Tag Archives: Sophie Nelson

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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Support Max Garcia Conover’s crowd-funded album, Ellery

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Max Garcia Conover at One Longfellow Square. November 2013.

Max Garcia Conover at One Longfellow Square. November 2013.

We have just 23 days left to support Max Garcia Conover’s upcoming album, Ellery. I’m really excited to have “You’re the Farthest I Go” and “Wildfires Outside Laramie, WY” on CD so I can listen again and again to these beautiful songs featuring the lovely vocals of Sophie Nelson. You can support Max’s campaign at a variety of levels, and he’ll send you unlimited free copies of Ellery to give to friends or leave behind in a local coffee shop for strangers to discover. Let’s help Max get this album done right!

xo,

bree

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My posts about Max–wow, I’ve seen him a lot!

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