Alex Wong and Jesse Ruben at Rockwood Music Hall

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I haven’t been to Rockwood Music Hall (the original, Stage 1) in quite a while. In fact, I had to look it up (I knew there was a reason that I bother to blog!). It was 7/29/2010 to see Delta Rae. I’ve been to Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 a bunch of times since then, so Rockwood is still getting the majority of my NYC music business. Winking smile

Alex Wong is reason enough to show up wherever he is. He’s an extraordinarily talented individual (note, I didn’t just say musician). He’s a singer/songwriter, songwriting collaborator, multi-instrument musician, amazing producer and all around nice guy.

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While Alex was reason enough to come out, he had a number of guests announced (not all played) and I have long wanted to see the person who was on at 9pm before Alex.

First the bottom line, then some color commentary. Last night’s set was fantastic.

Alex played 2/3’s of the set solo, mostly on the acoustic guitar. He played two songs at the grand piano. He opened solo with The Same Old Things.

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Melissa Tong on the violin joined Alex for the next number, one of my favorites, Brooklyn Blurs, which they knocked out of the park. I’ve said it so many times, Melissa is an incredible musician, we can’t get enough of her. I look forward to seeing her play with a symphony, her specialty.

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David Fallo on the viola joined both Alex and Melissa. David is a star (as are all of the musicians who play with Alex). In addition to sitting in on these types of shows, David is currently part of the orchestra in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. That’s no shabby gig!

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The three of them played a fun and energetic version of Motion Sickness. Alex divided the audience in half. I was in the Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na section (yes, those were the exact number of Na’s we sang at a clip, over and over). Smile

Martin Rivas on acoustic guitar and harmony joined Alex for another favorite of mine, A Girl Like You, from Alex’s previous group, The Animators. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. Martin is an excellent guitar player who always defers to his plethora of guest star guitar players in his own sets. When playing with Alex, he’s the guest and therefore featured on the guitar. Such a wonderful thing to hear. Do more of it in your sets too Martin!

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Alex finished the show by playing three consecutive new songs, all co-written with other wonderful singer/songwriters. If you weren’t there last night, you wouldn’t know that I just lied to you. Alex announced on Facebook that he would play three new songs in a row, but he actually threw in an existing song after the first new one, before completing the new trilogy.

The first new song was a Christmas song co-written with Rachel Platten. Alex told a long story about the derivation of the song. It was his first Christmas in NYC (2004), which wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas in NYC. The story was incredible, funny and touching. Alex doesn’t usually talk this much on stage. I vote that he talk more, it was a very nice addition to the set.

The second new song was played on the piano. It was co-written with Paul Freeman. Alex is producing Paul’s new CD. A very moving song.

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Finally, also on the piano, Alex played a song he co-wrote with Nate Campany. Nate was supposed to be there to sing harmony with Alex, but he didn’t show up (I saw him tweet today, so there’s no reason for concern). Excellent song. I told Alex after the show that when he produces it, he needs to have a full choir singing the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” part. I heard it as clear as a bell in my head even though Alex was singing alone.

Alex offered that I produce it instead. I told him I’ll happily produce those three words, he can work his usual magic on the rest. Winking smile

Jesse Ruben played the set before Alex. I have wanted to see Jesse for a long time. He tours with some other people that I like and I like his MySpace stuff (linked to his name). Not only didn’t Jesse disappoint me, he surprised me in a number of positive ways.

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Jesse is a very good songwriter (wide range of topics). He sings extremely well. He plays the acoustic guitar solidly, mostly rhythm, but beautiful finger picking on a song I’ll cover in a minute.

The biggest surprise was Jesse’s general stage presence, in particular his wit. There was a ton of laughter throughout the set. It came both from his stories and from his very quick responses to things that audience members shouted out.

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Jesse introduced practically every song with a story. It was extremely well delivered and enhanced my enjoyment of each song.

Kyle Patrick joined Jesse for two songs. We’ve seen Kyle once before at the Livestrong fundraiser. I thoroughly enjoyed his 2-song set that night and I have tried hard to arrange my schedule to catch Kyle again, unsuccessfully. He sang lead on one of the songs last night harmony on another. There was a good bit of na-na-na-na on the song that Kyle sang lead, with much of the audience joining in.

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Karly Jurgensen toured with Kyle and Jesse all summer. Jesse invited her up to perform one of her songs, accompanied by Jesse and Kyle. Karly has a wonderful voice and plays the piano solidly. The song was beautiful, a slower bluesy number. Jesse and Kyle harmonized during the chorus. Very nicely done.

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Back to the song that Jesse finger picked. If you know me, or read this blog regularly, then you know that Lois and I are obsessed with Wicked and The Wizard of Oz in general. Not that this is too small-worldish (given how huge Wicked and The Wizard of Oz are), but we always get signs from one or the other that connect us more deeply to things we already like.

Out of the blue, without even announcing a cover song, Jesse played If I Only Had a Heart. Absolutely gorgeous rendition. The only thing missing was not having Lois there to look at knowingly and hold hands with. That Jesse also chose that song to show off a bit of his guitar skills is the kind of thing I was talking about in the paragraph above. Smile

Rockwood was packed for Jesse’s set, dominated by people who were obviously huge Jesse Ruben fans. That always makes the sets more fun even though Jesse was new to me.

One of the people in the audience was Sam Teichman. Sam, Jesse and a bunch of other people in the audience are running in the NYC Marathon this Sunday, raising money for cancer care. Last Thursday, Sam was involved in putting together a charity concert at The Bitter End, called the “Born to Run” show, featuring Bruce Springsteen covers.

I would have loved to attend that show and a number of my friends did. I was already committed to a house concert featuring ambeR Rubarth and I too had an amazing evening.

