Ian Axel at North Star Bar in Philadelphia

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Some days are perfect. Yesterday was one such day. It began with a long call with my mom. While relaxing in the apartment (catching up on the last two episodes of Blue Bloods [great show]), the doorman rang up to say that someone left us a package. A few minutes later, I was tasting some incredible fudge, with exactly the right amount of peanut butter flavor. Heavenly!

After that, we got in the car and headed to Philadelphia. Our good friend Wes moved there last year. For a while now (9+ months!) we’ve been hearing him rave about his lady-friend, Jacklyn. We’ve almost managed to meet her a couple of times, but our collective crazy schedules conspired against it.

When we noticed that Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino were playing in Philly on May 8th, we immediately asked Wes and Jacklyn if they could join us for a leisurely dinner followed by the show. Thankfully, that worked for them, so we were finally going to get to meet Jacklyn. Getting to see Ian and Chad perform, well, no need to tell you how exciting that was for us as well.

The show was at North Star Bar. A quick scan of the menu coupled with the 5pm opening made that the perfect place to get together. I’ll heap additional praise on North Star Bar (NSB) later on as well, but the most important compliment I can give them is their complete and straightforward FAQ. Perhaps it’s because I’m old, but I like knowing what to expect (in advance) when going to a new venue. NSB delivered exactly the experience they said they would. Thanks!

I’ll circle back to the dinner later, as most people clicking on this are coming to find out whether Ian and Chad were their usual awesome selves (spoiler alert: they were!), but for us, meeting Jacklyn was reason enough to make the ride to Philly worthwhile, so I’ll wrap up with that and more on NSB in general.

Ian opened his set solo. This is from memory, so I could be reversing the song order: Leave Me Alone, Afterglow, Gone and Waltz. At each show, Ian seems to get a little more comfortable telling a story before playing a song. More, please! One of those stories preceded the final solo number, Say Something (this time on keyboards).

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After Ian wrote Say Something (an emotionally draining song, which probably gives only the slightest hint as to how emotionally draining the inspiration had to be!), Ian didn’t write another song for a year!

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It seemed fitting that when he called Chad Vaccarino up to the stage the first song they sang together was also the first song they wrote (they co-write most of Ian’s songs) after the year of Say Something was up, You’ll Be OK. Of course, their performance was amazing.

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More important than the performance was the story/transition from despair to hopefulness. Obviously, Ian went through that same transition during that year, but he also conveys it in the songs so that we can have a glimpse of the journey. For those experiencing the emotions in their own lives (most of us have, are or will), it’s much more personal than a glimpse.

Thankfully, Ian experienced it in the correct order and the songs were played in the correct order for us to be left more hopeful. Smile

Ian then invited Julia Nunes up to the stage. Ian switched to the ukulele and the three of them (Ian, Chad and Julia) shared one microphone. They sang Pacific Sun, with Julia taking the second verse lead (Chad normally sings that verse) and all three singing harmony on the chorus.

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Julia joined them for a new twist on Shorty Don’t Wait (one of my favorite songs). Chad sang the lead (as he typically does). Julia took a verse and belted it out wonderfully in a gospel-like voice (can I get an Amen!). Ian also sang lead and all three harmonized together. I loved it, no hesitation or reservation. But, with no disrespect to Julia, I missed Mike Campbell’s guitar playing and his harmony as well.

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After Julia left the stage, Ian and Chad introduced two new songs: Rockstar and Golddigger. Wow! Both are fantastic songs. Add to that the as-yet unrecorded Shorty, You’ll be OK (and an ancient, but still favorite of mine, Home), we’re well on our way to another amazing CD. Let’s get on it guys! Winking smile

They closed their set with This is the New Year, always awesome.

We bought a ton of merch (they have brand new T-Shirts in great colors). Thankfully, they now travel with a Square reader so they can take credit cards on their iPhones. Whew! Smile You can see a few of the T-Shirts hanging on the wall over Chad’s shoulder:

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Talain Rayne opened the show on keyboards and vocals. Talain has a very nice voice and plays the keyboards well. His entire set (the music portion) was pleasant enough. Unfortunately, while I could understand every word when he spoke between the songs, it seemed like he added an accent of sorts when he sang, making many of the words hard to follow.

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I found him to be quite funny between the songs, including plugging his phone into the PA system and calling his mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. Of course, he got her voicemail. All of us in the audience left a message for her. She called back during his last number and we got to say Happy Mother’s Day to her live.

I might have preferred that his whole set be comedy though, since the transitions from the comedy to the music (and back) were a little jarring. I spoke to another audience member who had the opposite reaction. That person felt the transitions were jarring, but wished it was all music and no talk/comedy. In any event, Talain is talented and will likely hit his stride sooner rather than later.

After Ian was done, Julia Nunes took the stage. While we were saying goodbye to Ian and Chad, we caught all of her first number, Maybe I Will. It’s an echo song (call/answer) and the crowd was totally into it, singing their hearts out with her. Nicely done!

