There is tragedy and loss, but there is redemption, which is making something new and potentially even more beautiful than it was before. For those of you who believe there is a God, he is in the business of redemption. I know the room. Some of you agree and some roll their eyes. Can there be good made from the awful things around us? I think we’re supposed to be agents of redemption in the world. We are not islands. Our decisions affect others. It’s scary to turn back and face it, though, but that’s called repentance. If you have the courage to turn around and face the wake you’ve created, you can see the things you thought were lost can be transformed.” I went to Seminary for five years and have a Master’s degree in Theology, so I was happy to hear from him about his beliefs, but I was a little surprised that the show turned more church meeting than concert. He acknowledged it, too, because he told us all of that had been “more than I’d planned to share.” He got a lot of amens from the crowd, though, so maybe I was the only one who didn’t know what to expect from him. No matter what I expected, his vibe was genuine and positive. He followed up his short sermon with “Ulysses,” which answers the question in “Slip Away”–can something be done about this? Josh says emphatically yes, there is hope for redemption.

MYRO joined Josh and his band for “Born Again” and “Morning Light.” They played beautifully, and it totally elevated the songs. A bit later in the set, Josh told us that his albums are all inspired by artists. His Home album was inspired by Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky apparently had a condition (Josh called it a “gift”) where he could see sound and hear color. His parents didn’t want him to be an artist, but he walked away from his lucrative job to be a painter and is considered a father of abstract art. Josh said he believes that color is connected to sound and that there’s more than our five senses can comprehend. He introduced “Colors”by asking us to consider “what are we singing and speaking and putting out into the world? Is it corruption, slander, jealousy, or are we speaking life and blessing and singing songs that blossom in the atmosphere and banish corruption?”

I saw Kevin Oates, MYRO’s founder and director, head towards the merch table towards the end of the night, so I skipped the last couple of songs of Josh Garrels’ set to catch up with him about MYRO and to chat about Portland’s summer music landscape. Kevin told me later that one of his MYRO artists came back from college to play that night because she’d been the one who’d asked for them to play with Josh Garrels someday. What an awesome opportunity for these kids to play with artists that mean a lot to them! Kevin is a passionate advocate for his students and for music education and MYRO students and families are lucky to have such a fabulous leader at the helm.

It was time for the encore, so I scooted back over towards the stage in time to enjoy Josh Garrels and his band invite Drew Holcomb and his band to the stage to join them for “Farther Along.” It was uplifting and energetic and a great note to leave the night on. Both bands were warm and conversational with the audience, played beautifully, and left Portland’s music scene a bit better than they found it.

xo,

bree

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

An Evening with Glen Hansard

Friday, March 23, 2018

House of Blues, Boston

I love Glen Hansard so much. The best show I’ve ever seen was back in 2004 at the State Theatre when Glen opened for Damien Rice. Glen got his start busking in Dublin, so his voice and presence are both powerful. This night, though, was an absolute disappointment. It’s getting harder to see Glen live now that Once the Musical, which Glen wrote the music and lyrics for, is so successful on Broadway, so I decided I needed to get myself to Boston for this show even though he played the House of Blues, which is not my favorite. Darlingside played the same night in Portland, Maine, and, in retrospect, I should have gone to see them instead. I was bummed that this night became such a mess.

My friend Aimsel often takes the bus to Boston for shows, and I admire her commitment to the environment, so I decided to take the bus. I always drive to Boston for shows, but since this was a Friday, I knew I’d hit tons of traffic and it would be a pain. I checked all of Glen’s social media accounts, and they posted every day of the tour that doors were at 7, there was no opener, and that Glen would be on stage at 8. The Facebook event said the same thing, so I believed them. I ran into a former student in the bus station, and it was great to catch up. When Jane and I parted ways, she joked that I should not talk to strangers and should be aware of my surroundings. I’d chaperoned Jane’s school trips to Scotland and Costa Rica, so we both laughed about the role reversal. This unexpected happiness was almost the end of the positives for the rest of the night, though.

