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New York Sings for Haiti

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On most days even compassionate people go about their lives in a near bubble-like existence. The problems of the rest of the world aren’t one’s first thought. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to break us out of that routine and remind us that we are dramatically more alike than we are different, us fragile humans.

The explosion of text messages sent to raise money after the earthquake in Haiti proved that if you make it easy to give, many people will happily do so, even if it isn’t the most prudent thing for them to do.

There are many ways to give. As important as direct monetary donations are, raising awareness is also crucial as the ever-widening circle of giving, volunteering and compassion have a chance to work their way deeper into our lives.

Many artists live more obvious compassionate lives, creating art as an outlet for deep-seated emotions. They also have fans, which makes raising awareness a little easier for them than for ordinary folk.

Many musicians participated in many benefit concerts (some televised globally) over the past week. I applaud all of those efforts. For the bigger acts, pulling off these last-minute mega-shows is difficult, I’m sure, but the machinery that surrounds them is geared toward doing that kind of work, and money is never an obstacle.

In the incredible vibrant indie music scene in NYC, the story of last night’s benefit concert is inspiring in showing what can be accomplished with compassion, and a crazy amount of effort (and let’s not forget talent as well!).

Alex Berger is a very talented singer/songwriter who is visiting from the UK. He was staying at a friend’s apartment for a week, the extraordinary photographer Ric Agudelo (an incredible person, who we were lucky to meet as a result of this benefit).

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After spending the evening at Rockwood Music Hall enjoying some music, they were both heartbroken to hear about the earthquake in Haiti. Sitting on Ric’s couch at 1am they decided that they had to try and do something. Ric said that they should get cracking first thing in the morning. Alex said let’s send out some emails right now, and so it began.

Alex was able to get commitments from over a dozen of NYC’s most amazing musicians. Ric was able to secure one of the finest places to see a show in NYC, City Winery. Ric and others then went into overdrive to pull all of the logistics together (a daunting task!) and Alex worked with the musicians to create a show that the audience will never forget.

Giving/sacrifice comes in many flavors. Quite a number of the musicians who agreed instantly to participate did so knowing that they would have to change prior commitments on a moment’s notice. A large group of them postponed a writers retreat. Alex Wong flew cross-country just for the show. Many other similar stories.

As active as we are in attending shows in NY so are many other music lovers. We’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting a few other passionate fans as a result of another example of these artists giving whenever they can.

Shannon Black is a cancer survivor. She is a wonderful person in all respects and is inspirational in many ways, including that she runs in the NYC Marathon each year, raising money for Livestrong in the process. We met Shannon (and her husband and fellow music-lover Jason) at their Livestrong fundraiser, where again, Alex Berger arranged for 11 musicians to perform and donate their time and talent.

Half way through the show last night, Shannon came up to me and gave me a hand-written note, asking me if I would mind including it in my blog. Not only don’t I mind, I’m honored to share it with the rest of you:

Hadar,

When you blog about this magical night, could you say something for me?

Not only have we been brought together for a great cause, but in witnessing these musicians making themselves so vulnerable, I have been called/pressed/pulled to that which my life was meant for!

I got a second chance, so I needed this, tonight!

In a nutshell, in witnessing their “magic”, I have been called to that which “God meant for me to do!”

Last thing before getting on with the show. While most musicians rehearse before their shows, the challenge in preparing for last night’s show was monumental. There was a house band (a group of amazing musicians) that played with most of the acts. They had practically no time to learn tons of material, and, of course, they nailed it all!

The house band consisted of: Tony Maceli (who also coordinated the entire show including running the rehearsals!), Chris Kuffner, Marika Hughes, Kevin Rice, Adam Christgau, Melissa Tong, Ward Williams and a number of other people whose names I didn’t catch, sorry!

AdamChristgauChrisKuffnerKevinRice

While the show was sold out (no surprise), in addition to the money raised from ticket sales, there was a raffle (including two high-end guitars, donated by Martin and Gibson, which were signed by all of the performers!). The show was streamed live for those that couldn’t make it and there were opportunities throughout the stream to donate.

If I understand correctly, as soon as possible, they will release a CD and DVD of the show as well, having additional opportunities to raise more funds for this very worthy cause.

Typically, I go into great detail about each act in the shows we attend (often, each individual performer in each band). If I did that now, I’d be publishing this blog late next week, and the purpose of this post, and of last night, wasn’t to critique the performance, but to revel in the kindness and generosity of all involved, performers and audience alike.

The music ranged from soft a capella (the always blissful Rewind by The Paper Raincoat) to hard rock by both The Bongos and Harper Blynn. Everything in between as well, including Jazz, Pop, Folk, Country.

Most performed two or three numbers, with a few last-minute guests coming on for only a single song. One example of the latter was a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, Sara Jean Kelly who drove up, sang one song, and made us take note of her talent! One other person not listed was an Israeli singer/songwriter. I thought they announced her as Tal, but perhaps it was Tula. I apologize if I linked to the wrong person there. Thanks to a comment from Rebecca, I now know I was wrong in that last sentence. The singer was Paula Valstein.

Here are the artists in the order that they appeared. Many appeared on stage with other artists, and of course, the incredible house band supported most of them (a few had their own bands, and I apologize for not doing my normally thorough job of naming every one of them!).

Martin Rivas (still recuperating from foot surgery, came up with his crutches!)

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The Bongos (I believe that they were originally slated to headline City Winery that night. Incredibly generous of them to give up that kind of spotlight and share the stage with everyone else!)

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The Wellspring (a newly formed duet, last night was their public debut I think. Supported by Alex Berger, ambeR Rubarth and Wes Hutchinson.)

TheWellspring

Nate Campany (supported by many of the other performers)

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Rosi Golan (our first time seeing her, amazing!)

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Will Knox

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Ed Romanoff

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Sara Jean Kelly

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Tula Paula Valstein (now corrected, thanks again Rebecca!)

Tula

Wes Hutchinson (supported by his band, Reel by Reel)

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amber Rubarth (supported by Threeds, Ed Romanoff, Ari Hest and Tony Maceli playing trumpet)

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Threeds

Ian Axel (ahhhhhhhhhhhh, supported by Chad Vaccarino)

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Alex Berger (fabulous, topped off by Love, supported by ambeR and Vienna Teng. Tony Maceli played a wonderful trumpet)

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Joey Ryan (supported by Vienna Teng and Dave Eggar)

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Greg Holden (supported by Ian Axel, Joey Ryan and ambeR)

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Harper Blynn

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Vienna Teng (supported by Alex Wong and Kevin Rice. Actually, Vienna opened with an a capella number with roughly 10 people on stage, including many of the evening’s performers!)

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The Spring Standards (new discovery for me. They’re great. I was particularly impressed with Heather’s voice!)

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Ari Hest (with his own band. First time we got to see him perform in a lead role. Marvelous voice!)

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The Paper Raincoat closed the show. Unbelievably fitting for us, because every single connection that we have with the local music scene in NYC emanated from our discovery of them when they opened for Colin Hay in April 2009. It’s amazing that our journey is so short, and yet so rich, all thanks to ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong.