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Unfortunately, we left as she started her second song because our garage closes at midnight. We made it back at 11:45pm, so we didn’t have much wiggle room and were thankful that there was significantly less traffic coming home than heading to Philly earlier in the day.

OK, rolling the clock back to 5pm. All four of us arrived minutes before NSB opened the front door. Lois, Wes and Jacklyn went in when the door opened and I went to our car to put away something that Wes gave me.

We like to surprise musicians that we’re friendly with when they play out of town (and therefore have no expectation of seeing us there). That didn’t work out last night. As I was closing the car door, I heard my name shouted out. I looked around and saw Ian in the passenger seat of their car, driving down the side street next to NSB. Oh well, cover blown early. Winking smile

We got to spend over two hours getting to know Jacklyn (a bit). We love her and completely understand why Wes has been raving about her for so long. We swapped life stories over beer (well, Lois had club soda, which looked like clear beer).

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The food at NSB is excellent. I believe it was the owner who told us that he convinced the chef to join him when he (the chef) got tired of working at 4-star restaurants (with all that entails).

This is the opposite. The kitchen is tiny (I was led to believe that it’s a solo effort by the chef). The food comes out slowly (as their FAQ states!), because it’s all freshly prepared, by one person, in a tiny space. But, the man is truly a master, so get there early, enjoy the company of your friends (like we did!) and then enjoy some great cooking.

Don’t be frightened by the next photo. This is not available on the menu, so no one will force you to eat a portion this size. This plate was sitting in front of the owner. Lois took the photo from a few tables away (which is why it’s fuzzy). He explained to us that one of the perks of convincing the chef to come over was getting this kind of treatment for whatever special dish the chef chooses to make for him each day. Smile

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The draft beer selection was large. I had Tiger Beer (highly aromatic with a citrus smell and taste). Aside from draft Smithwick’s (pronounced Smiddicks) in Ireland, this is probably my favorite beer (they’re so different, let’s just call it a tie!). Between 5-7pm each day, beer is 1/2 price. What a deal, you can’t go wrong there.

The bartender, waiter and presumed owner (presumed by me) were all funny, helpful and good at their jobs. Even though it’s a standing only venue for the show (we sat for dinner), we would return to NSB in a heartbeat to see another show. If we lived in Philly, we’d hang out there for drinks and dinner regardless of the show.

Like I said, a perfect day! Now to create another one today (my goal for every day!)…

Jesse Terry, Michael Logen and Alex Wong at Rockwood Music Hall

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We were looking forward to last night for a few months. We’ve seen Jesse Terry a number of times and he never disappoints. We’ve seen Alex Wong many times and couldn’t believe it’s been nearly five months since we’ve seen him solo (we did catch him a couple of months ago as part of The Paper Raincoat). We’d never seen Michael Logen before, but Jesse told us we’d love him and that turned out to be an understatement!

We love the format, singer/songwriters in-the-round. Each sings one song and yields to the next person.

Jesse kicked it off, then Michael, then Alex. Each played five songs.

Jesse played all of his songs on the acoustic guitar. He has an exceptional voice, writes wonderful songs and has a spirit that brightens any room he’s in. I’ve written about him recently, so I won’t prattle on. I’ll just note that he closed with Noise, one of a number of his absolutely amazing songs, a perfect way to end his set.

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Michael Logen played both acoustic guitar and grand piano for his five numbers. He too has an excellent voice, plays both instruments very well and writes wonderful songs.

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Early on he played a song called Human After All. Absolutely fantastic song. The entire time he was singing it, I kept thinking I’ve heard that song on a TV show recently. I could almost sing along with it, it was that familiar to me. After the show I asked Michael if it had ever been placed on TV. He said that it came close, but didn’t make it.

This morning I searched for where I might have heard it before. Oops, not only did I quickly find out where I heard it, I actually wrote about it already, without knowing the title. On April 25th, we saw Backscratch 13 at Rockwood. One of the best songs of the night was by Sierra Noble. She mentioned that she co-wrote it with Michael Logen. I noted what a small world story that was. Here’s that part of my post:

The other one is a small world story. I’ve written a number of times about a great singer/songwriter, Jesse Terry. We’re going to see him again twice in May, once in Rockwood (next week) and the week after at a house concert (where we first saw him). Appearing with him at both shows is a friend of his, Michael Logen. Jesse has told me how much I am going to like Michael. One of Sierra’s originals was co-written with Michael Logen. Martin sang Michael’s part in gorgeous harmony with Sierra.

Now I have to hear/see Michael and Sierra perform it together!

While Michael had his own last song, he accompanied Jesse on Noise, playing the piano and singing beautiful harmony with him. Jesse announced that he co-wrote Noise with Michael. Why am I not surprised, given each of their obvious talents. Well done boys!

Alex Wong also played acoustic guitar and grand piano. In fact, he opened with a new song, Always Something Better, playing both (sort of). He started on the guitar. Using his loop, he laid down a percussion track by banging on the guitar body. Then he rubbed the strings to make a whooshing sound, also looped. While those two tracks were repeating, he put down the guitar and sang the song at the piano.

