Dining

The Grascals at Highline Ballroom

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When a band plans a tour there is very little wiggle room in any given city. They’re generally on the move all night (if they have a professional bus driver), or all day (if they’re driving themselves). There are many things you can’t control when planning months in advance.

Two such things are the unbelievably frigid temps currently inhabiting NYC (thanks global warming!) and the local team making the championship game in the NFL (thanks J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!). Smile

The weather and the Jets might have kept some fans from making it out last night (entirely their loss!), but it didn’t stop The Grascals from blowing away those of us who were smart enough to choose them!

This was our third time seeing The Grascals and it most certainly won’t be our last. The other three people at our table had never seen them before. They are indescribably amazing (or, as one of the people we saw it with noted: “The Grascals are truly absurdly talented”). Of course, I’ll still do my humble best to give you a sense of their magic.

Highline Ballroom is a wonderful place to see a show, in particular one with a big group and a big sound. The Grascals are that.

While all six members of The Grascals blend perfectly together, I actually view them as two separate groups (more accurately, a group within a group). Each group is great in their way but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. To whet your appetite, check out the amazing number of awards they’ve won as a group and as individuals.

Group #1 is a core vocal and rhythm driven ensemble comprised of Jamie Johnson (guitar and vocals), Terry Eldredge (guitar and vocals) and Terry Smith (upright bass and vocals). The three of them sing so well individually (each sings lead) and together (three-part harmony on every non-instrumental song). Jamie and Terry share MC honors, keeping everything light and funny in between songs.

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Terry Smith is also a top-notch bassist. On two numbers he demonstrated a perfect slap technique that was a blast to listen to and watch.

Group #2 is comprised of three of the best instrumentalists you’ll ever hear (they don’t even have vocal mic’s so you never hear them speak or sing). Danny Roberts is an incredible mandolin player. Jeremy Abshire is an extraordinary fiddle player. Kristin Scott Benson is a mind-boggling banjo player (multiple time Banjo Player of the Year winner!).

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Each of Danny, Jeremy and Kristin can give solo performances that knock your socks off. When they play together, most of the time one of them is being highlighted in the lead, but the other two are supporting the effort with complementary riffs. On some songs (only one brief moment last night), they have duels, which have them each repeating the same riff in a competition where the only winner is the audience!

When Groups #1 and #2 combine (on most songs), you get the best of both worlds. Amazing vocals sprinkled with virtuoso leads on the mandolin, fiddle and banjo.

They were all on fire last night, and the audience gave extended ovations after every number (and for nearly every lead during each song). Each of the three soloists was brilliant.

Jamie then thanked us and introduced the last song, Sally Goodin, off of their self-titled album (The Grascals, for those of you not paying any attention). On that CD, the song is just under four minutes, and features incredible solos on the fiddle, banjo, mandolin and then around again.

Last night, as incredible as each of Jeremy, Danny and Kristin was, this last song took it to another level. I didn’t have a second of disappointment during the earlier numbers, but after this, I realized that they were holding something in reserve.

Jeremy opened the number (just like on the CD). After his solo, Kristin took hers. Then Danny. Just like on the CD, Danny’s solo was longer than the others, only last night, Danny’s kept going (and going). Then Jeremy walked to the middle of the stage and took over Terry Smith’s vocal mic as everyone else took a few steps back.

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He wailed on the fiddle in one of the longest, most inconceivable solos. Every time it looked like he was about to relinquish the lead, he took it up a notch. You had to be there to believe it. Finally, after leaving us all shivering a bit, Kristin stepped back to her mic and continued the round until they finally called it a night.

Their live version of Sally Goodin lasted over nine minutes. It was more than twice as long as the CD version. Jeremy’s solo itself lasted longer than the entire CD version. All I can say is that if that were the only song they played (meaning, if the entire show was just those 9+ minutes), I would have felt that I had gotten my money’s worth. The rest of the show was a bonus!

Every person at Highline rose to give them a long standing ovation. Of course, they came back for an encore.

New York, those of you who passed on this show have no idea what you missed. OK, perhaps you know now. If you miss the next chance to see The Grascals when they return, it will be on you then. You’ve been warned! Winking smile

After the show, we purchased an EP and one CD that we didn’t already own. Both Jamie and Danny signed them for us.

Here is a representative set list (not the identical one played last night) with the two CDs that we bought:

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To top it all off, the five of us shared a fantastic meal and enjoyed each other’s company for two relaxing hours before the show started. The food at Highline Ballroom is wonderful, but our companions were even more wonderful. Smile

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Ricky Skaggs, Punch Brothers, Nancy Griffith and Abigail Washburn at BB King

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We’ve seen Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder a couple of times, most recently in June 2008. When we saw that they were performing at BB King, we knew we’d be there. The only other act listed on the bill was Abigail Washburn, opening for Ricky. We’ve seen Abigail a number of times, so that was a plus.

What we didn’t know was that two other bands were also performing, sandwiched in between Abigail and Ricky. Since one of them was the highlight of the evening (definitely for us, likely for many/most in the audience), I’ll break my normal format and start with them.

The third act up was the Punch Brothers. I can’t tell you how excited I was when Abigail mentioned that they were on the bill. I’ll gush about each of them in a minute, but the main reason is their leader, Chris Thile. In my opinion, he’s the best mandolin player in the world (there, I said it!). We own four of his solo CDs and all of his Nickel Creek CDs as well (which I simply can’t get enough of).

Chris has unbelievable stage presence. He’s only 29 (soon 30), but he recorded his first CD when he was 13, so he has a ton of experience. His talent would be enough to carry him even if he were wooden on stage, but thankfully, he’s loose and natural and made us laugh throughout his set.

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He sings really well, writes superb songs, and oh yeah, there’s that mandolin magic that simply boggles the mind.

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I can’t imagine a musician that wouldn’t want to play with him. Conversely, I can’t imagine him having someone in his band that wasn’t superb. That is certainly the case for the members of Punch Brothers.

Chris was center stage. Here are the other members of the group, standing left-to-right:

Gabe Witcher on violin and vocals. Fantastic on the fiddle/violin. Wonderful voice, singing lead and harmony.

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Chris Eldridge on acoustic guitar and vocals. Amazing flat picking on the guitar. Excellent vocals, mostly three-part harmony with Gabe and Chris Thile.

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Paul Kowert on upright bass (no good individual link). Paul is the only person in Punch Brothers who didn’t sing (or even speak). His bass play says it all though, both with a bow and plucking. He’s incredible.

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Noam Pikelny on banjo and vocals. Folks, everyone in Punch Brothers is a world-class musician. Noam is a cut above your average world-class musician. He’s unreal. He’s also subtle. Many top banjo players hack at the strings (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love that style). Noam can do a lot more with a banjo.