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Of course, they were magical (they always are).

ThePaperRaincoatRewind

To top everything off, most of the artists came back on stage for a fittingly named finale: Help is on the Way, a song by Alex Wong’s former group, The Animators. There were roughly 30 people on stage singing their hearts out. Elizabeth Ziman of Elizabeth and the Catapult joined Vienna at the piano for the finale.

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The show ended at exactly 1am, five solid hours of incredible spirit and music.

That said, last night really wasn’t about the music, as much as we all may have loved it. It’s about seeing what can be accomplished, in a very short time, by people who are motivated to do something selfless for others. It was wonderful to be the tiniest part of that effort.

Thank you to everyone involved in putting on the show and raising the money, and special thanks for Alex Berger and Ric Agudelo!

ambeR Rubarth, Ian Axel, Greg Holden and Joey Ryan at Tin Angel

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ambeR Rubarth is very good about disseminating information about upcoming shows once they’re set. When she tweeted a couple of months ago that she would be appearing in Philadelphia at Tin Angel with Ian Axel, Greg Holden and Joey Ryan on January 22nd, 2010, we grabbed tickets.

A month later ambeR announced that she, Greg and Joey would be performing on three consecutive weeks at Rockwood Music Hall in a January Residency. Rockwood is way more convenient, and we though we’d get to see them at least once. Amazingly, we couldn’t contort ourselves enough to make any of those shows, including the last one this past Thursday when Ian Axel guest starred as well.

No worries, we were set for last night, and had been to Tin Angel once before and knew we liked the place.

The gang of four had a bit of trouble with their GPS so we were actually seated right next to the stage as they scrambled in (about 25 minutes before show time). They did their sound checks and disappeared into the green room to catch their breaths for a few minutes.

Only six minutes late (7:36pm), they came back on stage and announced that they would be playing the show in the round, taking turns doing songs. We have grown particularly fond of that format from all of the CMA Songwriters shows that we attend at Joe’s Pub.

Greg Holden kicked it off with Joey Ryan doing a song we really love. They debuted the song on YouTube and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve listened to it, but it’s dozens (we sing it out loud in the car a lot).

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After that the order was Ian Axel, ambeR Rubarth, Joey Ryan and back to Greg again, etc. Each of them knows all of the music of the others so well, that there was quite a bit of support during most songs (harmonies, Ian playing piano for the others and the others playing guitar for Ian). They all sing harmony beautifully.

We’ve seen a number of our favorite keyboard players on real pianos and on electronic keyboards. While a good electronic keyboard and a good sound system can sound nearly identical to a top piano, the obvious difference is that the electronic keyboard can mimic other instruments, or create a more synthesized sound in general.

Last night highlighted a much more significant difference between the two. Greg was about to play one of his songs and Ian was set to accompany him on the piano (electronic variety). Greg turned to Ian and apologized, telling him that he was going to play it one fret down from where they normally do.

I’m sure that there are piano players out there who can transpose a piece in their heads, and nail it. It’s not something I would want to even consider. Ian just smiled and said “No problem!”. He made one tiny adjustment on the keyboards, and transposed electronically, while being able to play in the key he was familiar with. Do that on a real piano! 🙂

They performed four songs each and one all together at the end, making a total of 17 numbers (a superb set, lasting just under 110 minutes!). Song selection was wonderful all around. Now that I’m thinking about it, they might have played five each, for a total of 21, but I wouldn’t swear to it (at least not in court).

Each of them has wonderful stage presence. Greg got the audience to sing along on two of his numbers (including Bar on A, the last one that all four of them did together). Ian felt that he was rambling in introducing a song and said “Perhaps I shouldn’t talk.” The crowd resoundingly implored him to keep talking! 🙂

Here they all are singing Bar on A:

IanAmbeRGregJoeyFinale

ambeR asked for one request, got three separate responses (In the Creases from Lois, Rough Cut and Novacaine). All three choices are awesome, and Lois withdrew her request and ambeR played Rough Cut (one of two songs she played using Ian’s keyboards, which makes me more confident that they played five songs each).

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Ian knocked us out as he has from the first time we saw him. For his third number he played his current sensation, the title cut from his new CD called This is the New Year. You can lift your spirit by watching this YouTube video of This is the New Year. It has over 39,000 views already (Lois swears she doesn’t account for more than 1,000 of them) 😉 though she has sent the link to everyone she knows, and all of these views are just in one month!

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Greg Holden sang the part that Chad Vaccarino normally sings. Greg did a fantastic job, but I admit that my ears are attuned to hearing Chad’s voice in that spot, and it took me a few seconds to adjust.

Our friend @HappyBee3 saw the show the night before in Rockwood and told us that she was moved to tears when Ian sang Say Something. Last night he performed it too, on the ukulele (like he did the night before), but ambeR, Greg and Joey all sang harmony with him. The song is moving enough, but with 4-part harmony, all the more!

ambeRGregIanJoey

After Ian sang Gone (another moving song), Lois was nearly in tears (notice the trend from the night before?). Then Amber took to Ian’s keyboards and performed a song we hadn’t heard her play live before, and Lois achieved real tears. They all joked that Joey better pick a more up-beat song. He asked whether a song about cancer would qualify? In other words, lots of deeply emotional lyrics last night.

Joey Ryan is the only one that we hadn’t seen perform (he’s based in L.A.). He has a really beautiful voice, with an extraordinary range for a guy. He sings in the lower registers when it’s his song (for the most part), but he hits incredibly high notes, very cleanly, when he harmonizes with Greg and ambeR.

JoeyRyan

Joey plays the guitar beautifully, finger picking a storm. He writes complex lyrics that I’ll have to listen to a number of times until they’re ingrained. Toward that end, we bought both Joey’s brand new EP, Kenter Canyon and his previous full-length CD, With its Roots Above and its Branches Below. I’m listening now while typing this. Lovely! 🙂

We already own Greg Holden’s CD and EP, and Ian’s EP and CD, and ambeR’s CD/EP and The Paper Raincoat EP/CD as well. 🙂

Lois picked up a second Ian Axel T-Shirt last night. She was wearing her green one and bought a purple one.

While all four have great stage presence and are all pretty funny, I have to give a shout out to Joey for being the driest of them. He delivers his wit so soft-spokenly, so understated, expressionless (most times), that you might be tempted to think he was being serious. Don’t fall for it! He’s just flat out clever, funny and quick!

We didn’t worry whether it would be worth the long round-trip drive. What we couldn’t be sure of was how great this particular show would be. It was excellent in every respect.

All four of them were on for each of their songs, all four meshed together perfectly. The venue is intimate. The sound was perfect, with one notable exception. For a good part of the evening, they couldn’t get the feedback from ambeR’s guitar pickups to stop. It wasn’t that distracting for us, but ambeR was a trooper for plowing through it!

The audience was exceptional as well. They knew these artists well even though none are from Philly, were quiet during the songs but really loud and long in their applause after each number. They also lined up at the merch table afterward to buy stuff and say hi. It felt good to be part of it. Thanks Philly fans, you too made the drive worthwhile!