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It’s a very deep song and it will be on Alex’s first solo CD, coming out in the fall. Our anticipation is officially building already.

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Next Alex returned to the guitar and joked that he’s not a loop master, even though he was about to use the loop for a second consecutive song. We’ve heard Brooklyn Blurs dozens of times, in many configurations. Last night was a very fresh take, with percussion sound effects provided by the loop, with Alex playing the acoustic guitar while singing. Fantastic!

Joining him on three of his numbers, including Brooklyn Blurs, was Melissa Tong on violin. Melissa actually stood with her back against the far wall, in the audience. Melissa is always a welcome addition to anyone’s set!

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Alex got all of us singing twice. First on The Same Old Things. The second was on his closing number, which will also be the last song on the new CD (he announced that, I’m not predicting the future).

In past shows, I’ve called the closing number the “Yeah Yeah Yeah” song. I finally broke down and asked Alex the name of the song after the set. It’s Are You Listening. I am now! I’ve loved the song (co-written with Nate Campany) from the first time I heard it. I loved it last night as well.

The chorus is very complicated, threefour Yeah’s in a row [correction: someone on FB commented that it’s four Yeah’s in a row, not three. Oops. I was too busy enjoying singing to properly count 😉 ]. Somehow, we mastered it. It’s very spiritual sounding (those words and melody), not like the Beatles version. Winking smile

Another amazing night out, with a bunch of friends enjoying the show with us (the way it should be!). We will be getting an even bigger dose of Jesse and Michael a week from tonight at a house concert. We are so excited.

Rosi Golan at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We’ve seen Rosi Golan a number of times, but only one was a full set of her own music (at Jammin’ Java, covered in this post). The other times were either a few songs at a benefit (or as a guest), or with Ari Hest, performing as The Open Sea (their side-project together). Even at Jammin’ Java, Rosi was opening for William Fitzsimmons. Last night she headlined her own set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.

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Rather than force myself to be creative and describe Rosi in different words, here’s what I had to say about her at Jammin’ Java:

Rosi Golan has an extraordinary voice. Range, power, clarity even at the softest moments, all deliciously delivered. She is an excellent songwriter too. Her lyrics are sticky as are her melodies.

I would add that many of her songs (most?) have a dreamy quality to them (in the sense that it’s really easy to completely get lost in them).

Last night she played a 10-song set. Four of the songs were from her current CD, The Drifter and the Gypsy (an incredible album). Most (all?) of the rest were from her upcoming CD, Lead Balloon, likely out sometime in May (just my guess). I already look forward to it, Rosi is very consistent.

Jake Phillips accompanied Rosi on all but the first and last numbers (though he stood on stage with guitar in hand during the opener). He accompanied her at Jammin’ Java as well, so I knew in advance that I would love his guitar play (I did, both times now) and his harmonies with her are very nice (if a bit too soft).

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Jason Reeves happened to be in town (and at Rockwood) and was called up as a special (surprise) guest to sing Flicker with Rosi, a song they co-wrote while Rosi was out in LA working on the new record. Jake joined in creating a lovely three-part harmony.

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Also in the audience was Billy Hawn. Billy is an excellent drummer. He tours with Jason Reeves, but we saw him supporting ambeR Rubarth at Joe’s Pub, back in 2009. Rosi is friends with Billy and dedicated one of my favorite Rosi songs to him, Think of Me.

It was an excellent set, delivered wonderfully.

The only hiccup in the evening is the increasingly common loud talking that goes on in Rockwood 2. Even when 100 people tried to shush the dozen talkers, the silence rarely lasted more than a minute. A musician friend of mine recently told me that he greatly prefers to play next door at Rockwood 1 (even though Stage 2 is much bigger and more beautiful), because he says that the rudeness/noise at Stage 2 is just overwhelming.

I partially blame the club (even though I love nearly everything about Rockwood, both venues, and everyone who works there). First, after being warned a few times, they should ask people to take their conversations outside and enforce it if they have to. Second, they booked a very different kind of act before Rosi (these aren’t opening acts, they’re simply separate sets, back-to-back). A fair number of people stayed for Rosi’s set, but it appears that they stayed to socialize, not to listen to the music.

There are no trivial solutions to this problem, but something needs to be tried, since real fans are showing their frustration more often and more passionately. After an audience member loudly said to Rosi “I’m trying to enjoy your music, but it’s really loud at the bar”, Rosi made a few jokes and tried to get people to settle down. It was only partially effective and there’s a big danger of a backlash when a performer tries to control an unwilling crowd. Oh well…

Today, on my way to the dentist (and in the chair under heavy novacaine), I listened to all of The Drifter and the Gypsy and Little Apple EP (by The Open Sea). I’m only now regaining some feeling in my lower lip and jaw, but Rosi got me through it just fine! Smile

Backscratch 13 at Rockwood Music Hall

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Given how awesome last night was, I’m still a little in shock that I missed the first 12 Backscratch sessions. This was the second time it was held in Rockwood Music Hall.