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A few months ago, he was the winner of the inaugural Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Check out the judges (including Bela Fleck, perhaps the best banjo player in the world!). I certainly have no quibble with their choice.

Noam didn’t sing much, but he did create four-part harmony on occasion. Most notable was a dryly delivered quip that had the audience burst out laughing. Between songs, he casually stepped up to the mic and in a deceptively deep voice said the following:

For those of us who live in NYC, playing in this neighborhood is incredibly special, given that it’s the last refuge remaining in this great city!

For the one reader who may not know where BB King is, it’s in the heart of Times Square. Everyone in the audience got it and the line was delivered perfectly.

All I can tell you is that the Punch Brothers awed on every single number. We took our goddaughter with us (her husband had to cancel at the last second for a work emergency). When she got home, she immediately bought their latest CD, Antifogmatic!

They are currently nominated for a Grammy. The song, New Chance Blues is available for free download on the front page of their site (linked above), in exchange for your email address!

Back to my normal format of covering acts from the headliner backwards (don’t worry, I won’t repeat the Punch Brothers section). Winking smile

Ricky Skaggs has been a superstar for years. He was a major Country star. More than 10 years ago, he dedicated himself to Bluegrass. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bluegrass, whether you like the style or not (we love it), Bluegrass attracts some of the best musicians in the world. Ricky and his band (Kentucky Thunder) are no exceptions.

Last night he broke his Bluegrass-only streak. He opened the show with a few Country numbers. They were great. He played an electric guitar and lit it up.

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Then he switched gears and played a few songs from his new CD, Mosaic. He started with the title song. To say that the mood changed dramatically in the place would be an understatement. He received applause after each song, but many were polite and in general it was shorter than the first few songs.

After two more from Mosaic, a number of people in the crowd were saying “Play some Bluegrass” loud enough, but no one yelled in a heckling or disrespectful manner.

Eventually, Ricky got to the Bluegrass portion of the show. The crowd went nuts. He broke out the mandolin (of which he is one of the best!) and tore it up.

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When Ricky performed Country and the Mosaic numbers, there were 10 people on stage. For the Bluegrass set, the drummer, lead electric guitar and electronic keyboards people left, leaving the core seven people that typically perform in Kentucky Thunder.

Ed Faris and Paul Brewster both play rhythm guitar. The magic that they bring to the group is their absolutely incredible harmony with Ricky Skaggs. The three of them make vocal magic on practically every song.

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Andy Leftwich played the fiddle. He’s always incredible (we’ve seen him at least two times) but last night he was on fire (or I bet his fingers were!). He played mandolin on a couple of songs as well.

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Cody Kilby flat picking the guitar. Cody is one of my all-time favorite flat pickers. That you couldn’t hear a single note during the Country and Mosaic part of the set is a crime that should be punishable by a 10-year prison term! Thankfully, he got to work his magic during the 30-minute Bluegrass set. Unfortunately, even then, he was the only one under-mic’ed, but I could still hear and see his brilliance.

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Mark Fain on bass. Marked played electric bass during the Country and Mosaic portions and upright during the Bluegrass. Great on both instruments.

Finally, a very sad note, coupled with a very happy one. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to seeing Ricky’s banjo player, Jim Mills. I have been mesmerized by him each time we’ve seen him perform. He’s in my top five favorite banjo players. I don’t know what rock I’ve been living under, but Jim left Ricky roughly six months ago, after playing in Kentucky Thunder for 14 years!

On the plus side, another of my favorite all-around musicians replaced him.

Justin Moses played the banjo, dobro and mandolin. I own his solo CD which is awesome. He was the fiddle player in the Dan Tyminski Band (where he also played banjo and dobro). He’s an extraordinary fiddle player, but that job belongs to Andy. While I’ve heard him play banjo with Dan, I didn’t fully appreciate how excellent he is on the banjo until I heard him last night.

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He played the dobro throughout the Country and Mosaic sets. I know he’s excellent on the dobro from the Dan Tyminski shows we attended. Unfortunately, as with Cody, he was totally drowned out when he played the dobro, I couldn’t pick out a single note.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the Country part of the set (even though I couldn’t hear Colby or Justin), but my dinner companions did not. None of us enjoyed the Mosaic portion of the evening. Oh well, at least he ended with 30 minutes that had the crowd enthralled!

Continuing backwards, skipping over the Punch Brothers.

Another surprise for us was the second act.

Nanci Griffith is a well-known singer/songwriter. We’ve never seen her before, so it was a real treat. She did a wonderful job.

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We have friends whose favorite group is The Kennedys. We’ve never seen them. They were part of Nancy’s band last night and I totally understand why our friends love them. Maura has a wonderful voice, and Pat played the guitar amazingly and sang harmony.

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Pat McInerney played the drums really well. He’s been accompanying Nancy for 22 years!

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I don’t recall the name of the guitar player who accompanied them (apologies). He too sang well, and played well when he wasn’t having technical difficulties.

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A very nice set all around.

Opening the show was Abigail Washburn. We’ve seen Abigail a number of times. We really like Abigail as a person. She has a lovely voice and plays the banjo well. Unfortunately, her set selection rarely thrills us. She has the talent to do so, so it’s more a matter of mismatched taste between what she wants to play and what we want to hear.

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She has a new configuration for her band. We hadn’t seen any of them before. They’re all excellent (no surprise).

Kai Welch on keyboards, guitar and harmony. Kai is the main collaborator with Abigail on her new CD. He is the inspiration of her new style and exploration. He is a very good musician and sings wonderfully.

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Rayna Gellert on the fiddle. Excellent! Abigail teased her that she’s not dramatic enough. Perhaps, but she thrills nonetheless.

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Alana Rockland (no good link) on electric and upright bass. It’s not often that I see female bass players. Given how talented Alana is, I hope to see more of them, soon!

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Jamie Dick (also no good link) on drums. Solid throughout the set.

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All in all, an epic night of music. The show started at 7:30pm and ended at 11:15.

We had an excellent meal before the show started. I always recommend that you come early for a BB King show and enjoy their wonderful southern comfort cuisine.

The Nutcracker at Richmond CenterStage

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I was supposed to be at work all day yesterday. If you promise not to tell anyone that could get me in trouble, I’ll tell you what I did after leaving the office at 10:15am (I was in at 7am, so I got some things done). Winking smile

Our friends in Richmond bought six tickets for the matinee of The Nutcracker at Richmond CenterStage. We went with our godchildren and their significant others. This is our third time at CenterStage (actually Lois’ fourth time) and we have enjoyed each performance immensely.