But wait, there’s more!

The drive down was spectacular. We were bathed in a stunning and seemingly never-ending sunset.

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We ate dinner at Serrano, the excellent restaurant below Tin Angel. If you have a dinner reservation, they hold a table for you at Tin Angel above. The food and service at Serrano is so good (both times we were there) that we wouldn’t consider going to Tin Angel without dining at Serrano first.

Lucky for us, we’ll see all four of theses wonderful musicians this Monday night (Jan 25th) at City Winery, where they are part of a spectacular lineup of indie artists who are putting on a benefit to raise money for Haiti.

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at City Winery

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I decided to label this post Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at City Winery because we specifically went to see them. They were part of a lineup in one of many Showcase performances during the 4-day APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) Conference.

I’ll cover everyone who appeared on stage, which will make this another very long post. I’ll summarize all of the performances first and then get more detailed.

Third in the lineup, but first in our hearts (before and after the show) were Vienna Teng and Alex Wong. They were extraordinary in every respect.

Closing the show was WPA (Works Progress Administration). They were completely engaging, played the longest set of the night, and were the only ones permitted to return for an encore. They are all wonderful musicians.

Jeff Daniels was the MC for the evening, but a musical one at that. He picked his acoustic guitar with fury and purpose, sang wonderfully, and kept everyone laughing (through his songs and stories) every second he was on stage. He opened the show, and came on between every act.

Grant Lee Phillips rounded out the lineup, appearing after Jeff’s opening numbers. He has an excellent voice, plays the guitar really well and was accompanied by a piano/midi player, creating quite a full sound. There was a lot to enjoy about his performance, but it didn’t entrance me.

Excruciating details to follow. If you found this space because you searched for your particular favorite artist, just skip down appropriately. I’ll cover them in the same order I summarized them above.

A month ago we saw Vienna and Alex for the first time at Joe’s Pub. I covered that show in this very long post. While the character of the show last night was very different, every word I wrote in the Joe’s Pub post still applies, and our awe of both Vienna and Alex (independently!) continues to grow.

A brief recap of their respective strengths:

Vienna has an angelic voice which she can modulate over a large range. In addition to hitting high and low notes, she modulates ferocity, singing in a near whisper at times and belting it out at others.

She writes songs that move you both lyrically and musically. Armed with those attack vectors, one or both will be sure to knock you down and keep you riveted throughout her performance.

She is unreal on the piano. We couldn’t imagine a world without her voice and lyrics, except that when she’s only playing the piano, one can easily forget that there’s more to appreciate and explore.

ViennaTengPiano

She’s also easy on the eyes, so there’s no need to scan the room to keep your visual interest either. 😉

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Alex is talented on so many levels it’s hard to capture in a “brief recap” of his strengths. At the core (for me) is his spiritual connection with the music, which he captures and conveys to the audiences in whatever instrument he happens to be playing (and he plays so many, it’s mind-boggling).

AlexWongWaterphone AlexWongDrums AlexWongGlockenspielDrums AlexWongGuitar

We discovered Vienna through our love of Alex’s other project, The Paper Raincoat. In The Paper Raincoat, Alex plays a variety of instruments but leaves the drumming to the amazing Adam Christgau.  While Alex plays a number of instruments in support of Vienna, he’s mostly a percussionist, adding depth and coloring the mood of Vienna’s masterpieces.

Alex sings well, mostly in haunting harmonies with Vienna, but occasionally some leads as well.

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The above recaps their generic strengths all of which they exhibited at last night’s show. They put together a great one-hour set with a wide range of styles (nailing the concept of a Showcase).

They produce a sound that is unimaginably big for only two people. I described one of the techniques that they use in my last post, looping their voices and instruments to create layers and self-harmonies. They took it to another level last night.

When they played The Last Snowfall (the first cut from their current CD, Inland Territory), Alex took over the piano duties and Vienna just sang. I put just sang in italics because Vienna looped her voice multiple times. At the end of the song, she was singing four part harmony. I am not kidding. It was stunningly beautiful.

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I think I took her aback when I joked after the show that I was expecting five or six part harmony. Not everyone immediately gets my sense of humor. 😉

ViennaTengMelodica

Similarly, Alex often loops the drum sounds. While it certainly sounds like multiple drummers (in perfect unison), it’s actually much more interesting than just multiple drummers (a sound I love, used by The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead for example). Alex achieves the feel of echoes in a completely seamless manner.

Expecting this kind of technical pyrotechnics in a studio is one thing. Experiencing performers doing this live on stage, in real-time, with zero margin for error, is astounding. I’ve seen a few people use looping techniques on stage (all to good effect), but none that raise it to a very art form like Vienna and Alex. Bravo!

Once again Vienna closed the set with the electrifying Grandmother Song (also on the Inland Territory CD). This is the only other number that she didn’t play the piano on. If I need to give more detail than the word electrifying, you need to break out your dictionary and help yourself a bit. 🙂

ViennaTengGrandmotherSong

If we only saw their one-hour set, we would have been completely satisfied at the value we received for our ticket price and our night out!

The couple who sat next to us are big fans of Vienna and Alex (so we know they have good taste in music) 😉 and they were telling us how great WPA are, so I was pumped up to see them perform.

There are three core members of WPA and others slide in and out at various times. It’s theoretically a side project for all of them, but it seems to be a stable one, with a potentially long future.

In the center is Glen Phillips, former lead singer of Toad the Wet Sprocket. Good voice, great stage presence, good guitar playing (one of the few people who occasionally finger picks on an electric guitar).

GlenPhillips

On the left is Luke Bulla on the fiddle and vocals. We’ve seen Luke twice before, both times with the Jerry Douglas band. Luke also plays with Lyle Lovett! He is a major talent on the fiddle and he showed it off a number of times last night. He has a good voice too, singing lead and harmonizing with the others. Luke also played one number on the guitar, which he wrote.

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On the right is Sean Watkins on acoustic guitar and vocals. I’ve never seen Sean perform before, but I am very familiar with him. He was 1/3 of Nickel Creek, one of my favorite groups (I own all of their CDs). Sean is an excellent flat picker and has a really good and distinctive voice. Even though the rest of the sound is not Nickel Creek like (due to the absence of the mind-boggling Chris Thile on Mandolin), whenever Sean was singing lead and taking the lead on the guitar, I could hear his Nickel Creek roots, and I loved every second of it.

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The three of them trade off singing lead and in all cases harmonize together beautifully, in pairs and all three together.

Backing them up last night was a very good bassist, Sebastian Steinberg and on the drums, Jerry Roe. The two of them supported Glen, Luke and Sean very well, keeping the beat lively and interesting.

SebastianSteinberg JerryRoe

Clearly they are all excellent musicians who sing well. We also happen to like that general sound (a blend of Bluegrass and Rock). What particularly tickled me is their lyrical irreverence. Many of the songs that they sing are flat out funny. They are having a great time on stage, and it’s infectious.