Here’s the concept: gather a bunch of musicians. Each plays three songs. Traditionally (or so the legend goes) each played one original song, one well-known cover and one cover of another of the evening’s musicians, which they were each assigned at random! Now, it’s often two originals followed by the backscratch.

It’s great for many reasons (just come to the next one, June 27th, and make your own list of reasons to keep coming!).

Since there were so many people performing last night, I’ll be really brief (ha ha, I didn’t believe it when I first wrote it, but now that I’m proof-reading, I know it’s a lie!). Winking smile Refer back to the first line for how much we enjoyed the three-hour show: awesome!

Shwa Losben opened the show on vocals and acoustic guitar. I had never heard of him. Excellent! After playing two originals (both wonderful songs) his backscratch was an Alexa Wilkinson song (Alexa was new to us too, more on her later).

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Scott Chasolen on vocals and keyboards. Another one we hadn’t heard of. Also excellent! I loved both of his originals. His backscratch was a Matt Simons song (I’m Already Over You). We’re big fans of Matt and Scott did him proud (IMHO).

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Scott performs with two others and they are known as the Scott Chasolen Trio:

Adam Minkoff on electric bass and light harmony. Very nice job.

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Josh Giunta on drums. Excellent. A lot of eyes were on Josh during a fair amount of Scott’s set. No good photo of Josh, sorry.

Sierra Noble on vocals, acoustic guitar and violin. We’ve seen Sierra Noble backing up both Rachel Platten and Martin Rivas (back-to-back sets on the same night). I am aware of how much her fellow musicians respect and love her, but that night, while she did a fine job, I didn’t see the light. Last night, headlining the three-song set, I got it. She has an incredible voice. She writes beautiful songs.

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Sierra was accompanied by Martin Rivas on acoustic guitar and a lot of harmony, Chris Anderson on electric bass and light harmony and Craig Meyer on the drums (Craig is the co-founder of Backscratch with Martin Rivas).

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Not much else needs to be added. But, let’s add an anecdote (actually two!) anyway. Her backscratch was a Chris Ayer song. Sierra was expecting Greg Mayo to show up in time to perform it with her (and Martin, Chris and Craig). Greg must have been held up in traffic. Somehow, that threw Sierra off a bit.

While she did a great job on the parts that she got out (did I mention she has a great voice?), she also lost it (laughing) a number of times (including dropping the lyrics on the floor). The mood was light in the room and everyone got a kick out of it, including Chris Ayer. Sierra correctly noted that Chris is a poet and that it was difficult to sing his song because she hadn’t graduated from college (could be a joke, but it was an honest homage to how wonderful Chris’ lyrics are!).

The other one is a small world story. I’ve written a number of times about a great singer/songwriter, Jesse Terry. We’re going to see him again twice in May, once in Rockwood (next week) and the week after at a house concert (where we first saw him). Appearing with him at both shows is a friend of his, Michael Logen. Jesse has told me how much I am going to like Michael. One of Sierra’s originals was co-written with Michael Logen. Martin sang Michael’s part in gorgeous harmony with Sierra.

Martin Rivas on acoustic guitar and vocals. Martin opened with Raise Me Again. That song gets to me every time (including last night). His second song was a new one (excellent!). Rachel Platten was standing behind us and she couldn’t resist singing some soft harmony with Martin (wonderful).

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Pick up Rachel’s new album, Be Here (released today!), it’s fantastic!

For his backscratch, Martin drew Bess Rogers. He played Come Home. In case that wasn’t good enough (it was!), he morphed the end into a song that most people in the audience recognized, but I believe were still caught completely by surprise!

Bess Rogers is in the final four days of a very successful Kickstarter project. You should watch the video on her Kickstarter page to see how records are made. Martin performed that song (perfectly) and everyone was blown away (especially Bess). You still have a chance to contribute to Bess’ record. Stop thinking, just do it. Smile

Chris Ayer on acoustic guitar and vocals. Chris played Graduate and Stranded (two of our favorite Chris Ayer songs). Throughout the evening (3+ hours), there was generally a background noise of some people talking steadily at the bar. Occasionally it was annoying, most of the time it was reasonably white noise. When Chris played Stranded (a relatively long song), you could have heard a pin drop (as it should have been for every song by every performer!).

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On Graduate, Chris was accompanied by Matt Simons on keyboards and Chris Anderson on electric bass. On Stranded, Matt accompanied and Chris Anderson left the stage. For his backscratch, Chris Ayer played a Sierra Noble song solo. Wow! Not just Chris’ performance, but Sierra’s song. Chris didn’t even look over at his sheet music. Sierra was standing a few people behind us and she sang some soft harmony with Chris (that most probably couldn’t hear, but I could). It was amazing!