I may be one of the few adults in America that never saw The Nutcracker growing up. For whatever reason, I never sought out ballet or opera, even though I grew up loving classical music. That said, I didn’t squirm at the thought of seeing it this time, given how much I enjoyed the ballet portion of the Richmond CenterStage opening (covered in this post).

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Even though I hadn’t seen The Nutcracker before, I knew the music very well. I am a major fan of The Richmond Symphony and they performed Tchaikovsky’s work beautifully. Everyone in the orchestra contributed, so I feel badly calling out two instruments. The flutists were incredible. There were a number of harp solos that were delivered flawlessly.

The ballet was much more ornate than I imagined it would be. The costumes and sets in the first half were gorgeous. There were nearly two dozen kids as well (always good for heart-warming chuckles, I’ll give a specific example later). Not to ruin it for the other person in America who hasn’t seen it, but there isn’t much ballet in the first half. There’s some dancing and graceful moving around, but the real ballet mostly takes place after intermission.

The most impressive scene in the first Act is the magical coming to life of the dolls. Awesome in every respect.

Act I ends with the dream sequences beginning, first up The Enchanted Snow Forest.

There are a number of different fantasy scenes (dreams) in the second half, all set to traditional ballet. All of the choreography is top notch and the costumes are stunning. That said, the various scenes are not equal. Some are adorable (non-stop chuckling in the audience), specifically, the Russian Dance, which includes a bear doing ballet. On the other end of the spectrum is Waltz of Flowers, which is visually interesting, but way too repetitive.

The men seemed to all perk up during the Arabian Dance. The ballerina was stunning, her outfit inventive (and suggestive) and her movements (dancing) were mesmerizing.

The two most impressive ballerinas (to my taste) were the Sugar Plum Fairy (the program lists a number of possible dancers, so I can’t be sure which one I saw yesterday) and the Snow Queen who ended Act I (that role also lists multiple possible dancers).

Coming back to the child-induced chuckling. There is a scene with Little Bo Peep and her sheep. The sheep are all little girls. All but one sheep is dressed in white. The smallest girl/sheep is dressed in black. She was beyond adorable and every time she wiggled, we all giggled. Smile

I really enjoyed the ballet but I admit to occasionally feeling that the visual distraction was keeping me from fully immersing in the music, which is still my first love. I’ll need to get back to Richmond to see a performance of the symphony, with nothing else going on (no Cirque, no Ballet, no Opera, etc.). I look forward to that!

Kudos to all involved in this excellent production. Unfortunately, yesterday was the last day of a two-week run, so you won’t get to see the same show I saw, at least not this year.

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While the ballet was a highlight of the day, it was by no means the only one. Before the show, the six of us, plus our benefactors (our godchildren’s parents), had a wonderful meal at Chez Foushee. Here’s a shot of us, thanks to the waiter:

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Lois forced us to split four desserts. Here are two of them, just make you a bit jealous:

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After a little R&R following the show, our benefactors were back in action preparing a home-made feast to top off the night. Here’s the home-made pasta drying:

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Thanks to everyone for making yesterday a memorable and special day! I leave you with a shot of our wonderful godchildren:

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Joey Ryan, Kenneth Pattengale, The Springs Standards and Meg and Dia at The Studio at Webster Hall

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Joey Ryan comes to NYC a few times a year. If we’re here too, you can bet we’ll make it to one of his shows. Even though we love seeing him solo, this time he was touring with Kenneth Pattengale as well. The two of them make magic together, so we run rather than jog to see them whenever we can.

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Last night included an interesting first, one I completely support and was impressed by. For many of the shows we go to, it’s hit or miss whether an artist (even the headliner) will actually get an introduction. Most times, the lights dim and people start to clap when they notice the band coming on stage. Occasionally, there might be an announcement over the PA. Rarely, someone from the club will come on stage and make a more formal introduction.

At 8pm (show time), Dia, of Meg and Dia came on stage. She introduced Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale. She did it in a completely humorous, sarcastic manner, which might have confused (or offended) people who misunderstood or don’t get that kind of humor. I don’t think there were many in the audience who missed the real meaning.

The more important thing here is that the headliner bothered to come on stage, to let their fans know how highly they thought of the opener. I haven’t seen that before and I’d love to see It happen more often. Occasionally, a great opening group gets little respect from a crowd who is there primarily to see the headliner. Perhaps they would pay more attention if they realized that the headliner chose the opener for a reason! Bravo Meg and Dia!

Joey and Kenneth performed seven songs, alternating their material with each singing lead on the songs they wrote. Joey started and ended the set with Kenneth performing the even numbered songs.

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Both are very good guitar players. Joey mostly finger picks and Kenneth is a masterful flat-picker. They blend beautifully. The same is true of their voices. Harmonies are gorgeous. Each has a wide range. Each tends to sing very high when they’re harmonizing for the other, and lower when they’re singing lead.

In his signature style (making it worth coming to a show even if you listen to their CDs and EPs constantly), Joey (and Kenneth as well) is just plain funny. Completely deadpan delivery (and soft-spoken to the point of having to strain to hear him at times). I believe that Joey could have a career in comedy if he wanted it. He was most definitely on last night (not that I recall ever seeing him off).

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The crowd was extremely enthusiastic for them. There’s no doubt that we weren’t the only people there who know and love Joey and Kenneth’s music, but I also suspect that aside from them being able to win people over on their own, having Dia come out to give her fans the word had to nudge some to pay more attention. Their set lasted around 35 minutes.

After a pretty quick turnaround (a little less than 10 minutes), the second of the three groups took the stage.

The Spring Standards have been on my list for nearly a year and it just hasn’t worked out in my schedule to catch them. We saw them perform at the New York Sings for Haiti Benefit in January. They did two songs and had a minimal setup. I was extremely impressed and I wanted to see/hear more.

Last night was nothing like the Haiti Benefit. The fact that they were able to set up in under 10 minutes was quite impressive given all the gear that they had on stage. Nothing minimal about their set this time.

Standing left-to-right on the stage (for the most part, though the two James’ switched sides a number of times):

James Cleare played the acoustic guitar, electric bass, drums, harmonica and sang (lead and harmony). Excellent all around.

Heather Robb (apparently an actor as well as a member of this group). Heather played the drums, double-decker electric keyboards, glockenspiel and sang (lead and harmony). She also had a melodica out, but if she played it, I missed it. She too was excellent all around, though her voice sounded a bit strained at times (markedly different from the Haiti benefit, where her voice was the highlight).

James Smith (no good individual link, so I linked to a good but old photo of him) played electric bass, acoustic guitar, trumpet, drums and sang (lead and harmony). Another excellent performance all around.