One example (of many) is a song that Sean sings about loving a girl who didn’t return his affection. He later finds out she’s a lesbian. He laments:

Everyone’s a little queer, why couldn’t you be a little straight?

Update: Check the comment from Alex Wong who corrects me and points out that the above-mentioned song is by Weezer, called Pink Triangle!

They closed the encore with an upbeat version (nice Bluegrass kick) of Bob Dylan’s You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Sean sung lead and played a wicked guitar throughout). It was an awesome way to end an awesome night out.

Jeff Daniels (yes, the famous actor) was perfect as MC. He plays the guitar in a hard-charging fingers-flying blues-style picking way. He sings remarkably well. But, crushing that is the fact that he’s hysterical and natural on the stage.

JeffDaniels1

He played two numbers each of the three times he was on stage, effectively having a nice full set for himself as well, even though it was spaced out. All of the songs were funny. One was spoken (a long, wildly entertaining true story about a family vacation). Even the spoken one felt like a song, because Jeff was picking madly the entire time (how he didn’t lose his concentration on either the story or the guitar is beyond me!), which created a beat to the story.

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He was also very kind to us before the show. Lois asked if she could take his picture (we were there early enough to catch the tail end of his sound check). Not only did he immediately say yes, but he suggested that she get in the picture and that I take it. Then, while Lois and I both started to stand up, he said “Don’t move, I can just as easily bend!”, and indeed he did. 🙂

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I have no doubt that we would both jump at the chance to see Jeff perform again. No other acts need to be on the bill!

After Jeff opened the show, Grant Lee Phillips came out. He was accompanied by Jamie Edwards on the piano and midi (sorry, I couldn’t find a good individual link for Jamie). Jamie did an excellent job of complementing Grant’s excellent guitar play, creating a rich sound between them. He also sang a bit of harmony.

Grant has a good voice, and I liked the sound/feel of his music. Unfortunately, that’s where it ended for me. I found myself drifting and unable to concentrate on his lyrics (so I’m not saying they aren’t good, I just don’t know, they didn’t rope me in). Each of the songs felt a bit too long as well. Again, for songs that I love, longer is better, so something was a tad off for me.

GrantLeePhillipsSettingUp GrantLeePhillips

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In between songs, Grant had my full attention. He’s very quick and very funny. Any tiny mishap on stage was immediately turned into an opportunity to entertain the crowd with his wit. I was very impressed with his stage presence.

In total, this was a very long show, lasting 220 minutes! Give me more Showcases, please! 🙂

Not to be lost in all of the above is that City Winery is absolutely gorgeous. The second we walked in the door we were drawn to look at every nook and cranny of this brilliantly designed space.

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Dinner is meant to be semi-tapas style, or in general, shared. Everything we sampled was excellent, so theoretically, no problem. The one potential problem (that we avoided) is that the tables for four are quite small. If another couple was also sharing at the same time, it would have been unpleasant at best, and impossible at worst. Because we’re always super early, we finished eating long before the other couple was seated, and they got to eat without worrying about us either.

This is a real winery, not just in name. In addition to serving excellent wines (I thoroughly enjoyed my glass of Petite Syrah), they also make their own! This is a place we will be attending many more times, no doubt!

One small-world story to top off the night. For a few months, we had targeted a different show for last night. We have never seen Del McCoury and he was scheduled to play at BB King last night. I can’t explain why I didn’t grab tickets right away, but I didn’t.

A month ago I heard about mandolin phenom Sarah Jarosz. Then I found out she was opening for Del McCoury. To top it off, so was Marty Stuart. My excitement for this show was almost uncontainable. Still, I didn’t buy tickets. Why? I had no idea at the time, but I know now that I wasn’t meant to.

A week later I received an alert that Vienna Teng and Alex Wong were playing at City Winery that same night. Believe it or not, my mind failed to make the connection that it was the same night. I asked Lois and she instantly said “Grab tickets!”. I did.

Literally five minutes later, I turned to her and said “Uh oh, that was the same night that we were planning on seeing Del, Sarah and Marty!”. When I saw her flinch, I thought I should see if I could find someone to take the City Winery tickets off our hands, and still get the tickets for the BB King show. Lois said no, we love Vienna and Alex, let’s just keep things the way they are.

Obviously, we’ll never know how much we would have loved that show, but we know how much we loved the one we were obviously destined to see. 🙂

Update: Oops. I left out the small world part of the above story. Luke Bulla introduced a song that he sang last night as one he has been singing since he was a kid. It was a Del McCoury song. He never mentioned that Del was playing two miles north in Times Square at that exact moment. Perhaps he didn’t even know.

Cherish the Ladies Christmas Show at Towne Crier Cafe

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Last night we finally got to scratch a 20-month itch, seeing Cherish the Ladies again in concert. They performed a Christmas show at Towne Crier Cafe, the place where we first saw them in April 2008, covered in detail in this post.

We love Cherish the Ladies (CTL), we love Towne Crier Cafe and we love Christmas music. A win/win/win, not just in theory, but executed perfectly last night, even though the Nor’easter tried to thwart CTL from making it (they were in Providence, RI the night before, and were nearly snowed in!).

Every member of CTL is a world-class musician. You should really look them up individually, their accomplishments are impressive. Together, they make magic. In addition to playing traditional Irish music (and last night, Christmas songs), they also write new songs that have the feel of traditional Irish music, but have just the right amount of originality to keep everything fresh.

The two women who started CTL, Joanie Madden and Mary Coogan will be celebrating 25 years of playing together on January 5th, 2010. Wow. Joanie is as entertaining a personality as you could ever want on stage (and off!).

They played mostly Christmas music last night, but that included an original or two, plus some non-traditional arrangements of some classics. All beautiful, played to a very appreciative crowd (which included a few of Joanie’s brothers, and her mother). In fact, her brother John sat in on four numbers and played the drums. One of the rarest of times that CTL has had a drum set on stage with them!

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Their current CD is called A Star in the East and they played many songs from it last night.

Sitting left to right on the stage:

Joanie Madden (OK, standing the entire time) plays all manner of flute, whistles, recorders, etc. She’s a genius on all of them. She sings a bit of harmony, very well. She’s the MC, keeping the action moving all night, making everyone laugh, and bringing an energy to the performance that doesn’t seem sustainable, yet she delivers that energy each and every time.

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Mary Coogan plays guitar, beautifully. She took a few solos, most notably What Child is This / Greensleeves. Absolutely gorgeous!

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Roisin Dillon on fiddle. She is absolutely incredible. One of the few fiddle players who sits the entire performance, and actually barely moves (you can see the bow move, of course, but otherwise, her play appears entirely effortless!). When Joanie and Roisin play harmony together (Joanie on the whistle or flute, and Roisin on fiddle, it’s truly heavenly).

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Mirella Murphy on accordion. Mirella is also an extraordinary musician. In addition to winning many accolades and competitions herself, 22 of her students have won gold medals on the accordion, and she’s but a kid herself! Like Roisin, her accordion playing appears entirely effortless.