Jesse mentioned that Sam was still raising money for the cause and that he was offering a DVD filled with music from 22 different artists that participated in the Born to Run show. Donations greater than $1 would get you the DVD. I was sitting across the table from Sam (whom I have met once before at a Rockwood 2 show) and I donated in exchange for the DVD right after Jesse’s set.

After Alex Wong’s set, I made a quick tour of Rockwood to say hi/bye to a number of friends. We’ve been away for a long time and it was really good to see everyone (performers and audience members alike). I wish Lois could have been with me, but she’s been sick ever since we returned. Today is day 12. Let’s hope it’s one of the last. This isn’t the type of streak anyone is proud of.

Given that Lois wasn’t in attendance, any complaints about photo quality land squarely on my shoulders.

ambeR Rubarth and Ed Romanoff at a House Concert

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This was our second house concert on the upper west side of NYC. It’s a series called Music On 4 run by a wonderful couple who create a perfect atmosphere to enjoy live music.

amber Rubarth is no stranger to us or to readers of this blog. I’ve written about her and The Paper Raincoat (her project with the amazing Alex Wong) dozens of times. We’ve seen ambeR perform in a wide-variety of venues. Highline Ballroom (which seats 400+), down to NAU (a clothing store where she set up in the back). I’ve written about each one if you have the inclination to read for a few days.

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We’ve seen ambeR play solo, with a trio and with a large band (strings, oboes, the works!). She excels and adapts in all of those situations. There was no way ambeR could surprise me last night. Musically, that was true. Emotionally, it wasn’t. There was an intimacy (roughly 60 people attended, which is a sell-out at Music On 4) that was new.

ambeR introduced a few songs with backgrounds that I hadn’t heard before, even though I know the songs well. She chose a perfect set list for the setting, complemented by three requests from the audience that were all good choices. The entire evening (including the opener) was un-mic’ed (both vocals and acoustic guitars). She finger-picked beautifully and her voice was the perfect volume for the room.

What makes ambeR so special? She’s an incredible songwriter. Don’t take my word for it. She just won the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest for 2010! (If you’re reading this a year from now, the link might no longer be highlighting ambeR.) Still not convinced? She co-wrote Washing Day with Adam Levy. It too won an award:

Amber Rubarth’s song Washing Day (co-written with Adam Levy) won 1st Place in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition in the ‘Lyrics only’ category, judged by Tom Waits, Brian Wilson and Robert Smith

ambeR writes about universal experiences in a way that captures the deepest feelings succinctly and honestly. Along the way, there is enough disarming humor (both outright funny and bittersweet introspection) to keep the mood just right. Her imagery is vivid and insightful.

She’s off for a European tour today. I miss her already! Smile

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Ed Romanoff opened for ambeR. He’s joining her on the European tour as well. We’ve seen Ed a few times before and enjoyed his sets. Last night was no exception, but I don’t feel that he’s as suited to an un-mic’ed house concert as ambeR is. For a big guy, Ed tends to sing reasonably softly. When he’s mic’ed correctly, that’s fine. When he isn’t, at times his guitar overwhelms his voice.

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Even so, he was a good choice to open for ambeR. He is a very good story-teller (this was particularly true when we last saw him at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2) so he had the audience totally warmed up by the time his set was done.

Ed and ambeR closed the show with a duet, performing Hold On by Tom Waits.

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As with many shows, not everything always goes according to plan. Ed and ambeR had a bit of trouble getting there, arriving roughly 20 minutes after they were supposed to appear. Unlike a commercial venue, house concerts can deal with this situation more creatively.

One member of the audience came up to the stage area (not raised) and led everyone in singing the first verse of Amazing Grace! Then another member came up and sang a song he wrote. A third member stood up and sang another song (not written by her) right from her seat. All were a cappella since there were no instruments in the apartment. Just as the third song was finished, ambeR and Ed walked in. A very warm experience shared by and between audience members only.

Another night of great music shared with a wonderful group of people!

Girlyman at Workplay

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Earlier in the week I said we’d finish off our Birmingham trip with a surprise. Seeing Girlyman perform at Workplay on Sunday night topped off an already incredible week of family, friends and fun (henceforth known as the 3 F’s). Smile

Anyone who has read more than a few of my posts knows how I feel about Girlyman. For the rest of you, here’s a brief summary. I tend to rank music (in my mind) in terms of whether I could listen to it over and over, forever, if I were stuck on a deserted island with nothing but that band’s music (and, I guess, some form of electricity, solar would probably be abundant).

There are at least 100 bands that I could be happy listening to over and over, with no other music to fill the rotation. That speaks to my general love of music, and the fact that there is so much great music to be enjoyed in the world. But, if I got to choose in advance which music to be stuck with forever, I would not hesitate to pick Girlyman. That answer hasn’t changed since the day I discovered them in August 2007.

Girlyman just completed their first UK tour a couple of weeks back. Nate returned home two weeks ago, but the girls made a week of it in Paris and returned early last week. Unfortunately, Doris brought back a European cold with her. She was worried whether her voice would hold out. Thankfully, it did, extremely well!

They opened with EZ Bake Ovens (a number of my friends count that as their favorite Girlyman song!). Nate sings a verse solo, then Ty, then Doris. When it came to Doris, she whispered the first line or two. Uh oh, I thought that she had lost her voice completely!

Fortunately, the sound engineer just had her mic off (or too soft). He noticed the problem and with a very loud crack (like someone plugging in an electric guitar), Doris’ voice came alive. It wasn’t her normal voice, but it was pretty cool (and really good) nonetheless. It wasn’t quite nasal, a bit more chesty and rounded off. Perfectly in tune. She wisely controlled the volume, not quite belting out the rage in Storms Were Mine.