Bess Rogers performed two new songs (acoustic guitar and vocals) accompanied by her husband, Chris Kuffner, on acoustic guitar (Chris also sang harmony). Both songs were hits with the crowd and I assume (but don’t know) that they will both be on Bess’ new CD. Bess drew Rebecca Haviland for her backscratch.

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Rebecca Haviland on electric guitar, keyboards and vocals. Rebecca honored the original spirit of Backscratch by performing an original, a well-known cover and a backscratch. Let’s get out the most important thing first, Rebecca has a phenomenal voice. She plays the guitar well. She really shines on the keyboards. For her cover, she chose Black Dog by Led Zeppelin. If you didn’t know the title, or recognize the words, you would never have known it was a Led Zeppelin song. She (and her band) made it completely their own, a slow, soul/funk version.

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On those songs Rebecca was accompanied by Greg Mayo on keyboards (yes, he eventually showed up), Chris Anderson on electric bass and Kenny Shaw on drums. All were great, as we’ve come to expect.

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For her backscratch, Rebecca switched to the piano and Greg to the electric guitar. She played a Martin Rivas tune with such heart and soul (joking in advance that she had to change it up a bit, since Martin is the king of soul!). Greg played a couple of long guitar solos. If you’re read this space before, you know that this excites and soothes me at the same time. I will never get enough of Greg Mayo’s guitar play. Thank goodness he showed up! Smile

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Alexa Wilkinson on acoustic guitar and vocals. I’ve been following Alexa on Twitter for quite a while but have never seen her perform. We had planned to catch Mercy Bell, Julie Peel and Alexa at the Living Room a long time ago, but I got very sick and we never made it. Alexa has a wonderful voice and accompanies herself on the guitar very well. I enjoyed both of her songs. For her backscratch, she drew Shwa. Alexa has a relaxed and funny stage presence in addition to her musical talents.

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Matt Simons closed the show on keyboards and vocals. He too reverted to the original spirit. After his original song, he played one by Death Cab for Cutie. He was accompanied by Greg Mayo on electric guitar and Chris Anderson on bass and Kenny Shaw for his original number. For his backscratch, he drew Scott Chasolen (who had drawn him, as did Sierra/Chris). He did a fantastic job (making me want to hear more Scott originals).

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Even though we didn’t get home until 12:20am, it was well worth it.

Girlyman at The Southern

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The weekend began as great as it could, with a Girlyman show at the Birchmere. You can read about it here. It ended as well as it began, with Girlyman at The Southern Cafe.

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The Southern is the reincarnation of Gravity Lounge (in Charlottesville, VA). If I understand correctly, the sound engineer from Gravity Lounge bought the place, ripped out the décor and created a better listening room (not that it was bad to begin with). He did a very nice job.

Girlyman always delivers. Put them in a place with an excellent sound system, operate that system perfectly, fill it with an adoring (and respectful) crowd, and the magic is indescribable. Therefore, the rest is for my memory, since I can’t describe it to youWinking smile

There was no opening act so Girlyman performed two sets. They mingled with the audience during the 30-minute intermission (signing merch and chatting).

The set list had a fair amount of overlap from Friday night, but there were a number of significant changes (including kicking it off with Born at the Right Time by Paul Simon).

The request section is always a hoot. This time, they played Maori (with Nate cracking us up with the story behind the song). But, in typical fashion, dozens of songs were called for. A few people yelled out “Do the rest!” (meaning, play all of the songs that you didn’t play already). I can get behind that!

They closed the show with the same number from Friday, Postcards from Mexico, with them leading the audience in three-part harmony again. At Birchmere, while I was belting out my part (well, Nate’s part), I couldn’t hear a lot of other people joining in (even though the crowd loved Girlyman). Perhaps it was the acoustics, or perhaps there were 100’s of people there who don’t have confidence in their voices.

Last night, with a smaller crowd (just due to venue size), all three parts were being belted out (beautifully!). The audience sounded so good that Girlyman made us sing it (without them) a number of extra times, so they (and we) could soak it in. Fun!

I mentioned in Saturday’s post that their banter has migrated more toward the song intros rather than tuning songs. That continued last night. Even though some of the intro humor was similar, it wasn’t canned/rehearsed. We heard new twists, including things we had never heard before (like how/why Doris thought she was anemic, which turned into the discovery that she had Leukemia, not anemia).

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After Postcards from Mexico, everyone shot out of their seats to give Girlyman a standing ovation. They returned shortly for an encore. Nate gave what appeared to be an emotional speech about how grateful they were that Doris was still alive (which at the time, seemed like a somewhat strange way to phrase her/their ordeal). He said that they wanted to arrange an old Spiritual to convey how they felt about it.

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They then proceeded to play Staying Alive by the Bee Gee’s. They were flawless. Doris and Ty sang most of it, with Nate filling in some of the low parts on the chorus. So much fun, and yes, spiritual in the sense that it got everyone in the crowd moving to the beat and smiling throughout the song.