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Kathleen Boyle (KT) sits behind the others playing piano, wonderfully. She played a song that she wrote that was fantastic. No good shot of her at the piano, because it’s buried in the back of the stage, and her back was to us the entire evening.

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Michelle Burke is the lead vocalist. Michelle has a gorgeous voice. She joined CTL just before we saw them 20 months ago. In fact that night was only her second performance with them. She was great that night, but last night she was obviously more comfortable and more integrated into the group and the set. Of course, singing traditional Christmas songs can bring out the best, and Michelle did a terrific job, including getting all of us to sing along a number of times.

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After the show we bought a copy of A Star in the East and got Joanie to sign it. A wonderful evening in every respect, including the always tasty (and spicy!) food at Towne Crier Cafe. Looking forward to our next visit there already. 🙂

CherishTheLadiesBow

New Thanksgiving Tradition

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Last year I reported on our first-ever trip to Birmingham, AL, for Thanksgiving with our godson David. It’s now officially a tradition, which is likely to extend at least through next year. Once again, the real parents went north and spent Thanksgiving with Laura and Chris.

We repeated the general pattern from last year, but there were enough differences that are worth mentioning. Last year we spent Tuesday night in Durham, picked Wes up early Wednesday, and drove to Birmingham. In doing so, we got caught in horrendous Atlanta traffic, where we moved less than 1/4 of a mile in one two hour period.

In order to avoid that, we picked Wes up on Tuesday afternoon, and drove a few hours to Gastonia, NC, hoping to pass through Atlanta before the crush. That worked, as we had perhaps a 20 minute delay in Atlanta this time. But, it afforded us another surprise.

We got to meet Wes’ dad for dinner at a Sonny’s BBQ right outside of Charlotte. He’s a great guy and a wonderful host (he wouldn’t even let us leave the tip, and believe me, we tried hard!). The food was outstanding but the company was better. I spent most of the time chatting with Wes and his dad, and Lois split her time talking to us and to two lovely young ladies who were visiting from Texas.

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We arrived in Birmingham at 1:30pm and checked into a Hampton Inn. David was still working at the hospital, so Lois and I logged on and caught up with email. Wes wasn’t feeling too well, and he sacked out on the big chair in the room. We tried to be quiet, not necessarily all that effectively.

David called at 4:30 to say he was on his way home, and we met him there at 5pm. After a hug (or two), we headed for dinner at P.F. Chang’s. We had a truly spectacular meal there (not that we’ve ever had a bad meal at any Chang’s). Shortly after returning to David’s, the old folks called it a night and let the kids catch up (Wes stayed at David’s, as he did last year).

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Last year, David worked the morning of Thanksgiving, but was home by noon. This year he was on a 30-hour call (in the ICU), so weren’t going to see him until Friday afternoon. That alone accounted for the biggest difference in the schedule from last year, when David was on a 30-hour call from Friday morning through Saturday afternoon.

After watching a bit of pro football with Wes on TG day, we headed for TG dinner at McCormick and Schmicks, one of the few places open in Birmingham on TG day. We moved our reservations up from 6pm to 2pm. The restaurant is gorgeous, everyone there (including our waitress) was gracious, efficient, and in excellent spirits (even though they had to work on TG day).

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Last year, we had TG dinner at Ruth’s Chris and we all opted for steak rather than a traditional meal (which was available). Without discussing it in advance, both Wes and I decided to order a traditional TG meal, taking advantage of the fact that we were going to Ruth’s Chris on Friday evening this year. It was superb. As good as the turkey was, all of the surrounding trimmings were incredible.

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Lois and I had the best cappuccinos of our lives as well, but not without a moment of hesitation. When we ordered the cappuccinos, we were asked a question we had never heard before: “Do you want them wet or dry?”

Huh? We asked what the difference was, and were told that wet was more milk, less foam, and dry was less milk, more foam. We took them wet, and you already know what we thought of the result. 🙂

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For the rest of the weekend, Lois proceeded to mis-pronounce the name of the restaurant, in a dozen different ways, always substituting a different second name after McCormick (which she got right every time). After seven different attempts, the one that seemed to stick with her (and which Wes and I started repeating consistently) was “McCormick and Schlitz”! 😉

It was this year’s version of Obie Snoods. If you don’t know what that inside joke means, then your life doesn’t revolve around my blog. Shame on you! 😉

Hint: type “Obie Snoods” into Google or Bing and click on the first link!

We stopped at CVS on the way back to the apartment and picked up a few items, including two DiGiorno pizzas. We watched football the rest of the afternoon, worked a bit on the laptops and indeed ate some pizza later that night. A very relaxing day highlighted by a truly wonderful meal.

On Friday morning, Lois and I did what any good godparents would do. We drove to Hoover, AL to the nearest Costco and shopped for David to stock up every nook and cranny in his apartment and fridge. Success. David actually beat us back to the apartment, and was able to help us carry the bounty upstairs.

We ate the rest of the DiGiorno for lunch and then settled in to watch Alabama beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl (Roll Tide!). When the game was over we were joined by David’s friend Rebecca and the five of us headed over to Ruth’s Chris. We had a very private table in the atrium, probably because most people were somehow involved with Iron Bowl travels or festivities.

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Another great Ruth’s Chris meal, with lots of laughs, very unhurried by our excellent waiter. We were there over two hours, including forcing dessert on everyone (OK, everyone except for Lois, who can resist the mightiest of dessert forces!). After dropping the kids back off, we said a quick goodnight and headed back to collapse in the hotel.

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David was off on Saturday. We picked David and Wes up and had brunch at V. Richards. Another excellent meal! Better yet, outdoors! Last year, a cold rain prevailed throughout the TG weekend, and it was miserable to be outdoors. This year, nearly 70 degrees. If I get a vote for next year’s weather, I choose to duplicate this year’s, not last…

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From there we headed to Vulcan Park and walked around a bit. Of course, we made it back to the apartment in time to watch the Florida game, ensuring a battle of the wills between David and Wes the following week in the SEC Championship game, now history. I’ll leave that topic alone, to not inflame the bad feelings any more than necessary…

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When that game was over, we headed back to Hoover, AL, straight to the Sprint store. We bought David an HTC Hero (Android phone) for Christmas/Birthday. We’re now officially Android buddies since I got a Droid as a gift a week earlier (I’ll be blogging about that separately, likely tomorrow).

From the Sprint store we headed to Jim ‘N Nicks for dinner where we met up with Rebecca. The meal lived up to my expectations of my previous Jim ‘N Nicks meal in downtown Birmingham, even though the atmosphere in the downtown one is dramatically more upscale.

I was wearing one of my 100 Python T-Shirts, and one of the waiters (not ours) walked by and said “Python Rocks!”. It does, and you never know where you’ll find a fan! 🙂

After dinner we scurried over to the movie theater and caught a late showing (by our standards) of Blind Side. All five of us enjoyed the movie thoroughly.

On Sunday morning David was back to work bright and early. We picked Wes up and headed to Briarwood Presbyterian Church for the 10:55am service. Rebecca was playing in a brass quintet that was being featured throughout the service (she plays French Horn). They played their first-ever public performance in the earlier service. If there were any glitches to be worked out, they pulled it off by the time we heard them. They were wonderful!

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The church is one of the most magnificent that I’ve seen, and the congregation couldn’t have been friendlier or more welcoming. In a surprise, David got off work earlier than he expected, and joined us just minutes into the service.

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Here’s a very small world side story. When we were driving back to David’s from our Friday morning Costco run, I noticed a stunning building on the opposite side of the highway. It was labeled “Comprehensive Cancer Center”. I asked David about it, and he said that he didn’t know about that particular building.

When we returned from the movies the next night, we drove the same route, and when I pointed the building out to David, he said that he was pretty sure it was part of the UAB Hospital system (an outpost).

Well, it turns out that it’s at the base of the Briarwood Presbyterian Church grounds, so we drove right by the front door of CCC on the way in and out. When I mentioned it to David originally, I had never heard of Briarwood, hadn’t met Rebecca yet, and therefore had no idea that I’d be visiting that Church on Sunday…

After the service we drove to Firebirds restaurant (in three separate cars) and had yet another wonderful meal. One of the most flavorful burgers I’ve had in a while! After the meal we said goodbye to Rebecca who was off to play another service in Jasper, AL that evening. Not bad to have three gigs on your first day in a new brass quintet! 🙂

The boys headed back to the apartment, and we headed back to Costco (right around the corner from the restaurant) to replenish the incredible amount of Propel that the boys had gone through in just two days!

We hung around the apartment until dinner time, when Lois and David went out to pick up Dave’s Pizza. Wes talked us all into trying Pepperoni and Jalapeño pizza. It was a little hotter than he recalled his previous encounter, but it was quite good nonetheless. 🙂

Again we left on the early side, especially knowing that we were aiming for a very early start the next morning.

We arrived at David’s at 6:40am to pick up Wes, just in time to say goodbye to David on his way to the hospital. We drove to Atlanta in non-stop rain (nearly blinding at times). We stopped for brunch in Atlanta and met some friends at a really cool out-of-the-way place called Sun In My Belly. A great meal, with great company and an hour and twenty minutes later we were back on the road.

With a very few breaks in the rain (notably, including the two times we had to walk in the Sun In My Belly parking lot!), we drove the rest of the way to Durham to drop Wes off, then drove the remaining 3.5 hours back to Fredericksburg.

Another fantastic Thanksgiving weekend. We’re already looking forward to next year! 🙂

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at Joe’s Pub

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We got the briefest taste of Vienna Teng a few months ago when she was a guest performer at ambeR Rubarth’s CD Release Party, also at Joe’s Pub. The minute Vienna announced last night’s show we grabbed tickets (more on that later).

Alex Wong is well-known to us and I’ve written about him a number of times already (most often for his work in The Paper Raincoat).

Since this will likely get long (Hadar, do you ever write anything short and sweet?), I’ll spare those of you with little patience and give you the bottom line:

Vienna Teng is now officially on our stalkerazi list!

English translation: we will be following her around and trying to attend as many shows as possible. We’ll also be buying the rest of her CDs (we only own the most recent one, Inland Territory, which is awesome!).

Vienna is an all-around talent that can mesmerize on any individual level. Her piano playing is among the best we’ve seen live. If that’s all she did, we would still go see her often.

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Her voice? Extraordinary! Clarity, range, power, emotional conveyance, variety, the works! If she sang a capella all night, we would still go see her often.

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Songwriting? Exceptional! Deep, thoughtful lyrics. Wide range of topics. If she wasn’t a great musician, and didn’t sing so beautifully, we would still go to see her often for the quality of her songwriting.

Stage Presence? Wonderful! Vienna is warm and engaging, and comes across as natural as you could want from a performer. Her banter with Alex is excellent as well. She’s a natural story-teller. If all she did was tell stories, we would still go to see her often.

She’s working hard to master the guitar. I have little doubt that when she feels ready to perform in public, we’ll feel as graced as we do by her piano playing.

She’s beautiful too (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). 😉

Alex Wong is master of all music. He does a bit of everything as part of The Paper Raincoat (guitar, percussion, glockenspiel, keyboards, vocals, songwriting), so it would have been hard for him to surprise us last night.

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When he plays with Vienna, he’s mostly a percussionist/drummer (superb), though he did play the guitar on at least two numbers. Of course, he sings beautiful harmonies with Vienna, but he takes more of a back seat than he does with ambeR and The Paper Raincoat.

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Ward Williams joined them for three songs, playing both cello and electric guitar (singing on one of those numbers).

Kevin Rice joined during the encore to play a snare drum, making for two drummers on the one song. It was a great sound. After the show, Alex told me that Kevin was the original drummer with The Paper Raincoat.

While there were never more than three people on the stage at the same time, they create a much larger sound. Both Vienna and Alex, independently, use loop machines to do that.

In the very first song, after Vienna sang one verse, she looped her voice back and sang stunning harmony with herself! Alex did similar things with the drums, laying down an intricate beat, then looping it and playing/dancing in and around that beat. Vienna also did that with the piano on occasion, altering it to a more electronica type sound, then accompanying that with a normal piano sound which she played live. Excellent, all around.

Last night was one of four shows that will be used to create a new Live CD. We can’t wait to buy it. 🙂

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That’s the end of what I have to say about the show, but nowhere near the end of what I have to say about the evening. So, take another sip of coffee, take a deep breath, and settle in for the more personal aspects that made for a special evening last night. 🙂

I’ve written a couple of times about our serendipitous discovery of The Paper Raincoat (originally covered here). That started a chain of events which has caused us to discover a number of amazing NY-based musicians, a few of whom have become friends in addition to people we enjoy seeing perform.

We can now safely add Vienna as one such musician/performer, and hopefully, after stalking her a bit more, a friend too. 😉

The glue in this new chain is a superb singer/songwriter/keyboard player in his own right, Alex Berger. I connected with him when he put up a video of ambeR, Alex Wong and Vienna performing In the Creases at Joe’s Pub (that first time we saw Vienna). I started following Alex on Twitter (@bergeralex) and the rest is history.

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Through Alex, we discovered a dozen artists that we really like. One of them is the incredibly talented Amy Rivard. We invited Amy, along with two other friends (both of whom are Broadway musicians) to join us for the show last night, and the five of us had a wonderful time (and a wonderful meal) together.

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Amy was kind enough to agree to sing on my Tonight Show Tribute song/video collaboration with another amazing keyboardist, Ben Schwartz. Here’s a link to the YouTube Video.

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Alex Berger was at the show last night as well, and we were really happy to catch up with him afterward. Run and pre-order his upcoming CD (we are honored to have been the first people to pre-order). The brilliant Alex Wong produced Alex Berger’s CD!

Looping back to my comment about buying tickets for this show, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs talking about the difficulty and opportunities in the music business, using last night’s show as the spark and one specific example.

The best part of the current situation in the music world is that anyone (literally) can get heard. You can make reasonable quality recordings pretty cheaply and even get your music distributed for free. For more money (and time), but still much less than in the past, you can produce stunning quality recordings.

The worst part of the current situation is that while you can get your stuff out there, how do you build an audience to listen to it, let alone even find it. The signal-to-noise ratio is very low.

Obviously, not all (or even most) of the people who would like to make a living as musicians deserve to. But, the number who deserve to is still staggeringly large compared to the number who actually achieve that.

If you have major talent, the only reliable way to grind out a living (and it’s a huge grind, no matter how much you enjoy performing) is to tour a ton. It’s important to be creative, both to build a loyal following and to maximize their financial support toward your livelihood.

This is another area where The Paper Raincoat (and ambeR individually) and Vienna Teng have impressed us (and therefore have gotten our additional financial support).

In the case of ambeR’s new CD and The Paper Raincoat’s new CD (both superb efforts!), they offered multiple levels of pre-ordering, with each level delivering something additional and special to thank you for your patronage. It wasn’t just stuff (which would have been good enough), but generally had a creative flair, a personal touch, or something otherwise special as well.

I’ve posted photos in a previous entry, but in ambeR’s case, she hand-made boxes to house the pre-ordered CDs. The Paper Raincoat (at the highest level), included T-Shirts, Posters and a 4GB USB bracelet. The USB device had 330MB of goodies on it. Videos from a live show, a video thank you and a video of a practical joke.

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More amazingly (to me) was their inclusion of all of the songs on the CD as instrumentals. For those of us who love to sing along to their songs, we can do so without being distracted by them! Can you say Karaoke Party? 😉

Both Paper Raincoat and ambeR sent download links to the full CD the minute it was available, to anyone who pre-ordered. That put their music in the fans hands long before the physical CD packaging was done and available. Again, a very classy touch!

All three (ambeR, The Paper Raincoat and Vienna Teng) have used the amazing artist Diana Ho to produce artwork (for the posters and/or CD covers).

So, what did Vienna do last night to give more value, and get rewarded for it (both in loyalty and in dollars)? She offered a VIP package for the late show (she played two sets at Joe’s Pub last night).

The VIP package included a bunch of goodies, but I think the real hook was a private dessert and coffee get-together with Vienna and Alex after the show. Only 30 VIP tickets were offered. We grabbed two the second we saw Vienna’s Tweet (another reason to follow the artists you like!). The next morning, all 30 VIP packages were sold out!

Here are their Twitter addresses:

@viennateng (obvious)

@highceilings (not as obvious, Alex Wong)

@ambeRRubarth (obvious)

@paper_raincoat (you get it by now…)

After the show, we hung around and talked to a bunch of people.

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We even got to play Roadies a bit, carrying out some equipment to their van after the schmoozing was done. But in a surprise to all involved (Lois and I included), we realized that it would be imprudent to push the night as late as we had the night before, so we ended up not joining the after-show festivities.

Did we feel cheated? Did we feel like we over-spent on the VIP package? Not even for a second! We were thrilled to have supported Vienna and Alex, and to have had the choice to go if we hadn’t been so tired.

We spent today listening to Vienna’s music. The CD we own, her website (which has a button to play Radio VT on the home page), and listening to some live shows in the Internet Archive site. We loved every second of it. 🙂

P.S. As if I needed any additional reason to want to hang out with Vienna, but she appeals to the geek in me as well. She worked as a programmer at Cisco for two years before turning to a career in music. So, I could find things to talk about with her beyond our current obsession with live music…

Amber Rubarth and Adam Levy at Jammin Java

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If you’ve been here before, you know we’re big fans of ambeR Rubarth both as a solo artist, and as part of The Paper Raincoat. It’s no big surprise that we would try to arrange our schedule to catch one of her shows.

What’s a bit of a surprise was trying to arrange our schedule to see her in another state (not NY), and using the opportunity to surprise her as well! We’ve been on the road for a bit longer than usual, having spent Thanksgiving in Birmingham, AL. We could have gotten home a day or two earlier, but chose to work in VA those days to catch ambeR and Adam Levy at Jammin’ Java.

We had heard good things about the venue, so we were interested in checking that out as well. ambeR and Adam were opening for Brooke Waggoner, whom I will say a few words about at the end.

We were expecting ambeR and Adam to be playing together for their entire set, because they are touring in promotion of their new EP. That’s not what happened. ambeR came out first, with her guitar. She did a solo set for 30 minutes. Fantastic!

We’ve seen ambeR a number of times now, and have loved every show. For the most part, she has been accompanied by at least two other musicians. I have mentioned in those posts that while she arranges most of the music, she is so strong on her own that the others are gravy to her meatloaf. Last night, the meatloaf was cooked to perfection. 🙂

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There was a 13-minute intermission after ambeR’s set, then Adam came out and did a wonderful set. We have only seen Adam once before, performing a duet with ambeR at Joe’s Pub during ambeR’s CD Release party. That was great, but seeing Adam command the stage himself was a real treat.

He has a terrific voice, writes excellent songs, and plays the guitar particularly well. He takes nice/tasty leads at least once every song, and they are always welcome.

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Toward the end of his set he invited ambeR to join him for his last two numbers. Both were excellent, and included the song they performed at Joe’s Pub, Washing Day, which they performed as well (if not better) than they did at Joe’s. Including his time with ambeR, Adam was on stage for a little over 30 minutes.

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After a nine minute break, Brooke Waggoner came out. She sings and plays electric keyboards. She is really incredible on the keyboards, playing many styles and sounds (from classical piano, to funky electronica beats, with jazzy sounds in between).

She has a really good voice too. We weren’t drawn in by the lyrics themselves, so I can’t comment on how good a songwriter she is. In any event, her voice complements the keyboards, or vice versa, so no problem either way.

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Including a one-song encore, which she seemed a tad reluctant to return for, she was on stage for a little over an hour.

Jammin’ Java is a really nice place, and my Chili was superb. It is now squarely on our list of venues to keep an eye on, and take advantage of whenever we are in VA (which is all too often…).

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We were planning on spending the night in a hotel and returning to NYC this morning. Amazingly, I had a burst of energy when we started driving, and we made it all the way to NY, getting to the apartment at 2:25am. Long day, but worth it! 🙂

Spyro Gyra at Blue Note

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I’ve been listening to Smooth Jazz for 30 years. I own nearly all of the CDs/LPs from my favorite performers. Until a few years ago, the only two that I had seen live were Earl Klugh, who I saw in 1981 in Carnegie Hall, and Chuck Mangione at Radio City Music Hall around the same time.

I’ve corrected that by catching shows with Bob James, Acoustic Alchemy, Dave Koz, and others. A few were still missing. At the top of that list were Spyro Gyra and The Rippingtons. I scratched Spyro Gyra off that list last night!

Spyro Gyra played 12 shows on six consecutive nights at the Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC, with the last two shows performed last night. We invited three friends along and the five of us had a fantastic meal at the club before the show.

Spyro Gyra consists of five outstanding musicians, each of whom can carry a show on their own. Their fearless leader is the great Jay Beckenstein, one of the great saxophone players of our time. I also own a solo CD of Jay’s and it too is awesome.

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Julio Fernandez played the guitar and sang a bit (Spyro Gyra is mostly an instrumental group). He was incredible on the guitar, and quite good singing.

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Bobby B played the drums, sang a bit and scatted a bit. While I’m writing this, the link to his bio is blank, but I’ll leave the link in, in case they ever update the page. He was unreal last night. Aside from superb drumming the entire evening, he was a real showman, cracking the crowd up and keeping people on their toes.

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He sang harmony with Julio on one number (gorgeous), and sang solo and scatted on another. He played one entire song solo (the other four guys left the stage) and he enthralled the crowd with one of the longest drum solos (plus some commentary and scatting) I’ve seen in a long while. Simply fantastic.

Scott Ambush played the electric bass. He was great all night. In the second number, he took a brief solo, and I was extremely impressed. I should have waited to gauge him though. A few numbers later, they played the title cut from their newest album Down the Wire (which I don’t own yet, but will shortly!). Scott wrote the song.

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It starts off with an amazing bass solo. Even that wasn’t the peak of Scott’s talent. Late in the song, after all of the other guys have their incredible solos, Scott takes over again, and he just smokes the house down. Seriously, this is one awesome bass player. Totally captivating.

Tom Schuman played electric keyboards. Tom was excellent the entire set and took a number of extraordinary solos. He and Scott are the glue that keeps the background going for Jay and Julio to wail their leads on.

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All together, they were magic, and any nervousness I had in advance of seeing them live for the first time was completely misplaced. They were and are awesome in every respect. They were on stage for exactly 80 minutes. Not the longest set in history, but every note picture perfect.

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Acoustic Alchemy at Birchmere

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Last night was our third time seeing Acoustic Alchemy perform, first time at Birchmere. It was also our third Birchmere show in the past eight days! There were also three of us in our party. Three was a lucky number last night. 🙂

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Our last Acoustic Alchemy show was awesome, and fully covered in this post. I’ve been trying pretty hard lately not to repeat myself too much, so if you want lots of details, please read that post, it really all applies to last night’s show.

They were incredible last night, to a person. The differences were more related to the venue. Birchmere is big (seats 650) and typically produces a better sound than most clubs that we attend. They played a wide selection last night, including a couple of songs from their first CD and sprinklings throughout their catalog (I own all 15 of their CDs!).

I would guesstimate that there were 400+ people in attendance last night. The crowd was made up of huge Jazz lovers, and specifically Acoustic Alchemy lovers. We were sitting four seats from the stage, dead center, and the people around us (who were on line for an hour to get those seats) were super fans.

There were multiple spontaneous standing ovations after particularly amazing guitar solos (mostly from Greg Carmichael). He deserved every one. His partner, Miles Gilderdale, is equally mesmerizing, with a completely different style (night and day different).

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In a heart-breaking moment, Miles told the crowd (many of whom knew) that the band lost someone very dear to all of them over the summer. It was the daughter of the drummer Greg Grainger, Dianne, 24 years old! She was also the niece of the bassist Gary Grainger and the fiancée of the keyboard player, Fred White. Obviously, close friends of Greg and Miles as well. Truly tragic! Miles was choking back serious tears while talking about an upcoming benefit for Dianne.

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We have seen quite a number of great opening acts, sometimes even discovering a new life-long passion (The Paper Raincoat is a recent example). That said, it’s sometimes hit-or-miss as to whether they’re even complementary to the headliner, or good on their own. When they’re good, it adds value to the ticket price. When they’re bad, it drags the evening out, often bringing down your mood even before your beloved band hits the stage.

This week, at two separate shows at Birchmere, the opening bands were outstanding in every respect (Po’ Girl last Sunday, and Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson on Wednesday). Still, when we showed up last night and saw that there would be no opening act, we were thrilled.

First, no gamble on the quality. Second, it was Sunday night, with a work day to follow. Third, we had a one hour drive back to the hotel after the show. All of that meant that a shorter evening was welcome.

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Acoustic Alchemy played for just under two hours, including a two-song encore. The food was excellent (as it always is at Birchmere), and we brought one very special guest with us, who made our evening all the more wonderful (thanks for coming along!). 🙂

Girlyman at Birchmere

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Last night was our 13th time seeing Girlyman live. The last time we saw them was the only time we took no guests. Last night, we set a new record (previously 19 at Highline Ballroom). Including us, we purchased 26 tickets for last night’s show. Two of our expected guests missed their flight in Chicago, so only 24 of us showed up. That worked out, since we sat at two tables for 12, right up against the stage.

Since I’ve written about Girlyman endlessly, I’ll make this one very short (ha, you say!). Last night was the last show on their East Coast CD Release Tour. I think they played 11 out of 12 consecutive nights. Given that, the change of weather, the various colder northern states they played in (we saw them on the opening night of this tour, in Norfolk, CT, and it was 40 degrees that night), it wasn’t a surprise that both Ty and Nate had pretty bad colds. 🙁

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The show was still generally excellent, as excusing a slightly sub-par performance was easy to do. The crowd gave them rousing ovations for every song. The banter was top notch, so their brains weren’t foggy, it was just their throats that were froggy. 😉

They played a long and well-balanced set (songs from the new album, but also songs from the early ones). They were on stage for roughly 100 minutes, including the encore.

I don’t begrudge Girlyman their political views, but Nate couldn’t resist taking a shot at the Bush Years when introducing the song True Enough (a somewhat tongue-in-cheek homage to Obama). I’m just curious as to when Obama supporters will start owning this nation’s problems. It’s so easy to only blame the past, and I’m sure it’s fun. Until you own the problem, you can’t and won’t fix it. Time to follow your most favorite advocacy group, and Move On!

Opening for Girlyman on this tour (with the exception of Joe’s Pub) was Po’ Girl. They were very good at Infinity Hall when we saw them on September 30th. That night, they played a 30 minute set. Last night, they were better, in fact, significantly better. They played a 45 minute set, and while they repeated a few songs (two or three I think), there were a number of new (to us) ones in the mix, and they were all really good.

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While we knew what to expect, none of our guests did. I was overwhelmed (in the most positive sense) by the spontaneous reaction of all of those around me to how awesome they thought Po’ Girl was. The two couples sitting immediately near me both went out and bought a Po’ Girl CD (one during intermission, they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it) and the other one after the show. I think others in our group also bought CDs (both Po’ Girl and Girlyman) after the show.

Everyone thanked us after the show and told us how much they enjoyed it. I’m sure that the entire experience delivered that feeling. The food was excellent (as it always is at the Birchmere), and a number of people commented to me how surprised they were at that (clearly first timers there).

More than half of our party saw Girlyman before (at least once), so they could factor the colds out and still know how awesome Girlyman is (and can be), but I felt a little bad for the first timers, who didn’t quite get to experience the real magic of Girlyman, even though it was still a really good show!

A bunch of shots of a portion of our our gang:

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