Updated: I had the two James reversed originally, even I was pretty sure I was wrong. The photos at ContactMusic are mislabeled and I incorrectly followed their lead. 🙁 Thanks to the commenter who pointed out my error!

All three are talented multi-instrumentalists. They all drum standing up, playing other instruments during the same song. Typically, two of them are drumming on the same song (e.g., James Cleare will be using the kick drum while playing the electric bass, as Heather plays the snare, bass drum and cymbals while mixing in the keyboards or glock).

Joining them for at least half of their numbers (standing/sitting behind them) was their Tour Manager, Noah Goldman. Noah played pedal steel guitar, bass, acoustic and electric guitars (possibly something else).

The energy level they put out is incredible. Everything about their performance is fun. Due to the big sound (loud, but clear) and the amazing amount of visual distractions (eye candy) to pay attention to on stage, I can’t say that I registered more than a handful of their lyrics, here and there. As such, their songs aren’t (yet) memorable to me.

They finished up their set in a big way. First they invited Joey and Kenneth to join them. They performed I Shall Be Released by Bob Dylan. Joey sang the first verse, followed by each of The Spring Standards singing a verse. Kenneth played electric guitar (first time I’ve seen him do that). Many people in the audience (myself included) sang the chorus with them (we were invited to). Gorgeous version of an old-time favorite song!

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Immediately after, they invited up the entire Meg and Dia band (five members) to sing a high-energy song. There were 11 people on stage for this number. The Spring Standards did all the singing, with everyone else banging away at something (part of the drum set, a tambourine, etc.), making a big sound.

They were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

I was more intrigued by the initial (mellower) Haiti performance, but there’s little doubt in my mind that this group is filled to the brim with incredibly talented people who mesh really well together. I want/need to explore them more.

Roughly 20 minutes later, the headliners came on stage.

We were really wiped out and would have loved to have just bolted, but I really wanted to get a sense of Meg and Dia.

We stayed for two songs. I’m impressed with their voices. I was impressed with their musicianship as well, but in general, it was just a bit too loud. Great energy and rhythm. I would see them again, but I was glad to get off my feet and hit the sack before midnight.

Speaking of getting off my feet, this was a standing-only show (yes, there are a handful of seats along the side and back). I stood the entire time. Standing for people like Joey and Kenneth is simply ridiculous. That kind of a mellow sound should be savored from the comfort of a chair.

The Spring Standards have the energy and sound to drive people to their feet, but I know that I would prefer to see them in a seated show as well. Meg and Dia can definitely generate the more dance-crowd kind of feel, so I’m not surprised that they would play a room that is standing only. Independent of whether the music fits, we will always prefer venues that are seated.

We attended with three other people (and unexpectedly met two other friends at the show). Before the show, the five of us had a lovely dinner around the corner from Webster Hall (our first time there) at Apiary (also a first for us). Another winning night out! Smile

P.S. Lois dropped her camera on Saturday night and it was acting up a lot last night. Given that today is Cyber Monday, there is a new camera in her very near future. So, the shots above are the last ones you’re likely to ever see from her old, trusty Canon PowerShot 1100 IS. May it rest in peace. This, plus Lois’ vantage point in the few seats in the back, explain the lack of photos.

Girlyman and Red Molly at City Winery

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This show was announced over six months ago and the minute it was, I grabbed tickets. It was a long wait and it was well worth it. We even got to see Girlyman three weeks ago in Birmingham, which only enhanced our anticipation of last night’s show.

It is the rarest Girlyman show that we attend alone. We want to share our joy and grow their fan base whenever we get a chance. Last night was no exception. We had a party of seven, four of whom were experiencing Girlyman and Red Molly for the first time.

Girlyman opened with an energetic Paul Simon cover. This already set the tone for an unusual evening. I don’t think that in the nearly 20 times that we’ve seen them perform they’ve ever opened with a cover. Lois and I are sensitive to the opening song (of all bands that we love, not just Girlyman) because it often determines whether newcomers are leaning forward or backward for the rest of the show. So, opening song jitters overcome with flying colors (ours, not theirs), check! Smile

My next fear was locale-based. City Winery is beyond gorgeous. The food and wine are excellent. The sound is generally excellent too. But, the place is large and many people sit at the bar or off to the opposite side of the stage. Every other show I’ve been to at City Winery has had too many loud talkers during the sets (amazing sets at that!). It distracts from the show.

Thankfully, even though the place last night was packed, it was full of Girlyman and Red Molly fans. That meant whisper quiet during nearly every song, and raucous noise between them. Exactly as it should be! Venue enhances show rather than distracts, check! Smile

Any additional fears to overcome? Nope, good, only enjoyment left. One last note, earlier this week someone adjusted Lois’ camera in order to take pictures of some close up items. Lois didn’t readjust the settings, so nearly every photo she took last night was blurry. I’ll post a very few just to give you a sense of the layout. The camera is now back to normal.

Girlyman has such a large catalog to select from. They mix it up frequently, which is one of the reasons that seeing them often is invigorating. Of course, it means that something you’re desperately in the mood for on a given night might not be delivered. No worries, the entire catalog is fantastic.

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The tuning songs last night weren’t quite up to par (less rhymes, shorter, fewer), but the general banter and interaction among the band was superb. I had the warm fuzzies throughout the set.

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When they got to the request section, it was complete bedlam. It sounded like 200 of the 300+ people there were screaming at the same time, at the top of their lungs. I can always make out at least a dozen distinct titles being yelled at any show. I couldn’t make out a single title last night, because I think that over 50 songs were being yelled out.

The band didn’t seem to hear them either. When there was a break for a second, quite a number of people coordinated their screams for Everything’s Easy (the title track of their latest CD). The band seemed willing to play it, given that it was the only one they could be sure of.

But, in another clever, coordinated, premeditated move, a handful of people sitting right in front of the stage held up sheets of paper with the word Angel printed on them. This created a memorable set of events.

Angel is one of Doris’ new songs on the latest CD. It’s a beautiful song and I understand why this group came prepared to lobby for it. But, it’s one of the few songs in Girlyman’s catalog that they haven’t practiced together in a while. They were checking with each other on the stage whether any of them remembered it well enough to perform it. No one (including Doris) exuded confidence!

It was impressive that they love and connect with their fans well enough to at least try performing the song. There were flubbed chords and a few missed words as well, but it still sounded great and showed their courage to deliver what people wanted to hear rather than just what they could guarantee would be a flawless performance.

What makes it more impressive is the fact that Girlyman returned to offering live recordings of last night’s show after stopping the practice over a year ago (we cherish the many live shows that we purchased from them). As they noted on stage, anyone who wanted to listen to them butcher Angel over and over could now do so, by purchasing last night’s show. We do, so we did! Smile

Rather than leave it at that, they also performed Everything’s Easy, ensuring that one of the requests was performed as people expected it.