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The set list was superb! Of course they didn’t play some songs I wanted to hear, but they didn’t play a single song that I didn’t want to hear either. What’s a fan to do? Winking smile In fact, in Girlyman’s large catalog, there is only a single song that I find boring. Lois is the only one who knows which it is. She also happens to disagree with me on that one. Smile

We were treated to some UK road trip banter. We now all know why they use 220v over there. You’ll have to attend an upcoming show to find out for yourself. Winking smile Speaking of banter, Nate and the gals did a fantastic tuning song to More Than Words by Extreme. When they were asking for requests, after hearing more than 20 different titles, someone yelled out Do More Than One. So, More Than One was born, to the tune of More Than Words. Excellent!

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There are always a few surprises at a Girlyman show. This one had them inviting the audience to sing the chorus of Postcards From Mexico (three separate parts) with them. Depending on our vocal range, we were singing with Nate, Ty or Doris. I sing out loud in the car to every one of their songs, so getting to sing out loud with them was a hoot. The guy to my left had a great voice. He harmonized (a fourth part!) with them at the song’s crescendo. Bravo!

Ty debuted a new song (likely called The Person You Want Me to Be). Absolutely gorgeous. After the show, I went over to her to tell her how much I loved it. In the car ride home, Lois bugged me many times asking me how she could get her hands on a recording of the song.

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Ask and ye shall receive! I just got a Google Alert on Girlyman with a link to a YouTube video of that song, played the night before we saw them, at Eddie’s Attic, in Decatur, GA. Thanks Donna, you made Lois’ day and my life got simpler at the same time. Smile

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JJ is an excellent drummer, always. One of the things that makes her excellent is always playing the appropriate accompaniment to a given piece. Since many of Girlyman’s songs are very mellow, JJ is correctly understated in most of her drumming with the band. Then, they sneak in Young James Dean and JJ lets loose. Fabulous, each and every time. The second the song is over, rather than enjoying the accolades the crowd is giving Ty (and Girlyman in general), Ty immediately turns to JJ and points out how amazing she is during that number. I couldn’t agree more! Smile

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As exhausted as they were and as sick as Doris was, they put on a terrific show. For those of you who are keeping track, Sunday night was our 16th Girlyman show. We have tickets to see them at City Winery (with the amazing Red Molly co-billed) on November 17th.

This blog is appearing 24 hours later than normal. We hit the road at 7am Birmingham time yesterday intending to stop in Northern VA for the night (at which point I might have blogged). Instead, we pushed on (like the whimsical people that we are), through torrential rainstorms in PA, making it back to NYC at 11:30pm. Only 15.5 hours in the car. No big deal…

We had invited a number of people to join us for the show. We ended up only purchasing four tickets, for our godson (David), his fiancée (Rebecca) and us. We were given another special surprise when Rebecca’s parents, one of her brothers and his girlfriend also purchased tickets and joined us (the eight of us dominated the front row!).

The brother and his girlfriend had to run out when the show ended (the life of students with papers due). The rest of us hung around to say hello to the band (always a treat).

Before the show, the eight of us dined at Silvertron Café. I heeded the advice of the locals and got the mini-steak sandwiches. Wow! We all had a great meal, putting us in the perfect mood to enjoy a great show. Can’t wait to do it again! Smile

Joey Ryan and Matt Hires at Workplay

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We visit Birmingham, AL at least twice a year. We were planning to arrive late last night. A week earlier, I noticed a tweet by Joey Ryan that he was touring the South opening for Matt Hires. After a quick consultation with Lois, we changed our plans to arrive much earlier in the day, in order to see them at Workplay (a place where we saw Vienna Teng and Alex Wong open for Glen Phillips).

We came to visit our godson and his fiancée and we were glad (and lucky) that they were able to join us for the show.

Joey Ryan put on his typical (in the best sense!) show. If anything was a bit different, it was that his self-deprecating humor was highlighted a little more. He was dead on. When Joey asked the audience questions, often only one person answered. Even when the answer was whisper soft, Joey (and the rest of us) could hear it clearly. That gave him fodder for some very funny (and spontaneous) responses/comebacks.

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The sound system and engineer at Workplay were both excellent last night. Joey’s guitar and voice were crisp and the volume was just right. His set selection was wonderful and included both a new song (at least it was new to me!) and a Ray LaMontagne cover.

The audience wanted Joey to keep going, but after checking two different times with the sound engineer, Joey was forced to leave us hanging.

After the set, we headed to the lobby to say hi. We bought a copy of Joey’s CD and EP (both), got them signed by Joey, and gave them to David and Rebecca. They were both wiped. Anticipating that, we came in two cars, and after chatting with Joey for a few minutes, they headed home.

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We stayed to see Matt Hires and his band, having never heard of him before discovering that Joey was opening for him during the last leg of his six week tour.

We both liked Matt’s sound a lot. Very energetic numbers, catchy/hooky lyrics and melodies. Matt has an excellent voice and does a nice job on the guitar (he played both acoustic and electric). He played one number solo. In addition to playing his own material, he also played a Beatles cover: You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. Hard to go wrong with a Beatles cover, as long as you can deliver, and Matt and the band delivered. Smile

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Matt’s band, standing left-to-right on the stage:

Chris Miranda on lead electric guitar and harmony. Chris was superb on the guitar and did a terrific job singing with Matt as well. A quick search shows his name all over, including that he played lead guitar for Kate Voegele among others.

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Bob Matthews on drums. Bob did a very nice job throughout the set, including coming up to the mic for You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, playing a tambourine and shaker, finishing it off with a Melodica!

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Aaron Bishop on electric bass and background vocals. A solid job on both!

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In addition to Chris playing with Kate Voegele, so did Bob and Aaron, so Matt hooked up with a ready-made band. Good choice, as the chemistry and talent were already a proven commodity.