I made my way on the T over to Kenmore from South Station in about half an hour. I was in line outside House of Blues at 6:20 PM for 7 PM doors, and there were maybe 40 people ahead of me. That’s when I noticed a sign outside the House of Blues restaurant that said show at 8:30 PM. The last bus to Maine leaves South Station at 11:15 PM. I had to be on it so I could get home and get some rest before the Brunswick March for Our Lives event that my students helped organize.

Getting into the venue was quick, and I found an awesome spot front and center behind someone shorter than me along the barricade. Ella McDonald is a Tufts student and musician and this was her first Glen show. I was so excited for her, and I was so glad to have an unobstructed view of the stage over her head, too. A foursome from Canada who’d driven down from New Brunswick joined the fold, and we compared bands we love (Penny & Sparrow was top on the list) and have really compatible taste. So far, this night was so good. Then it was 8 o’clock, and no one came to the stage. I figured that even if Glen played for 2 solid hours and started at 8:30, I’d still easily make it back to the bus with time to spare. I was so wrong.

A little after 8:30, Glen and an 11-piece band arrived on stage. If I can’t see Glen solo, which is my preference, I’ll take a band with both string and horn sections. Glen played “The Gift” first, which is easily a top favorite. I am so glad I had those minutes of happiness, because they were fleeting. Since people had arrived early expecting Glen on stage at 8, guess where they’d spent the time difference? Yep, at the bar. So people were drunk before the show even started. If you’ve ever been to a show at the House of Blues in Boston, you know that if someone is talking anywhere in the big room, you’re going to hear it. And we did. And so did Glen. I stopped keeping track of the number of times he stopped singing to scold people who were talking loudly at one of the bars. He even paused during a song and told someone shouting at a bar upstairs to “fuck off.” Glen was clearly frustrated, and it was frustrating as an audience member who’d worked really hard to get to this show to have the vibe turn negative so quickly.

The crowd settled down a bit for a few songs. “When Your Mind’s Made Up”was awesome live and the vibe started to improve a bit. Almost immediately, people close behind me started yelling “we need a doctor.” Someone had collapsed. I assume they’d fainted, which happens at shows, but this person stayed down. A nurse broke through the crowd to help, but no one stood up. People shouted to call 911. Glen spoke to ask the crowd to give them space and said we’d wait for the ambulance, which was absolutely the right call, but it took a solid 20 minutes. He sang “Bird of Sorrow” (another favorite) afterwards, and the lyrics–“well I’m callin’ to you, please get off the floor”–seemed too well planned given the recent medical event. We chuckled, and Glen was sure to add after the song that he saw the ill person leave and felt sure they were going to be fine and asked us to send our best energy to them.

For me, the show never recovered after this point. The whole night was disjointed, and I felt Glen just couldn’t get into a good rhythm, which was not his fault and was probably as frustrating for him as it was for us. My concert friend Bob, who joined me, insists this wasn’t a terrible show, and thinks I was just stressed about catching my bus home, but I disagree.

There were a couple of high points before I had to leave early, including genuinely nice remarks Glen offered about Woody Guthrie before covering his song, “Vigilante Man,” and the very sweet moment when Glen’s trombonist, Curtis Fowlkes, walked up to the microphone to sing a lovely rendition of “Wedding Ring” that I’m sure made more than just me a little misty eyed.

I’d told myself I would leave at 10:45 no matter what to give myself 30 minutes to catch the last bus home, and Glen just happened to play the first chords of “Falling Slowly” at that exact moment. Resigned to missing his best-known song, I sadly waved goodbye to my neighbors and tried not to interrupt the song for other people while also booking it out to Landsdowne Street. I was lucky to see a taxi coming my way a minute later that got me to South Station where my bus was waiting with 14 minutes to spare. It made me wish I’d stayed the three minutes to hear “Falling Slowly,” but I was already cutting it too close for my comfort and made the right call for me.