They introduced two new songs, one of which we heard in Birmingham (and fell in love with instantly). That one was The Person You Want (Me to Be) by Ty. The other, which they said was only the second time they’ve performed it, was Supernova by Nate. Supernova was a big hit at our table!

They closed the show with Postcards From Mexico in the same fashion that they did in Birmingham, but the size of the crowd at City Winery made it more of a spectacle (in the best sense of the word). They split the crowd in thirds, according to vocal range. We sang the chorus with them. It’s complicated, because the three parts have different words and different melodies (they don’t all start on the same beat either!). It sounded pretty darned good from where I was sitting. When I get my live CD in the mail, I’ll get a better sense of the full effect.

They performed a one-song encore, bringing Red Molly out to join them for Through to Sunrise. Cool! Five part harmony on one of our favorite songs (Abbie Gardner of Red Molly didn’t really join in the singing, but she played a mean Dobro solo that was double the normal length of the traditional Banjo solo that Doris plays). Bravo!

In total, they were on the stage for just under two hours, a super healthy (and welcome) set, considering there was a top-notch opening act as well. They correctly thanked City Winery for allowing them to do that!

We also count Red Molly among our favorite performers. Earlier this year, they decided to start touring more and that caused Carolann Solebello to leave the group (in July). Some groups can’t survive the transition to a new core member.

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In a not-so-small irony, the group selected Molly Venter to join them. (Get it? Red Molly now has an actual Molly in the band?)

MollyVenter

I’ll admit to being a bit nervous as to whether the character of Red Molly would remain intact, even if Molly Venter was a talented solo performer. That remained true even though someone I trust told me that she knew Molly well and that she was very much up to the task.

She was and is! Molly has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well and her voice blends beautifully with Laurie MacAllister and Abbie Gardner. She also brings her songwriter cred to the group, something that I think will be a big win for Red Molly (who performs more covers than most groups that we like this much).

RedMolly1

The first of the new songs is a lullaby written by Molly Venter which was amazing. I definitely need a recording of it, STAT! The second is a song she recorded on her own in 2008 that Red Molly has arranged for their trademarked three-part harmony. Gorgeous!

Thankfully, their 40 minute set included the ever-heavenly a capella cover of Susan Werner’s May I Suggest. If any song would be the test of Molly Venter fitting in, that would be it. Check (again). Smile

We arrived at 6pm to enjoy a terrific meal, including City Winery’s own wine. It’s exciting to sit at a table of vegetable lovers. We had two orders of the brussels spouts (yes, we all loved them!) and the cauliflower was heavenly too. Main dishes were all devoured as well.

We hung around after the show catching up with the band, getting their updated poster signed by all and mingling with friends who also attended the show. Another amazing evening in the books, more on the way (including tonight).

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.

DorisMuramatsu

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!

NateBorofsky

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.

TyGreenstein

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

The Person You Want Me To Be

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

JJJones

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

Jesse Terry and Marjory Lee at a House Concert

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We became aware of how many house concerts there are only a few years ago. There have been a few that we really wanted to attend, but scheduling or illness confounded every one, until last night.

Our friends (stay tuned for how we met them at the end) hosted a house concert featuring one of their favorite artists. We were thrilled that we were able to attend.

Jesse Terry is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter/guitar player. He was (until recently) based in Nashville. That might make you think he’s pure country. You’d be wrong. He crosses a number of genres, effortlessly. During one song, I could swear I was listening to James Taylor (the feel, not a clone). On another, Lois leaned over to me and whispered “Jackson Browne”. Oh yeah, he’s also a little bit country. 😉

JesseTerry

Lois described Jesse to me as “a painter and a poet”. Poet is obvious, but by painter, she meant that his lyrical imagery is vivid. She cried during two of his songs. Here are YouTube videos of each:

Not to overwhelm you with YouTube videos, but this one is worth watching as well (then I’ll leave you alone). Jesse met his fiancée on a cruise ship in the South Pacific (I’m sure the setting had nothing to do with their falling in love 😉 ). Back in the states, in the famous Bluebird Cafe, she was in the audience when he sang this song (which he wrote for her) and then proposed to her in front of the audience. She was at the house concert last night and is as lovely a person as you can imagine, so we completely understand their mutual attraction/admiration/love:

JessJesseTerry

Jesse was wonderful on every song (including the three covers he did), but he’s particularly masterful at love songs and deeply sad ones. He tended to finger-pick the slower ones, beautifully. His guitar play in general was very good. His voice is excellent with good range. Excellent personality (both on and off the stage).

While we attend shows in all types of venues (including the dreaded Madison Square Garden), we really prefer intimate shows. Well, last night redefined intimate (in the best possible way). I often mention that a performance was acoustic. That’s technically correct, but in most cases, while the instrument is acoustic, it’s still amplified.

Last night was 100% acoustic, and the vocals weren’t mic’ed either. We had front row seats, but I’ll bet that the one guy who insisted on standing in the back of the room (yes, he was offered a seat), could hear every note and every word as perfectly as I could. Perfect. No sound engineer to muck it up (don’t jump on me, most do a great job, but some screw it up so bad you wonder how they got the job).

I was nervous for a second, because Jesse plugged a cord into his guitar, so I thought he had a small amp tucked away somewhere. It turned out he was just plugging in to an auto-tuner pedal. Whew. 🙂

I’ll come back to the actual ending of the show after I cover the opening act.

Our hostess for the evening is an incredible woman (her husband is awesome too, but what I’m about to tell is all her, so I want to give credit where credit is due!). Years ago, she discovered Jesse Terry accidentally, on MySpace, clicking on his link from another artist’s page. She instantly fell in love with his music and reached out to contact Jesse. She has followed his career and become his friend ever since that fateful night.

While in Key West for the annual singer/songwriter festival, she discovered the woman who opened for Jesse last night. She befriended her as well and told both of them that they needed to meet and get to know each other. That eventually happened, and our hostess was indeed correct, they became friends. That they ended up playing a show together, in our heroine’s home, was beyond fitting!

Marjory Lee sang and played acoustic guitar (as above, 100% acoustic, with Marjory even tuning by hand, shudder 😉 ). Our friend warned us about Marjory’s voice and she was correct. It’s gorgeous! Power when she wants/needs it, subtlety when that’s called for, range and perhaps most interesting, an ability to change styles and gears effortlessly.

MarjoryLee

Marjory was equally at home singing softly in the upper registers as she was belting out a soulful rendition of The Dock of the Bay, adding a gritty gravelly voice, sung in the lower registers.