If you want to hear a teeny tiny flavor of Chris’ smoothness on the guitar, you can watch this YouTube video of Matt introducing the band. It’s from 10 days ago, but it’s exactly how he introduced them last night.

When Matt’s set was over, we went out and bought his new EP, A TO B. It’s only four songs long, with two being different versions of the same song. Still, it’s very good. Both the title cut (A TO B) and both versions of Honey, Let Me Sing You a Song are wonderful productions. It’s $2.99 to download on iTunes.

We said a very quick goodbye to Joey and headed back to the hotel. What a great way to start off the week in Birmingham. We have a fabulous way to end it as well, but you’ll have to wait to read about that until we’re headed home. Smile

Cirque De La Symphonie at Richmond CenterStage

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I grew up on classical music. My dad had thousands of full reel-to-reel tapes that he played non-stop from tape #1 through the last. When I need to be rejuvenated, I still turn to classical music, though I listen to other stuff way more often.

Last night our friends invited us to a very special performance of Cirque De La Symphonie at Richmond CenterStage. It was a one-night performance (with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra), but you can catch them with other orchestras and I highly recommend that you do!

This was our second time seeing the Richmond Symphony perform. I covered the previous one in this post. I am sure it won’t be our last, they are wonderful! They are led by Steven Smith, Musical Director and Conductor. Last night his role was expanded, as he also interacted with the Cirque performers, including one fantastic illusion.

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The symphony performed four or five pieces without the Cirque performers on stage. During those pieces, the symphony was well lit and it was as visually interesting as it was aurally. My particular vantage point allowed me to focus on the cello players. Their fingers were flying up and down the frets, mesmerizing. The violin section was all bows to me, moving in unison at lightning speed.

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I love most instruments, but I always surprise myself when one is highlighted and I catch myself thinking “That’s really one of my favorites!”. Last night was the flute. Many of the pieces were flute heavy (or should I say flute heaven?). Smile

The last row was the horns. I love brass (see, I told you, I really love them all!). Our godson’s fiancée plays the French Horn, so  I couldn’t help but try to pick out every note from the four French Horn players. I wasn’t so successful at that.

One last shout out to the viola section, they were superb.

When the Cirque players were on stage, the orchestra was beautifully but dimly lit. That made it easy to spend 100% of the time being awed by every single performer (six in all, with a few of them performing multiple routines). I have never seen a Cirque performance live. It won’t be my last.

If you know what Cirque is you don’t need my description. If you don’t know, my description wouldn’t do it justice, so I’ll just leave you with a few of Lois’ photos of the performance.

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Thank you to our friends for inviting us last night and to the Richmond Symphony and Cirque De La Symphonie for a truly magical evening!

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We spent a couple of hours in the afternoon wandering around the annual Richmond Folk Festival. A perfect day of weather and music. We didn’t stay at any one stage long enough for me to write a blog about it. If you get a chance to attend one in the future (or later today?), run, don’t walk!

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Susan Greenbaum at Weinstein JCC

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Two very special things happened last night at the Weinstein JCC in Richmond, VA. The first was a tribute and fundraiser for the Henry S. Fine Memorial Fund for Special Needs. Henry S. Fine was quite an extraordinary person (unfortunately, he passed away last year). You can read about him and the benefit in this Richmond Times-Dispatch article.

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The second special thing happening last night was Susan Greenbaum performing at the benefit.

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On May 22nd, Susan Greenbaum was one of several special guest conductors at the Richmond Symphony for a benefit held at Richmond CenterStage. It was one of the rare nights when I couldn’t muster any energy to go out, but Lois joined our friends for the performance. Susan Greenbaum was voted winner of the guest conductors and Lois got to meet her and chat for a bit afterward.

The next day we met Susan and her husband, Chris Parker for brunch. We enjoyed our time together and bought two of Susan’s CDs: Wake Up! and You are My Holiday. I love both CDs.

Susan performed with a full band last night and I’ll cover each member (like I always do). The set list last night was special (to me, but I’m pretty sure it was for the entire audience). Susan played Carole King’s Tapestry album start-to-finish. It’s one of my favorite albums which I rarely listen to now, so I was particularly excited.

Susan educated (and regaled) the crowd with an amazing tribute to Carole King in general (listing many top hits that Carole wrote or co-wrote that we had no idea were Carole’s). Susan has incredible stage presence and warmth, a complete pro.

In addition to performing, Susan and Chris also sponsored a table at the benefit. We had the privilege of sitting at that table. Henry used to identify with a one-eyed Smiley, so they used that as the logo for the event.

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On to the performance.

Susan has a fantastic voice. I already knew that from both CDs, but not all produced voices come across live as well. Susan’s does. Power, nuance, range, always with an appropriate volume to the rest of the band and the material. She accompanied herself on the acoustic guitar (nicely) on all but one song, the title cut, Tapestry, where she sang and just held the guitar.

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In addition to playing the entire album in order, Susan closed the show with two non-Tapestry numbers. The first was a Carole King song cut by The Monkees, Pleasant Valley Sunday. Susan wanted to end on a more upbeat Carole number, rather than the last song on Tapestry.

After receiving a standing ovation (quite a long one!), Susan apologized for breaking the all-Carole-King set to close with a number of her own, Everything But You. She introduced the song saying that Henry S. Fine had it on his iPod and that it was his favorite Susan Greenbaum song. Easy to see why, it’s gorgeous!

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The band, from left-to-right on stage:

Ed Drake on electric guitar (and a bit of background vocals). Ed was extremely good throughout the set. Very fast and smooth leads, matching the material perfectly. Susan highlighted Ed a number of times, thank you Susan!