Since the show was supposed to start at 8, I was really surprised to learn from Bob that I’d missed SEVEN more songs after I left. Bob said Glen got into a groove and the show bounced back after I left. I’m glad it did. My friend Kay was in the crowd (I found out a few days later), and she said she didn’t make it back to her hotel across the street until almost midnight. Quite a long night–especially for a show with no opening act!

I’d see Glen again in a heartbeat, because he is magic. This was just a night when too many things when wrong that were no one’s fault, except the loud drunk people scattered throughout the many bars at the House of Blues. I can pretty confidently say I’ll actively avoid that venue in the future–even if it hosts my favorite musicians–because it’s not a venue designed to support active listening, which is crucial to me at a show.

I thought this was a really stressful, disappointing night. If this was your first Glen show, I hope you see him again in a venue that shows musicians more respect. Glen deserves it and the audience does, too. No matter the circumstances, Glen is amazing, and I hope you all have a perfect Glen concert experience someday. They are worth waiting for.

xo,

bree

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Best Shows I Saw in 2017!

Happy 2018, All!

2017 was a hard year, but I saw some amazing shows that helped me through. I have been writing whatbreesees.com for six years now, but I’ve only ever written one “Best of” list–all the way back in 2012. I’ll try to make a “Best of” list every year from here on out. It’s good to look back.

I saw 34 shows in 2017, including musicians I’ve seen many times like Ellis Paul, Mipso, Josh Ritter, Lucy Kaplansky, The Ballroom Thieves, and Guster. Even though I saw a solid number of shows, it was actually pretty easy to choose five that stood out. Here they are:

#5. An Evening with Shovels & Rope on Wednesday, October 11 at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine. This intimate show with husband and wife duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst gave me all the feels. It was just what I didn’t know I needed.

img_6041

Shovels & Rope is Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst

#4. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real with Nikki Lane on Friday, November 17 at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine. I got an invitation from Lukas Nelson’s publicist the day before this sold out show and it was totally worth making it out on short notice. Lukas Nelson has loads of charisma.

IMG_6048

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

#3. Jamestown Revival with Hannah Daman and the Martelle Sisters on Wednesday, May 3 at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine. This was my birthday show, and I loved every second of the night from start to finish. Both of these bands are excellent and engaging live.

IMG_5471

Jamestown Revival

IMG_5399

Hannah Daman & the Martelle Sisters

#2. Penny & Sparrow with Lowland Hum on Saturday, April 29 at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Penny & Sparrow are easily one of my favorite live acts. Kyle and Andy write depressing, haunting songs, but their stage banter is hilarious. Their show is a rollercoaster ride in the best way possible. If you want to see a show where you can hear a pin drop, this is it. They are captivating.

img_1661

Penny & Sparrow is Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter

And #1. Johnnyswim on Friday, June 23 at State Theatre in Portland, Maine. Husband and wife duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano put on a swoon-worthy show. This show was how I started my summer vacation and it was a perfect, beautiful, inspiring night. Put this band on your “get to know” list.

img_2993

Johnnyswim is Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez

There are a few honorable mentions, too.

  • I had a blast seeing The Ghost of Paul Revere and Max Garcia Conover on New Year’s Eve at Port City Music Hall. Both of those acts are on to great things.

    img_7711

    The Ghost of Paul Revere, Max Garcia Conover, and Friends

  • Noah Gundersen stole the show opening for City & Colour back in June at State Theatre. He’ll be back in Portland in a couple of weeks at Port City Music Hall. I can’t wait to see him as the headliner.

    img_2547

    Noah Gundersen

  • The Suitcase Junket (Matt Lorenz) also impressed opening for The Ballroom Thieves back in February at Port City Music Hall. I’d seen him before, but he really caught my attention at this show.

    img_9570

    The Suitcase Junket/Matt Lorenz

Thanks so much to all of these artists and venues for enriching 2017! To readers–thank you! I hope to see you at a show in 2018! Come say hi–I’ll be right up front.

xo,

bree

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Penny & Sparrow with Lowland Hum

Saturday, April 29, 2017

3S Artspace, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

This is a long post, so let me summarize here. Penny & Sparrow are a rare find. Their music is challenging and cathartic. Seeing them live is intense and beautiful. Please, please put them on your radar and see them live. You will thank me.