She accompanies herself very nicely on the guitar. Completing the package is her stage presence. For such a young woman, she has an easy rapport with the audience. As with Jesse, that’s true both on and off the stage.

MarjoryLeeTuning

Circling back to the end of the show. During both of their sets, a number of people called out for them to sing a duet. They each joked that they had planned to work up something together for quite a while, but never got around to it. That (apparently) didn’t let them off the hook.

When Jesse was wrapping up, people again called out for them to do something together. Marjory joined Jesse and they sang The Dock of the Bay (mentioned above) alternating verses, with Marjory occasionally venturing some harmony on top of Jesse (very well done!).

JesseTerryMarjoryLee

Then Marjory sang Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean with Jesse singing a few key parts. As with another cover that Marjory did during her own set, she successfully got most of the audience to sing the chorus with her. She/they did a great job bringing the evening to a wonderful close.

We purchased both Jesse and Marjory’s CDs.

Here’s Jesse’s Set List, not followed to a T:

SetList

Back to how we met our friends. We’ve been to 13 CMA Writers Series shows at Joe’s Pub. CMA = Country Music Association. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that our friends have seen more of them than we have. In all of our times at Joe’s Pub, we have always been seated at a table for two, or at a table for four, but with the other two people attending with us.

The one exception was one CMA show where we were seated at a table for four next to this couple that we instantly had a rapport with. The next time we attended a CMA show, Lois spotted them on line and called out for them to join us. We sat together while we ate, but ended up watching the show from different spots. Ever since then we’ve maintained an active email and Facebook friendship.

Last night was excellent, but I can’t say that I didn’t feel badly or guilty. We paid way too little for the value of the show, even after buying the CDs. But that’s not the bad part. Our hostess cooked for two (or three?) days. It was one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had. The meal alone was worth more than we paid for the show and the CDs, but of course, it was free. Guilty pleasure. All I can say is that I was not even slightly exaggerating when I told our friend that she should be a professional caterer. Awesome!

TheFood

There were a ton of desserts as well. I grabbed some (store bought, but also incredible) but we didn’t hang around. During the intermission our host asked me if we were driving back to the city after the show. He asked whether we could take Marjory (and her friend) back with us, which we were delighted to do. Another friend of theirs took the train out from Manhattan so we took her along with us.

Having another hour to get to know Marjory and her friend only cemented our feeling that she was a very special person (all three of our passengers are!) and it enhanced an already special evening all the more.

MeaganMarjoryLee

In a not-so-small irony, we are already scheduled for our next house concert this Thursday (from zero to two in five days). This time, in a complete stranger’s home, so we’re branching out. I’ll report on that on Friday, as usual.

Vienna Teng, Alex Wong and Joey Ryan at Highline Ballroom

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Last night was very special on many levels. At the top of the list was seeing Vienna Teng perform in NYC (at the Highline Ballroom) for the last time in a while (she’s off to grad school later this month!).

Even though Vienna tours the US and Europe regularly, we have come to rely on the fact that NYC was her (temporary) adopted home and we had so many opportunities to see her here over the last year. (We also saw her perform in Atlanta, Birmingham and Norfolk.)

We’re thankful that we made the time to do it, without taking for granted that we could see her whenever we wanted. Her shows will be few and far between over the next three years, but they will happen, and anyone who gets the chance to catch one better do it!

Vienna’s voice and piano playing are magical and last night was no exception. She can soothe the savage beast or impassion the near lifeless.

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In addition to a few typical songs that Vienna invites the crowd to join in on (more on that later), she added Antebellum to the list, inviting us to join her or Alex in their respective parts. I could swear that the majority of the crowd selected Alex’s part (perhaps because it’s easier, or perhaps because Alex admonished us to “Choose Wisely”). 🙂

While Vienna often introduces songs, last night felt different. She knew she wouldn’t have many more opportunities to connect with the very large crowd so she introduced nearly every song and shared stories with great warmth. (Highline seats roughly 450 people, and there were very few empty seats. It was the first show we’ve been at where people were sitting in the Highline balcony as well!)

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One story that she shared was going to a Karaoke night with a group of non-musician friends. She and her friend sang A Whole New World from Aladdin. She described the inevitable Karaoke Key Nightmare, where the music is simultaneously too high and too low for your vocal range.

Many songs later (I think it was during 1BR / 1BA, but don’t quote me), 2/3’s of the way through the song, she and Alex broke into a full-on rendition of A Whole New World! Their harmony was fantastic and the entire bit was both wonderful and funny at the same time. Of course, after the song, Alex complained that Vienna chose his Karaoke key. Actually, to quote him more accurately, he said she chose his coming into puberty range. 🙂

Alex Wong (the Alex in the above paragraph) joined her as he has for nearly all of the performances we’ve been to. In addition to being Vienna’s touring partner, co-writer on a few of her songs and producer of her amazing CD Inland Territory, Alex is also 1/2 of The Paper Raincoat.

AlexWongSnareDrum

On the set list, which I reproduce below for Vienna’s many fans, there is an entry labeled (Alex). Vienna lamented that she would really miss seeing The Paper Raincoat and asked Alex to pick one of their songs to play. People shouted out many songs. Probably the one most loudly requested was In the Creases. Technically, not a Paper Raincoat song, but co-written by Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth (who are The Paper Raincoat), so it qualifies.

Alex chose to do Don’t Be Afraid. He too introduced the song with a short, but meaningful anecdote. Vienna sang perfect harmony with Alex.

Toward the end of the show Vienna said that she wanted to deviate from the set list and get Alex to play another song. Once again, lots of requests from the audience. Alex chose a song of his that he performed with his original group, The Animators, Help is on the Way. We’ll all need it for the withdrawal we’ll be feeling from Vienna’s absence. 🙁

AlexWongHelpIsOnTheWay

Ward Williams joined them for the entire show (as he does on most of their tours). Ward sang beautifully with Vienna on a few numbers and played cello or electric guitar on all the numbers. As I’ve said before, Ward is a top-notch musician who always enhances any show he’s a part of!

WardWilliamsGuitar WardWilliamsCello

Update: Lois asked me to say how funny (and quick) Ward is, so here goes. For one song, Vienna asked us to take our keys out. She directed us when to jingle our keys and when to stop (like wind chimes). Alex used his Harry Potter Wand (aka: Waterphone bow) to direct people to make whooshing sounds like the wind itself.

Vienna joked that Ward was left out of the directing. Without missing a beat, he offered that when he put his right arm over his head (in a ballet-like pose), the audience should let out a blood-curdling scream! After testing us once before the song, he sprung the actual arm movement late in the song, and the audience did indeed scream on cue (good paying attention folks!). Vienna definitely got a kick out of it, as did the rest of us. 🙂

I’ve never seen a weak Vienna performance, so raving about last night shouldn’t be taken to imply that other shows weren’t incredible (they all have been!). That said, perhaps it was the poignancy of knowing that it would be a while, making me listen even more acutely, Vienna was in perfect voice last night. The clarity and power were mesmerizing.

As promised, here is the set list:

SetList

As you can see, she ended the set (a long and satisfying one) with Grandmother song. She asked the entire audience to stand for it and we turned the song into a 400+ person party! When they left the stage, we all remained standing until she came back out, this time solo.

Vienna dedicated the song, 1000 Oceans by Tori Amos, to us. We were both choked up. I am still speechless this many hours later, but thankfully, I can still type! 😉

All I can say in return/response is that the amount of joy and personal/spiritual growth that Vienna and the too-many-to-mention other Indie artists that we have come to know and love have given us, fuels us daily! Thank you Vienna, and all of you (you know who you are!).

After 1000 Oceans, both Alex and Ward returned to the stage and they performed two more numbers. The last one was Soon Love Soon, sung by the entire audience in three-part harmony! Here is Vienna directing the right side of the audience:

ViennaTengDirectingAudienceWardWilliams

Including the encore, they were on stage for 100 minutes. As vivid as the memory is at the moment, I miss it already.

When we bought the tickets (many moons ago, when the show was first announced) there was no opening act listed. What a phenomenal surprise to found out it was another of our favorites.

Joey Ryan performed solo, singing and playing acoustic guitar. In addition to always nailing his sets (with and without accompaniment) he was even funnier (and more self-deprecating) than he usually is (and he’s always funny!). He had everyone in the crowd laughing and chuckling, within seconds of stepping on the stage.

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Personally, I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to come out to an un-warmed-up crowd who is eating, drinking and conversing loudly. To do that solo, acoustically and not be the headliner, even more so.

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Yet, like I noted above, within seconds, Joey had the place whisper quiet, with everyone hanging on his every word. He owned not only the stage, but the entire place. I’m humbled by that ability, and enjoy being a part of it each time I experience it.

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Lois asked me if I’d call out for Broken Headlights. I didn’t need to. Joey invited Vienna and Alex on stage to sing it with him. Gorgeous, both the song (always) and their arrangement and harmonies.

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The Highline Ballroom is a wonderful venue. Doors open two hours before show time and they have excellent food (and drinks). Because of that, we wanted to celebrate with friends and share the great music. We bought seven tickets and squeezed all of us in to a table for six.

We had an excellent meal, including way too many desserts (that Lois forced on us, and of course didn’t partake in). Here is a photo of a very small portion of the desserts we all shared:

PartialDessertDisplay

In what had to be the universe speaking to us (though I didn’t find this out until this morning!), I ordered a glass of Shiraz. Then someone else in our party ordered the same thing. The waitress asked if we wanted a bottle instead and I said yes. Then she said that they had a special on a different bottle of Shiraz, one that wasn’t available by the glass. I ordered that. It was really good!

This morning, when I looked at the bill, I saw the name of the wine:

Flying Piano

A totally fitting thing to be drinking during a Vienna Teng show, no doubt! 😉

We all hung around after the show to tell Vienna, Alex, Ward and Joey how amazing they were and what a special night it was. The same group (including Joey) will be performing tonight in Fairfield, CT, tomorrow at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and Saturday in Silver Spring, MD. Do yourself a favor and go to one of these shows, time is running out…

ViennaTengChadVaccarinoIanAxelWardWilliamsAlexWong JoeyRyanHadar

The Persuasions at BB King

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Lois and I love a cappella. We love harmony in all forms and it doesn’t get purer than a cappella. When we each saw that The Persuasions were performing at BB King (we both get the weekly email newsletter) we were interested in going (we’ve never seen them).

A friend of ours was vacationing up the East Coast, and told us that he would likely have some time to hang with us when he spent a couple of days in NYC. He called Wednesday night and we asked him whether he would be interested in seeing The Persuasions. Indeed he was.

The group was formed in 1962 and released their first studio album in 1970. Two of the original members are still performing with the group! One of them is Jimmy Hayes, who sings the deep bass parts. He’s absolutely amazing. Both Lois and I couldn’t wait to praise him to each other when we hit the street.

When all five of them sing together, the sound is incredibly rich, whether they are singing the words together (normal harmony), or whether some or all of them are mimicking instruments or doo wop sounds.

ThePersuasions

Going for the music alone would be worth it. Fortunately, that’s not the only reason to go, though we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

I would guess that the majority of the audience were giant The Persuasions fans, having seen them perform before (likely many times for a good proportion of the crowd). Aside from being adoring fans (in the best sense), they knew the individual performers, and the group knew many audience members as well.

The Persuasions don’t just perform, they entertain! On at least a third of the numbers one of the members of the group ventures into the audience (usually the other original member, “Sweet” Joe Russell, but both Raymond Sanders and Jayotis Washington did as well). The song becomes highly interactive at that point, with great unpredictability.

SweetJoeRussell

Dave Revels sang slightly more leads than the rest and did a wonderful job throughout the set.

At times, Joe (or the others) will simply sing to a member of the audience (often acting out the lyrics). Just as often, they will hand the microphone to someone and get them to sing (often the lead!). No one was bad, but a few were pretty darn good, with two people singing like real professionals!

LadySingingWithThePersuasions

In one awkward moment (awkward for me, because I’m a complete geek!), Joe was singing to a woman. They each had an arm around the other. The woman was in heaven, and she handed her iPhone to her husband and asked him to take a photo. Even though Joe held the pose while he sang to the woman for nearly two minutes (that’s an eternity folks!), the husband couldn’t figure out how to snap a photo on the iPhone. He was aiming the LCD screen at them, and was nearly as frustrated as his wife. He did not get the photo. 🙁

The Persuasions perform a wide variety of music. Hearing oldies from my childhood brought rushes of wonderful memories back in an instant. Seeing the beaming faces of the other audience members (all ages!) turned those memories into a shared experience, making it more special than simply tuning into an oldies radio station.

RaymondSandersJayotisWashingtonJimmyHayesDaveRevels

Here’s the set list, so you can get a sense of the breadth and see how many of your old favorites are there:

SetList

The one song you won’t see on there is what they performed during the encore (yes, they were forced to come back out for an encore), In the Still of the Night. Saying that they performed it is a bit of a misnomer. They actually participated in the performance, which was dominated by the audience.

They invited anyone in the audience who wanted to sing it with them on stage to come on up. Amazingly, roughly 20 people went up.

AudienceOnStage AudienceOnStage2

Jayotis Washington came into the crowd and asked people whether they knew the song (the intro was already being doo wop’ed on stage), and I was one of the people he stopped in front of!

I said no (even though I knew it well), because I had no intention of singing into the microphone. The guy at the table next to me (a huge fan and friend of the band) accepted, and sang the lead for a good part of the song. He was incredible (one of the two I mentioned above). The entire song was quite a spectacle (in the best sense of the word).

After it was over, Lois went on stage to get the set list. When I looked up, she was hugging each member of The Persuasions. I looked away for a second, then looked back. The stage was empty. Lois disappeared behind the stage with them. I told our friend that I would likely be forced to wait 24 hours before calling her in as a missing person. 😉

She came back out without the set list itself, but with the photo (shown above), and some more memories. 🙂

On to the food. BB King is comfort food and it’s always really good. Last March (2009) we were there for a Jerry Jeff Walker show, and our god-son-in-law ordered the Mac & Cheese. It’s so rich he couldn’t finish it and the rest of us all dug in and were blown away. Last night I ordered it for myself for the first time. Just as good. Thanks Chris, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know what I was missing! 🙂

When we were watching the coming attractions our friend told us that we shouldn’t miss The Toasters, who will be at BB King on October 29th. Here’s hoping he can make it back to NYC to join us for that show as well!

HadarChris

Martin Rivas, Vienna Teng and ambeR Rubarth at City Winery

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In January, City Winery hosted three shows to benefit the Haiti earthquake disaster. We attended one of those shows and I covered it in this post. They have repeated that generosity this week, hosting three shows to benefit those affected by the Gulf Coast Oil Spill. All proceeds went to the Gulf Restoration Network.

This provided another opportunity to do some good, while enjoying a night of incredible music, and for us, dinner and NYC-made wine as well!

Update: Thanks to the commenter below who correctly chided me for not mentioning the two videos that were shown before the music started. Here is the link to the organization that presented them.

Covering the acts in the order they appeared:

Martin Rivas opened the show. I have been waiting too long to see Martin perform a full set. Last night was small progress, three songs in a row. It only made me want to see more, so my quest continues. Martin has such a clear, strong voice, I can listen to him sing all night!

MartinRivas

Martin was accompanied by a full band (left-to-right):

Patrick Firth on piano (not sure that’s the right link). Very nice job, playing both the grand piano and an electric keyboard propped on top of the grand.

PatrickFirth

Greg Mayo on electric guitar. I have seen Greg’s name many times, tweeted by many musicians, but I hadn’t heard/seen him before. Wow! Fantastic guitar playing. After the set, my friend told me that he caught Greg for the first time the night before, and Greg was playing the piano in that show, just as well! I now have to catch Greg doing his own thing, asap!

GregMayo

Chris Anderson on electric bass. We love Chris on the bass and I’ve written about that many times. Last night was the first time we’ve seen him accompanying someone other than the amazing Ian Axel. Of course, we weren’t surprised to find out that Chris was just as good backing up Martin. Chris is Greg Mayo’s bassist, which is probably how he came to play with Martin last night.

ChrisAnderson

Craig Meyer on drums (couldn’t find a good individual link). We saw Craig drum for Martin at the Haiti benefit as well. He’s very good, and I enjoyed his play last night tremendously. Chris Anderson is always full of energy in his play, and whenever he turned to Craig, the two of them cranked it up a notch, with Craig getting into it as much as Chris did.

CraigMeyer

Vienna Teng was up next. This was a wonderful surprise for us. Vienna (and ambeR as well) was not originally listed on the bill when we purchased our tickets. Jay Nash was, and he didn’t make it. Vienna performed three songs (as did every artist): Harbor, 1000 Oceans (a Tori Amos cover) and a song that she co-wrote with ambeR at a songwriters retreat. ambeR came out to sing harmony with Vienna on their co-written song. Another awesome performance by Vienna.

ViennaTengPiano ViennaTengAmberRubarth

ambeR Rubarth opened with Novocaine, a song I can listen to 10 times every day and not tire of. She played it on an electric guitar, something we haven’t seen her do before. She then switched to the piano and Vienna returned the favor of singing harmony with her on Rough Cut. ambeR returned to the guitar to close her three-song set with Letter to My Lonelier Self.

ambeRRubarthGuitar ambeRRubarthPiano ViennaTengSinging

Christina Courtin played the ukulele and sang. We hadn’t heard of her before. Not exactly our taste.

ChristinaCourtin

Ryan Scott on acoustic guitar, accompanying Christina Courtin. Ryan was very good on the guitar, and gave me something positive to focus on during Christina’s set.

RyanScott

Among the Oak and Ash was up next. They were great! Josh Joplin is the front man and constant in this band. Josh plays the guitar and sings (and writes very good songs). Tons of energy creating a knee-slapping, toe-tapping experience for us. His band last night, left-to-right:

AmongTheOakAndAsh

JoshJoplin

Claudia Chopek on the fiddle (she has a MySpace page, but Chrome warned be about some content on there, so I’m not sharing the link). Claudia was excellent! In a not-so-small-world story (because the Indie music scene has many interconnections), Claudia has also played with Vienna Teng. Here is a YouTube video of Claudia (front and center) playing with Vienna and Alex Wong. Of course, since it’s closer to a classical sound, she was playing the violin (not the fiddle) in that one. 🙂

ClaudiaChopek

Ward White played the electric bass and sang harmony with Josh. Very nice job on both!

WardWhite

The drummer for Among the Oak and Ash was really good too, but unfortunately, I didn’t catch his name. If someone lets me know who it was, I’ll update this section.

ATOAA-Drummer

John Wesley Harding closed the show, on acoustic guitar and vocals. John was excellent, singing and playing, and cracked me up quite a bit with his very relaxed delivery of a number of quips. He had two excellent musicians accompanying him:

JohnWesleyHarding

I didn’t catch the name of either the piano and guitar player (I think his first name was David), nor the bass player. Both were excellent, with particular kudos to the piano playing which was highlighted a few times.

Update: From a comment below, the name of the Piano/Guitar player is David Nagler. No good individual link for him.

JohnWesleyHarding-Pianist JohnWesleyHarding-Guitarist JohnWesleyHarding-Bassist

It frustrates me when I work really hard to figure out who is in the band and it isn’t prominently mentioned on the artist’s site. As above, I’ll update if/when someone clues me in.

One very unusual thing during this show was that as artists finished their three-song sets, they came out and sat in the audience to enjoy the other sets. It was cool, and we were sitting among a number of our favorite musicians. 🙂

MarthaViennaTeng WardWhiteClaudiaChopek

We arrived early and had a lovely dinner, including a carafe of City Winery’s home-pressed Syrah, recommended!