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Lucy Kilpatrick on electric keyboards and harmony. Wow! Seriously, Lucy can play the piano something fierce. Like Ed, Susan highlighted Lucy quite a bit, but the material itself is oriented toward the piano, being Carole King’s primary instrument.

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In addition to the exceptional keyboard play, Lucy provided the primary harmony for Susan (way too little) and she was excellent at that as well. Bravo!

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Chris Parker on drums and background vocals (sorry, no good individual link to Chris). The Tapestry set doesn’t call for any exceptional drumming. Chris opened it up a bit for Pleasant Valley Sunday and Everything But You. Very nice job.

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Mike Drake on electric bass and a bit of background vocals (also no good individual link). Mike is Ed’s brother. Mike did a wonderful job though the material doesn’t particularly highlight the bass.

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To summarize, I was not surprised to find out how wonderful Susan Greenbaum is as a performer. Still, she exceeded any expectations I had. That she was accompanied by such an excellent band, with Lucy Kilpatrick as a standout, was indeed a wonderful surprise.

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P.S. As with most live performances, we were all asked to turn off our cell phones before the show started. I never need to be reminded. Mine was off 15 minutes before the announcement.

Toward the end of Tapestry, Lois leaned to me and asked for the name of the song that she loves from Susan’s Wake Up! CD, in case she had a chance to call out for a request. I pulled my cell out to look it up. While scrolling through the songs, I accidentally pressed on one of them and the phone started playing Susan’s song, loudly. Yikes!

I was so flustered that I didn’t even look at the display to find the pause button. I just covered the speaker (clumsily) with my finger and rushed out of the auditorium. My humble apologies to Susan and everyone there, who thought I was the one jerk who didn’t turn off his cell phone.

Rather, I was probably one of the few people there who has two of Susan’s CDs loaded on his cell phone (and of course my iPod too). I’m also the only klutz who tried to share that CD with everyone else while Susan was singing. :-(

ambeR Rubarth, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Another night, another awesome show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 (third one in four nights!). I guess there’s nothing left to say. This will officially be my shortest post ever.

Why are you still here? OK, just for you, take a peek below this line and I’ll share my experience from last night’s show. Don’t tell anyone else though. ;-)

I’ll cover the acts in reverse order of their appearance, but the names will be interspersed as a number of our favorite performers joined each of the headliners.

ambeR Rubarth closed the show. She played acoustic guitar and the grand piano and of course, sang. When she came out she looked around the room and called up Katie Scheele (a member of Threeds) to join her on stage.

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Katie came up with her oboe (actually, that first number was likely an English Horn, Katie’s other specialty). They kicked off a fantastic set together.

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In addition to playing a number of songs solo, ambeR played Full Moon in Paris with three guests: Kenneth Pattengale on acoustic guitar (lead), Joey Ryan and Greg Holden sharing a microphone to sing harmony with ambeR.

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Kenneth Pattengale joined ambeR alone for at least two other numbers. One on acoustic guitar and the other with them both seated at the piano. Their piano duet brought down the house!

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Alex Wong joined ambeR for two numbers. The first was Rough Cut where Alex played the snare drum while ambeR played the grand piano. The second was In the Creases, where Katie Scheele joined them (this time on the oboe, I’m sure). Awesome (as In the Creases always is, but the oboe adds such a great touch!).

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To close the show, ambeR brought up Joey and Kenneth again, but added a super special guest star, Joshua Radin. The four of them did an amazing job of covering Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice. It was our first time seeing Joshua Radin. It won’t be our last. Pinky swear!

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When ambeR left the stage the crowd just wouldn’t stop making noise. ambeR poked her head out from the green room curtain, looked up at the sound board and received the OK to come back for an encore. She asked the crowd for a request. I was the quickest with a loud “Novacaine”. Given that I was so close to the stage, before others got to say anything, she just said: “OK”. :-)

I’ve never heard a bad version of Novacaine in any number of settings, but I can definitively say that last night was the best. ambeR nailed every single harmonic on the guitar and the pace of the song was perfect. What a way to end an incredible night.

Joey Ryan is an amazing solo performer (here’s my post from the last time we saw him solo). Joey also tours in other configurations. One of our favorite shows was at Rockwood 1 when Joey brought along Kenneth Pattengale and Mark Stepro. I covered that in this post. Last night he played with Kenneth for most songs, with two additional guests.

Joey finger-picked nearly every song and sang beautifully.

JoeyRyan1

Kenneth Pattengale is a master on the acoustic guitar. His non-stop leads (I described it as dancing in my last post) are mesmerizing. He sings gorgeous harmony with Joey. Either can take the high or low side equally well.

KennethPattingale1

In the first show, Kenneth sang lead on only one song, Charlie, a beautiful song written for his yet-to-be-conceived daughter (oh yeah, he is yet to meet her mom either, or he doesn’t know he met her already!). ;-)

Aside from Kenneth being so amazing on the guitar, I put his name in the title here because in addition to singing Charlie, he also sang two other songs (with Joey providing wonderful harmony) and he was on stage with ambeR for three numbers as well. He was a very integral part of last night’s show.

The first of Joey’s guests was none other than Ian Axel who played the piano on Joey’s Broken Headlights (probably Lois’ favorite of Joey’s songs). Ian was icing on an already delicious cake. Independent of that, we could listen to Ian play the 1-800-MATTRESS song and be nearly as happy. ;-)

IanAxel

For his last number, Joey called ambeR up to sing harmony with him (and of course Kenneth).

KennethPattingaleAmberRubarth

Throughout the set, the interplay of Joey finger-picking and Kenneth playing mind-boggling leads was stunning. The singing was equally amazing, but I would have been totally satisfied to hear an all-instrumental show with Joey and Kenneth.

Of course, a Joey show is not complete without his signature self-deprecating humor. He was certainly on last night, introducing new lines that I hadn’t heard before. ambeR, Joey and Kenneth are at World Cafe in Philadelphia tonight. To give you a flavor of Joey’s humor, here is a tweet from him today, announcing tonight’s show:

Philadelphia. Get ready for the quietest show you’ve ever heard. Tonight at world cafe. Whisper it to your friends.

:-)

You probably don’t believe the way I describe Joey (angelic). Thankfully, Lois captured an elusive slip-up, when he flashed his halo for a second. ;-)

JoeyRyanHalo

Will Knox opened the show. We’ve seen Will twice before, each time doing just two songs as part of a much larger lineup (the first was a Livestrong fundraiser, the second was a Haiti Benefit).

WillKnoxTuning

Last night Will had a full band (he did not avail himself of the house band at the Haiti Benefit, and he played solo at the Livestrong event). It was a very pleasant surprise as the band was talented and fit well with Will’s songs.

Will is an excellent guitar player (he picked most songs, strummed a few). He has a very good voice. The rest of the band, standing left-to-right on the stage:

Kyle James Hauser on banjo. Kyle was really good throughout. My only complaint was that his instrument was the softest of the bunch. I had to work hard to pick him out. Still, it was worth the effort. :-)

KyleJamesHauser1

Timur Yusef on drums and background vocals. Good job on both.

TimurYusef

Chris Anderson on electric bass and background vocals. I’ve written about Chris many times (he’s the bassist for Ian Axel and he plays occasionally with Martin Rivas as well). We love Chris’ play, last night being no exception!

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Here’s proof that Ian is willing to be seen in public with Chris. ;-)

ChrisAndersonIanAxel

Clayton Mathews on fiddle (violin for you snootier types). The entire band was excellent, but Clayton Mathews was the highlight for me. His fiddle play was crisp and interesting throughout. To top it off, he threw out a half-dozen half-liners (not quite one-liners) that had the crowd (and Will!) in stitches. Very well done!

ClaytonMathews1

Could anything make this night better? Yes, two things:

1) So many wonderful friends there to share the show with us (including people we never expected to see there, let alone share a table with!)

2) After the show we headed straight to the house (an unusual mid-week treat)

For a variety of reasons, last night might be our last NYC show for at least a month. We’ll miss some amazing shows in October during CMJ week. We’re sad about that, but happy that our sendoff show will keep us looking forward to more such evenings out.

If you’ve made it all the way to the bottom, here’s a little reward for you. Lois takes nearly all of the photos and typically refuses to be photographed herself. One of our tablemates convinced her to hand over her precious camera and we were captured as a result:

HadarLois

The Open Sea and Katie Costello at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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The Open Sea is a duo comprised of Ari Hest and Rosi Golan. They were secretly announced on March 24th, 2010 in a show that we attended. We are fans of both Ari and Rosi separately, but on that night I had an instant love affair with their side project, The Open Sea.

TheOpenSea

The first show was at Rockwood Music Hall, while last night’s was at the new(er) Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 (right next door to the still-going-strong original).

Waiting six months to hear them again felt like an eternity. That could lead to expectations that are difficult to meet. They met, they exceeded, they conquered (at least me, but I’ll bet that the majority of the stuffed-to-the-gills crowd felt the same way!).

Last Tuesday (9/14/2010) The Open Sea released their first EP. I decided not to buy it right away, hoping to purchase a physical copy last night (to put more money in their hands, get it signed, etc.). Unfortunately, for now, it’s only a digital release, so this morning I grabbed my copy. Awesome!

For those that didn’t get to see them, buy the download and experience the magic for yourself!

Ari Hest sang and played acoustic guitar. He was the primary musical support, playing on all but one song. Most of them were beautifully finger-picked with a bit of rhythm and flat-picking thrown in for good measure. Ari has a smoky/raspy voice (or at least did last night). It blends beautifully with Rosi’s.

AriHestGuitar

Rosi Golan sang and played acoustic guitar. Rosi has one of the most extraordinary voices I’ve ever heard (I’ll say it every time I get a chance to write about her!). Laser-like crispness, very wide range, soothing and exhilarating at various times. Rosi played the guitar on a few numbers.

RosiGolanSinging RosiGolanGuitar

Both are accomplished songwriters and the five song EP shows that their collaborations are at least as good as their individual efforts. I love Rosi’s current CD The Drifter and the Gypsy. Ari has a CD coming out early next year (can’t wait to hear it, as it’s produced by the wonderful Alex Wong).

In addition to playing the songs from the new EP they played two cover songs (Rosi picked a Ray LaMontagne song and Ari picked an Everly Brothers one, which was a huge treat for Lois and me).

They performed the title cut from Ari’s upcoming CD and Rosi debuted a song from her soon-to-be-recorded CD, called Lead Balloon. It could be a top 10 Country Hit (IMHO) instantly. Even if you hate Country, you’ll love this song!

I know I’m fawning, but I can’t stop, so one more platitude. I never want their sets to end. There, I said it.

Daniel Mintseris played the piano on a few numbers including one where Ari and Rosi sang without playing guitar. Daniel also plays piano on the EP. He’s excellent and complemented their sound extremely well.

DanielMintserasPiano

Here is the set list:

TheOpenSeaSetList

Katie Costello performed the set before The Open Sea. On June 29th we saw Katie perform at Rockwood 2 and I wrote about it in this post. I agree with everything I said then (whew), but I have a more nuanced opinion now that I’m getting a little more familiar with Katie’s music.

KatieCostelloPiano

First, a few differences from that performance. Katie didn’t perform any solo numbers last night (she book-ended the show with then in June). The drummer was different (more on that in the band section in a minute).

Katie has an excellent voice. Not only is it powerful and clear with good range, but as I noted in the last post, it can change in character as well. On more Jazzy numbers she can command a smoky quality (that feels completely natural). On more upbeat pop numbers it’s crystal clear. She also plays the piano very well.

KatieCostelloSinging

Last night I was able to pay attention a bit more to the shifts in style. I found the pop stuff to be more engaging and suited to the setup (her voice and the band). On the slower numbers, it was hard for me to keep focused. I like a ton of mellow stuff, so it’s not a generic problem (for me).

Katie also tried to banter more last night than the previous show. I’m all for the effort, as it’s one of the things that makes live shows qualitatively different than listening to a CD. Unfortunately, while it’s clear that Katie has a quick mind and a deep wit, most of the banter struck me as awkward at best. It will come with time, I’m sure. I’m equally sure that some portion of the audience found it awesome and/or endearing.

Katie’s band from left-to-right on stage:

Daniel Mintseris on keyboards and glockenspiel. Last time I had trouble differentiating Daniel. This time no such difficulty. Daniel did an excellent job. Given that Katie was on the grand piano, Daniel’s keyboards were more organ-ish in nature (like Patrick Firth was for Rachel Platten). He also played a type of accordion that sits on the table and is played with one hand while the other operates a bellows-type mechanism.

DanielMintseras DanielMintserasGlockenspiel DanielMintserasUprightAccordion

Tony Maceli on electric and upright bass. We always enjoy Tony’s bass playing. Understated and solid no matter who he is supporting. On the one song where he played the upright, he used a bow.

TonyMaceliUprightBass

Given how tight the stage setup was, he stepped off the stage and played right in front of the entrance to the green room. On Katie’s last number Tony played the acoustic guitar (first time in our experience) and then halfway through the song he switched back to electric bass.

TonyMaceliGuitar

Doug Yowell on drums. Doug did a good job throughout the set. In a not-so-small irony, the only other time we saw Doug play was for Vienna Teng. When? The same night we saw The Open Sea for the first time. Vienna’s set (oops, I mean Linz Ho’s set) was right before The Open Sea.

DougYowell DougYowell2

Rich Hinman on electric and pedal steel guitar. As I mentioned last time, Rich is really good on both. Last night he was incredible on the pedal steel. Some of his leads on the electric were great, but a few times it felt to me like he was stepping on Katie’s vocals. He’s still incredible, but they might need some work on their arrangements.

RichHinmanPedalSteelGuitar

Here is Katie’s set list:

KatieCostelloSetList

Another great night at Rockwood. Tonight will definitely be another great night there. :-)

Vicci Martinez at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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There are two tangible benefits of befriending other music lovers who attend many of the shows we do:

  1. They sometimes become real friends, beyond the music, enriching our lives in the process
  2. They recommend other groups for us to check out. Due to our first-hand knowledge of their excellent taste in music, we’re rarely disappointed, and often thrilled at the new discoveries

Last night was an excellent example of #2 (the person also completely qualifies for #1). We’re rarely in the city on a Sunday night, and even rarer for us to venture out for a late show (let alone for someone we have never heard before). Due to the recommendation of our friend @HappyBee3, we altered our normal plans and headed in to catch a show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.

Vicci Martinez sang and played electric guitar (she had an acoustic guitar tuned and ready to go, but she didn’t touch it during last night’s show). While diminutive in height (I believe Vicci is 5’1”), there’s nothing else diminutive about Vicci Martinez. Her voice is huge (powerful and crisp) and her guitar-playing complements the big voice. She writes the songs too, so she is the complete package.

VicciMartinezGuitar

Another short singer/songwriter that I like is Michelle Citrin. Michelle has coined the phrase: “lil grrl, with a big sound”. While it’s true in her case, a more accurate description might be “lil grrl, with a big voice”. Given Vicci’s musical style (and voice!), “lil grrl, with a big sound” is a more accurate description for Vicci.

VicciMartinezSinging

While we don’t often attend Rock shows, Vicci’s show made two in one week for me (Lois missed Martin Rivas’ show last Monday). Aside from a rocking good time in both shows, there was little similarity in the two performances. That’s a good thing, variety is the spice of life.

VicciMartinezSmiling

The one big similarity with Martin’s show was the infectious beat that had nearly everyone in the place physically into the music. Vicci had a full band all of whom complemented her perfectly. From left-to-right on stage:

Eric Robert on grand piano. Eric traveled from Seattle (where Vicci is based) for this show. Lois and I are thankful that he did (and that we came out). Eric was electrifying on the piano. We had the best two seats in the house to enjoy his show, just behind him and to his right. We got to watch his hands and fingers fly up an down the keyboard. Rock piano can be a thing of beauty in the correct hands. Eric owns those hands!

EricRobertPiano

On two numbers he did something I may have seen once before. With his left hand he plucked the actual piano strings while pounding away on the keys with his right hand.

EricRobertPianoStrings

Tony Mason on drums. We’ve seen Tony twice before, both times playing with Adam Levy. Tony is very good and got to shine a bit more opening up his play for Vicci. (Sorry for the poor photo quality, Tony was hidden in the back corner of the stage):

TonyMason

Chris Morrissey on electric bass. Given the tempo and power of Vicci’s set, the bass player is key in keeping it all together. I was extremely impressed with Chris’ play, even though there were no flashy leads. As Vicci herself said of her band, they are all P-R-O-F-E-S-S-I-O-N-A-L-S.

ChrisMorrissey

While Eric made the trip from Seattle, Tony and Chris are locally based. They only played with Vicci twice before. They were all so tight that I would have believed they’d played together 100 times prior to last night.

Here’s Vicci’s set list (courtesy of @HappyBee3). She didn’t get to the last song, but no one left unsatisfied:

SetList

I could repeat the mini-rant from last Monday about Rockwood 2 starting to slip starting times by a wide margin. The group before Vicci ended their set at 10:15pm (Vicci was listed as starting at 10pm).

It took 30 minutes to clear that group and get Vicci set up, so she didn’t start playing until 10:45pm. Clearly, if one band slips (legitimately or otherwise) it is nearly impossible to make up the time and be fair to upcoming bands and their fans. A sad fact of life, making the late shows even more dicey for us.

VicciMartinezChrisMorrisseySettingUp

Martin Rivas and Rachel Platten at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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In yesterday’s post I mentioned that I expected to knock another 1.5 items off my music bucket list. I’m upgrading the .5 to a full point! ;-)

Not only did I get to finally see Martin Rivas perform a full set, but it was different than I expected (his adoring fans clearly knew what they were in for) in two wonderful ways.

MartinRivas

First, Martin had two lead electric guitar players and both happen to be among my individual favorites (we’ll get to the band shortly).

Much more important, while I’ve seen people rave about Martin being a Rock ‘N Roller, I have only ever gotten a hint of that, as most of his previous sets were acoustic or mixed in nature.

Last night was full-on Rock, with a dab of Soul (hard rocking soul!) thrown in for good measure. The place (Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2) was electric. Everyone around me was physically participating in the music. If you were just sitting there, it would have been prudent to check for a pulse!

ChrisKuffnerMartinRivasBrianKilleen

Martin was his usual shining light. I love his voice. His guitar playing is excellent, but he purposely takes a back seat when he has the full band on stage and just plays mostly rhythm (he somewhat picked on one number).

Here’s the band, standing left-to-right on the stage:

Patrick Firth electric keyboards and background vocals. Patrick is excellent (we’ve seen him before on a grand piano). Last night he had stacked keyboards. I think he had one set to a more organ sound and the other a more piano one.

PatrickFirth

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and background vocals. One night after finally seeing Chris play the bass, he was back to electric guitar. Given the rocking going on, that was awesome and freeing for Chris, as he wailed on a number of leads, fingers flying.

ChrisKuffner

Craig Meyer on drums (still no good individual link). Craig kept the beat going strong with really tasty riffs. His smile alone is worth the price of admission (in this case, free, but a one drink minimum). ;-)

CraigMeyerSmiling

Brian Killeen on electric bass and background vocals (the link is to an unmaintained MySpace page). Brian is solid all around.

BrianKilleen

Greg Mayo on electric guitar, lap steel guitar and background vocals. We’ve only seen Greg once before (also playing with Martin) and he was an instant favorite. Buttery smooth guitar playing. He and Chris shared the leads equally and beautifully. Greg is still on my bucket list to see playing his own stuff as a headliner.

GregMayo GregMayoLapSteelGuitar

Rachel Platten joined Martin for one song. Rachel headlined the set before Martin’s and she is the other full point that I wanted/needed to cross off my list. Check.

MartinRivasRachelPlatten2

Until my friend pointed it out to me before the set began, I didn’t realize that I had seen Rachel perform (ever-so-briefly). She and Kailin Garrity sang harmony/backup with Martin Rivas at the Haiti Benefit in January. I didn’t catch Rachel’s name that night.

Last night it was Rachel front-and-center. Rachel has a gorgeous voice and plays keyboards really well (last night electric). The set was mostly Pop/Rock. The energy was fantastic, with a similarity in the crowd’s visceral reaction to what I described above for Martin.

RachelPlattenMartinRivasCraigMeyerBrianKilleen

There’s a sweetness to Rachel that is evident in her performance. Her smile is wide and never disappears during the set. She connects with many people in the audience.

RachelPlatten

If you’re looking to catch a fun show, with upbeat lyrics and melodies, delivered with passion, played by excellent musicians, I highly recommend Rachel Platten.

Backing Rachel were three of the same band members that played with Martin: Patrick Firth on keyboards, Craig Meyer on drums and Brian Killeen on bass.

Martin Rivas played guitar and sang harmony with Rachel throughout her set.

MartinRivasRachelPlatten

Nathan Eklund on trumpet and background vocals. Excellent on the trumpet, added a nice touch to the all around great sound of Rachel’s set.

NathanEklund

Lois had not recovered 100% so she couldn’t join me again. Since I couldn’t count on Allie Moss’ mom for photos (not that I knew I could in advance the night before), Lois handed me her camera as I was walking out the door. Any photo mishaps can only be blamed on me this time.

Martin is playing again at Rockwood 1 this Friday night (Sep 17th, 2010) at 9pm. It will essentially be the same band, except that (lucky stiff) Brian Killeen will be in Las Vegas (my favorite city) so Chris Kuffner will be on bass.

We aren’t supposed to be in the city that night, but the enticement of Chris on the bass for an entire rock set might be enough for us to rearrange, plus Lois will get to see Martin do a full set as well. We’re working on it. :-)

Update: just heard that Chris might be out of town on Friday, so if we go, it will be to see Martin and the gang again. I’ll still be (not-so-patiently) waiting for another opportunity to see Chris on the bass. :-)

P.S. On the way out, I passed Derek James (a lot of awesome musicians came out to hear Martin and Rachel!). I introduced myself and told him how incredible he is. There’s one less musician in the world who needs to wonder what I think of them now. ;-)

P.P.S. there’s always time for a mini-rant. We’ve been to Rockwood 1 & 2 so many times I can’t count. All but two nights have run as close to clockwork as you can hope for. Last night was the second time that something went off the rails (before I got there) causing a major delay.

The group that was supposed to be on from 9-10pm was still going strong at 10pm (the tip jar didn’t even come out until 10:10, so they had to have started late). That caused Rachel’s set to start at 10:50 rather than 10. Martin’s set wasn’t over until roughly 12:30am, making for a longer night than expected. Thank goodness it was incredible. :-)