I saw Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke–Penny & Sparrow–for the first time a year ago at One Longfellow Square in Portland. The incomparable Rose Cousins opened, and it was easily one of the BEST SHOWS I’VE EVER SEEN. I remember thinking early on that night about how sad I was because the show would end. That feeling doesn’t happen very often.

My steadfast concert friend Colin joined me for that show a year ago, and he was eager to join me for this show at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as well. I held baby goats at Sunflower Farm in Cumberland earlier that afternoon (so this was an excellent day!) and picked Colin up in Portland on the way to the show. We grabbed dinner at The Green Elephant in Portsmouth (did you know they have a location there?) and enjoyed the beautiful art show in the gallery at 3S Artspace before the show.

You can also pet these adorable baby goats at Sunflower Farm!

img_1635-2

Art by Kenley Darling at 3S Artspace

Lowland Hum are husband and wife duo Daniel and Lauren Goans. They were engaging and won me over. The room was silent as they performed their set, and Daniel and Lauren were obviously grateful. They thanked us many times for being such attentive listeners and for spending our evening giving them the gift of having an audience. I liked their vibe. I also particularly liked “Pocket Knife” and “How Long.” Check out their 2014 NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Lowland Hum are Lauren and Daniel Goans

Someone nudged me after Lowland Hum left the stage. My concert buddy Bob, who I met at an Iron & Wine show in 2011, arrived from western Massachusetts in time for Penny & Sparrow, who I’ve been raving about to him for a solid year. I was excited because it was the first time Bob, Colin, and I were all at a show together. They compared their accounts on setlist.fm and chatted about favorite bands and past shows. It was nice to merge my concert worlds and introduce Bob to Penny & Sparrow. He texted me a picture after the show of all of the Penny & Sparrow albums he bought after Colin and I left for Maine.

Penny & Sparrow took the stage to a full room, but the audience was silent and soaked in every word. They are mesmerizing. They opened with “Gold,” which is one of my favorites from their 2016 release, Let a Lover Drown You, which is very depressing and right up my alley. They mixed in a little “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” from Whitney Houston, which we got to sing along to. Andy made up an elaborate story about being a nude model for Kyle in a pinch, which was totally false, but made us laugh heartily. Their songs are SAD, but their banter between songs is HILARIOUS. Seeing P & S live is a rollercoaster. I shed some tears that night–both during their sad songs and also because I laughed to tears in between songs. It’s a lot, and it’s wonderful.

Penny & Sparrow are Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke

Something that was different at this show is that Penny & Sparrow clearly had fans in the audience who traveled to see them and who know the words to their songs. I’m glad for them. It’s incredibly well deserved.

Andy explained the “deep end” of “Catalogue”–a song about old love and what we wish we knew about ourselves and our worth when we were young. Kyle told us that the “shallow end” of “Catalogue” is that it’s about catalogues like L.L.Bean and SkyMall (RIP) and that we could choose our own adventure about how deep into the song we wanted to get. They sang a bit of “O Holy Night” from their 2016 Christmas Songs album, which might be enough for me to start liking Christmas music.

One of the last songs of the night was “Duet,” and Andy introduced the song by saying that it’s about how love grows and how being together is about being committed to each other even though you know the worst there is to know about each other, but that you’re still not going anywhere. He invited Lauren from Lowland Hum up to sing it with them and then dedicated it to his wife (over 1,100 miles away, according to Google maps, he said) and to her husband, who she joked was “maybe 19 steps away.” He said, “the choosing of someone–love without an escape hatch–is what we want.”

Seeing Penny & Sparrow live is intense–the music is deep in subject matter, but the banter is more like a comedy show. There are highs and lows. What I appreciate about Andy and Kyle is their commitment to being authentically themselves and offering their truth so humbly and beautifully to a room full of strangers. It’s really a gift to be in their presence, and I can’t wait to see them live again next time they’re in our neck of the woods.

xo,

bree

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized