The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge

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We’re in the middle our usual Zope Trip, which involves a weekend in Virginia. We typically spend the weekend with our friends. They were on a 10-day trip cruising from Italy to Greece, and were scheduled to return late last night (they did).

On Friday afternoon, during a lull in the workday, I decided to check the websites of some of our favorite artists to see where they were touring. The second one that I checked was The Wailin’ Jennys. I’ve written about them before, once when we saw them live, and once when I got their CDs.

I was surprised, and excited, when I saw that they were playing the next night (last night, Saturday) in Charlottesville, VA, at the Gravity Lounge. I could describe Gravity Lounge, perhaps even adequately, but they have a YouTube video tour which I watched, making me want to see the show even more. If you bothered to watch the video, you can see that the setting is up-close and personal. Just like we like it (specifically, at Joe’s Pub in NYC).

We rarely see shows outside of NY, so I wasn’t sure how Lois would react to the idea. We’ve been in Charlottesville a number of times, and think it’s a gorgeous town, but it’s 90-120 minutes from Fredericksburg, depending on the traffic, and while it’s a gorgeous ride, it’s mainly on two lane roads (one in each direction), so it’s easy to get stuck behind someone…

She wasn’t wild about the idea, but she knows how crazy I am about the Jennys, so she agreed reasonably quickly. I snagged two tickets online. If you watched the video, you know that they can seat at most about 150 people, so I was very pleased that there were at least two tickets left. Since it’s a first-come first-served venue, it didn’t matter if I bought the first two or last two tickets!

So, we headed out at 4pm from the hotel, and arrived at Gravity Lounge at 5:45pm, not bad. There were roughly 15 people on line in front of us. They didn’t let us in (even though the front door was open) because the Jennys were doing a sound check, and no one was allowed in until that was done.

When they let us in, we grabbed two seats in the third row, dead center. Once our coats were on the seats, we headed back to the cafe area and ordered wraps for dinner. Very fresh, very cheap, very tasty! We ate in our seats, though there were tables in the cafe area that we could have used, if we hadn’t ordered finger food.

The show was scheduled to begin at 7pm. At 6:30pm, the place seemed relatively empty. We would have been surprised if there were 50 people there by then. At 7pm, when the show was clearly not going to start on time, the place was full, clearly sold out. They started at around 7:15pm.

In addition to the serendipity of me finding out about this late Friday afternoon, having two tickets left, and us being available, it turns out that this was the last show on the Jennys year-long tour. Their next date is February 7, 2008, in British Columbia! So, this was extra-special, for them as well, as they could collapse after putting on this show!

We were roughly 12 feet from the performers. The intimacy was amazing. I’ve written in the past at the vast difference in feel of Wicked (on Broadway) when we have sat in the first few rows versus sitting further back. This was like that too. When we saw the Jennys in Tarrytown, we were in the 13th row, dead center. In addition to being considerably further back, the theater there is so much larger, and well, theater-like (tall ceiling, etc.) that everything is wildly different about the experience.

The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge

Click on the image above to see it full size.

As with Wicked, to Lois, being this close up made a world of difference, and she connected with the Jennys much more than she did in Tarrytown. I too felt the connection (as did the entire crowd), and noticed things I didn’t in Tarrytown (like the one boy Jenny, Jeremy Penner, who I thought was 20 years older at Tarrytown).

In my last post, I pointed you to their web site for their musical backgrounds. I won’t go into too much detail here, but I feel the need to give them a little more direct play. The leader of the group is Ruth Moody. She sings like an angel. She reminds me a little of Alison Krauss in that both sing in a register so high that most humans have trouble hearing it, let alone attempting to hit those notes. That said, Alison Krauss hits those notes with the clarity of a bell, and Ruth hits them with a breathy sultriness (still nailing each individual note every time) that is sufficiently different than Alison.

In addition to an angelic voice, Ruth plays the guitar, banjo, concertina (small accordian), percussion, all brilliantly. Nicky Mehta sings one register lower (though she can hit high notes flawlessly), and she plays the guitar, drums and harmonica, brilliantly as well. Heather Masse (the newest Jenny, third in the role she is in) sings bass amazingly (complementing and rounding out the vocal range of the three) and plays the bass as well (yes, to overuse the word, brilliantly).

Jeremy Penner doesn’t sing, but plays the fiddle and mandolin brilliantly. You could weep at some of his solos, and they are reasonably generous in highlighting his skills.

Jeremy Penner at Gravity Lounge

Click on the image above to see it full size.

Their songs are gorgeous, and flowing, and the words are generally very powerful as well. That said, the magic happens when they harmonize together. It’s stunning.

So, how did this show compare to the one in Tarrytown? For Lois, this was much better. Seeing everything up close, and hearing the power of their voices in such an intimate setting, made her appreciate them more than she did in Tarrytown. For me, I loved last night’s show, but Tarrytown was better acoustically. Last night was a little more raw, in that we were close to the speakers, and in between them. In Tarrytown, as I reported before, the acoustics were nearly perfect, and the entire feeling was significantly more lush. No complaints about last night, the raw-ness was a great experience, just different, and not as beautiful to me personally.

As I mentioned for Tarrytown as well, the Jennys connect with the audience wonderfully. They are so natural on the stage. That said, the stories were mostly identical to the ones at Tarrytown, delivered with the same apparent impromptu-ness. Don’t get me wrong, they were delivered flawlessly, and the audience loved it (as did we), but, Girlyman mixed in new stories the second time we saw them, which was a nicer touch. 😉

Ah, so we snuck in a mention of Girlyman, finally! So, Lois was shocked (pre-concert) when I told her that I liked the Jennys 80-90% as much as Girlyman (she thought that was blasphemous!). I think she may not feel quite the same as I do about the Jennys, but she inched up a lot closer after last night. For me, as amazing as the Jennys are (I listen to their CDs a lot), Girlyman still beats them out, on a number of levels.