When they finished, there was another immediate standing ovation. It continued, so eventually, Girlyman was forced to come out yet again. Since they hadn’t prepared for a second encore, they solicited more requests from the audience. Again, dozens of titles were yelled out. They settled on The Shape I Found You In. Ty said it was the first love song she wrote, and she dedicated it to Genevieve who was in the audience.

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This picture of JJ is blurry, but captures her ever-present smile and gives you a glimpse into her wonderful soul:

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Because we got to say hello during intermission, we ran out when the second encore was over, since it’s a long ride back to Fredericksburg. We got to the hotel at 11:45pm.

The Southern is a great place to see a show. They also have excellent food. Unfortunately, even though they’ve been open for over a year (we saw Girlyman there in March 2010), they are still completely disorganized. They couldn’t tell us what time the show started when we called earlier in the day (in fact, they delivered some contradictory answers). Good luck finding out any useful information on their web site either.

Last year we missed most of the opening act because we were leisurely eating their excellent food with no clue that the show had started. We decided not to make the same mistake twice. Instead, we decided to make a new one! Winking smile

We met the same friends that we attended last year’s show with. They are both UVA grads so they are familiar with Charlottesville. We asked them to pick a place to meet for dinner. They gave us three choices and we picked Christian’s Pizza. They mentioned that it was a short walk to The Southern from there.

We showed up early and grabbed a table. After about 20 minutes, I realized that we were in the wrong location. There was no way that the one we were in was a short walk from anywhere other than the other stores in this strip mall. Oops. I called and verified that I was correct.

We headed to the correct one. The best part of the error was that someone was pulling out from the best possible spot near The Southern, just as we pulled up. We still had plenty of time to enjoy the pizza and catch up with our friends for 70 minutes before the show started. Whew.

Girlyman and Susan Werner at Birchmere

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Last night was almost exactly five months from the last time we saw Girlyman in concert. That’s just about our limit before we burst, so we were thankful for the opportunity to see them at Birchmere again. (Apologies for the quality of the photos. Birchmere has poor lighting for compact cameras in general, and our angle and distance from the stage made it worse for those on the left side, very far from us.)

Our normal excitement for a Girlyman show was complicated by the following fact: Days after seeing them play at City Winery (covered in this post) we discovered that Doris was diagnosed with Leukemia! This would be our first time seeing her/them perform since then.

While we still pray for Doris to continue getting better, there is no need to worry for Girlyman’s ability to live up to their previous showings. They were absolutely spectacular last night. I honestly didn’t doubt they would be, but hey, it’s live, so you never really know.

Doris was also spectacular. Her voice was so strong and clear. Her guitar, banjo and mandolin play, wonderful. When she introduced Supernova (a relatively new song written by Nate), she took the opportunity to explain to the crowd what happened to her and how affected she was by the outpouring of love she received from fans and friends, far and near. That love, plus crazy strong and expensive drugs have dramatically improved her condition (from 100% reading of cancerous blood cells at original diagnosis, down to 4% a month or so ago!).

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The reason she introduced Supernova is that when she was alone in the hospital waiting for the original test results, Supernova kept playing over and over in her head. We had just heard it for the first time at City Winery. That night, Nate sang the lead (not surprising). Now that it has become so meaningful to Doris, she takes the lead.

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There was another qualitative difference in the performance last night. Girlyman always slays me with their humor/banter. Much of it comes in the form of tuning songs (these are short songs made up on the spot by Nate, to kill time while the ladies tune their instruments). In fact, they have a CD of 24 of their tuning songs, and their Live CD (Somewhere Different Now) also has a bunch of awesome tuning songs on it.

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Last night, there was only one real tuning song (OK, maybe two or three tops). But, their humor/banter was as good as it ever is/was (perhaps better), with a significantly more natural flow to it. It often started as part of the introduction to a song, sometimes morphing into a story with each of them feeding off the others. Not one second of it felt forced. On rare occasions, the beginning of a tuning song feels forced, though they usually find a way to make it just right before it’s over.

I could give you a good example, but it would lose too much in the translation from how amazing it was last night, so just get out to a show and you’ll understand. Instead, I’ll give an example of how the Birchmere lighting guy enhanced a semi-serious (but in the end funny!) introduction of Ty’s (relatively new) song The Person You Want.

TyGreensteinSinging

The longer title of that song is The Person You Want Me to Be. It’s about people in long-term relationships and holds out the hope that if you give me enough time, one day you’ll wake up and find me to be the person you want me to be (a lot of me’s and be’s, but hopefully you understood).

Ty asked the audience to raise their hands if they were in a relationship. That led to some humorous comments (some people hesitating, putting their arms up half way, etc.). Ty made some cracks about people who might just be there on dates and how it might be awkward to answer that.

Then she asked those people who were in relationships whether they thought they were good people to be in a relationship with. Just as people were sheepishly moving their arms upward, the Birchmere lighting guy turned on the house lights. That made for a lot of giggling and looking around as we could all see across the large room, including Girlyman getting to see the audience fully for the first time that night.

In addition to a great set list (they can’t really put together a poor set list, trust me), they also introduced a brand new Ty song (Soul of You). Aside from the obvious fact that Ty is a brilliant songwriter, Lois and I continue to be amazed at how it typically takes one verse for us to consider a new Ty song among our all-time favorites. She has a Svengali hold on us…

TyGreensteinTuning

Nate performed his usual MC duties as well as he ever does and was in fine voice. He played the mandolin wonderfully in addition to his ever-present baritone electric guitar. Nate introduced an accordion to the mix as well. What will he think of next?

NateBorofskyMandolinBaritoneGuitarNateBorofskyGuitarNateBorofskyAccordion

JJ was wonderful on the drums throughout, as she always is. During the one real tuning song, Nate also yielded to a full-blown JJ solo (excellent). During the encore, JJ stood up and pushed her stool to the floor. She proceeded to drum like mad, including a few full 360 turns (without losing the beat, of course), turning it into more of a rock spectacular than a typical Girlyman Folk show. Smile

JJ-Jones-Drumming

All of the above was performed to roughly 550 people (my guess, based on capacity of 650 at Birchmere). Zero rudeness from the audience that I was aware of. Here is a tweet from today by Zach Braff (a giant music lover and extremely talented and funny actor):

You folks who go to see a really cool band and talk the entire time… yeah, what’s your deal? Anyone in nyc know a good blow-dart school?

I feel exactly the way Zach does (and have loudly complained on these pages numerous times). I hadn’t thought of a good solution to this problem until I read Zach’s tweet. I’m seriously considering opening a blow-dart school now, so that I can study there. Winking smile

Girlyman received a standing ovation after both the main set and the encore (that’s a bit unusual). Well deserved. We are going to see them again on Sunday in Charlottesville and I simply can’t wait. It will be a different experience because Girlyman always keeps it fresh and the venues are nothing alike.

The show was co-billed between Girlyman and Susan Werner. Even with a co-bill, someone has to walk out on stage first and last night that was Susan.

SusanWernerSettingUp

We’ve seen Susan once before in a solo performance (covered in this post). She blew us away that night. Last night, she was accompanied on all but two songs (or was it three?) by two incredible musicians and singers. I’ll get to them shortly.

Susan has an incredible voice (power that can make your hair sway, but with clarity and enunciation skills that I rarely hear). She is an amazing songwriter (a number of her songs can readily bring tears to Lois’ eyes). She plays the piano and guitar so well that she doesn’t need any other accompaniment (though she picked well and was definitely enhanced by her band).

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In addition to the above, Susan has a stage presence that is simply astonishing. There’s no doubt that she could be a full-time comedian. I also have no doubt that she could be a professional motivational speaker. Suffice it to say that while we love listening to Susan’s CDs, her live show is something that exceeds all musical expectations.

Joining Susan were two talented ladies.

Trina Hamlin on percussion, harmonica and vocals. First the summary, then some details. Trina is masterful on all three. Her voice is beautiful and she harmonized with Susan really well. Her percussion was excellent. Her harmonica play was beyond belief. (no really good photos of Trina, who was furthest from us)

TrinaHamlin

I didn’t want to interrupt the flow on Girlyman above, so I left out that they invited Trina to join them on Kittery Tide. They claimed that they didn’t really prepare her for it, implying that they never practiced the number with her. Of course, she was great. But, Ty asked the audience: “Have you ever heard a better harmonica player?”

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Well, having seen/heard Trina during Susan’s set earlier, I had already asked (and answered) that question of myself. The answer is yes. I have heard exactly one better harmonica player, the freakishly amazing John Popper (of Blues Traveler). He’s in a class by himself (in my opinion), but Trina mesmerized me (and the rest of the 550 people as well!).

But wait, there’s more! When I visited Trina’s website to get you the link, I saw that she’s apparently an excellent guitar player as well (why am I not surprised?). Smile

Gail Ann Dorsey on the electric bass and light vocals. Gail was excellent on the bass. She created lovely three-part-harmony on the few numbers where she joined Susan and Trina. Check out her Wikipedia Page to see some of the incredible people/bands that Gail has performed with (e.g., David Bowie, Indigo Girls, Gwen Stefani).

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Both Susan Werner and Trina Hamlin joined Girlyman for their encore, Son of a Preacher Man, with Trina on harmonica and Susan on grand piano and vocals. What an awesome way to end an awesome evening.

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The five of us enjoyed a wonderful meal at Birchmere (I’m a pulled pork fanatic and Birchmere always gets it right).

After getting our hugs in, the five of us hit the road for what should have been an hour’s drive. This is I95 folks, so sitting in wall-to-wall traffic at midnight shouldn’t have surprised us as much as it did. Only cost us 30 extra minutes though, so enough complaining for today. (Last complaint, couldn’t easily get the red eye out of this photo…)

Girlyman

Carley Tanchon at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Our first tiny taste of Carley Tanchon occurred on December 3rd, 2010 when she sang harmony on a song with Jesse Terry at The Bitter End. I give my first impressions of Carley in the last few paragraphs of this post.

Since then, we’ve come close to attending a number of Carley’s shows, but scheduling snafus conspired against us each time.

Last night was Carley’s CD Release show for Leave the Light On at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. We were actually scheduled to miss that too, but this time, we conspired successfully against our own schedule and were able to attend! Smile

I knew Carley was performing with a full band, so I knew that I would hear something completely different from her harmonizing with Jesse with only an acoustic guitar accompanying the two. I was right.

The set started off with an extremely pleasant surprise though. In addition to a normal full band (two electric guitars, electric bass, electronic keyboards and drums), Carley had a horn section (trumpet and tenor sax). Have I mentioned how much I love horns? (you know the answer if you read this space regularly.)

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While I would describe Carley as performing a mostly Rock set, there was plenty of diversity (Jazz/Blues/Pop) to satisfy most people.

For me, first and foremost, experiencing Carley Tanchon is about being blown away by her voice. So powerful, so clean, so versatile. She hits the nearly-falsetto highs softly and sweetly. She belts out the midrange like the best rockers. She can sultry it up on more jazzy/bluesy numbers as well. Her voice is a fine-tuned instrument.

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She’s a talented songwriter, as you’ll discover if you check her out online, or better yet, pick up her new CD! She also plays the guitar well.

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I listened to the CD this morning (we bought two copies last night) and I like it a lot. That said, it felt much softer to me than her more gutty/raw performance last night. I can’t be sure whether Carley wanted it that way, or it was produced that way, but I encourage anyone who likes the CD to go out of their way to see Carley live for a more intense (in the most positive way) experience.

Carley was backed by an excellent group of musicians. Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Matt Owens on trumpet (I can find a number of mentions, but no good individual link). Very nice job. The brass section was on stage for a few of the numbers and to sing with the audience on the closing number.

MattOwens

James Casey on tenor sax. Wow! Not enough of James, but since the set started off highlighting him, his skill was obvious from the first minutes. In searching for James, I noticed that both he and Matt play with Tim Blane. Now I have another band I need to look out for. Smile

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Amy Crawford on electronic keyboards and harmony. Given two electric guitars, a bass, drums and brass section, I honestly couldn’t make out a single note on the keyboards, so I can’t comment on Amy’s skill there. But, I had no trouble hearing her sing harmony with Carley, beautifully. She has a wonderful voice (as you can hear on her site, linked to her name). She’s locally based, so I look forward to discovering more of Amy’s own music as well.

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Nicky D’Agostino on drums. Nicky kept the beat lively throughout. Very crisp, even though he’s a hard hitter. Two thumbs up!

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Ethan Mentzer on electric bass and light harmony. Most links about Ethan relate to his work as member of The Click Five (TC5) so you can read about him there. Kyle McCammon is Carley’s usual bass player. I don’t know why he couldn’t make it. I believe that Jesse Terry suggested that Carley reach out to Ethan. I am sure Carley has no regrets. Certainly the audience didn’t have any. Winking smile

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Adam Tressler on lead electric guitar and harmony. Last, but certainly not least, Adam blew away the crowd with his extremely tasty, fast and diverse leads throughout the set. He also sang nearly as much harmony as Amy did, but it was only a few times that I could actually hear his voice. Those times were very sweet (because the three-part harmony came together).

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Adam looked familiar to me, but I admit that I didn’t have a clue as to why, until I looked him up (in my own blog!). We’ve seen Adam once before, 13 months ago, when he subbed for Chris Kuffner at Ian Axel’s show at Joe’s Pub!

Here’s what I said about him that night:

Adam Tressler was a new addition (for us) playing electric guitar and a bit of harmony. I didn’t hear quite enough to have a strong opinion, but the little I heard was quite nice. Ian’s music doesn’t tend to highlight solo guitars (which is fine) but Adam supported the rest well enough.

Since Carley definitely highlights the electric guitar (hers as well as Adam’s), the above paragraph no longer applies. Adam has the skills!

In case you have any trouble remembering the name of Carley’s new CD, here’s a visual reminder that will hopefully stick:

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We had a great time and were thankful to have made the change in our schedule. We also thoroughly enjoyed meeting Carley’s family. They made the long drive from Ohio to come celebrate this wonderful moment with her.

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JessJesseTerry

SYREN Modern Dance and Artemis Chamber Ensemble at Baryshnikov Arts Center

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We rarely attend dance recitals (is that the correct word? feels wrong to say “concert” or even “show”). We love music. One of the flexible groups of musicians that we follow is The Artemis Chamber Ensemble. In particular, we are huge fans of Melissa Tong, David Fallo and the conductor and musical director, Matthew Oberstein.

When we heard that Artemis was performing with SYREN Modern Dance for three nights (part of a six-night run for SYREN, opening their 8th season), we bought tickets for the third night. The performances were (and are being) held at Baryshnikov Arts Center.

SYREN performed two pieces, broken up by an intermission. The first was Dolce, choreographed by Kate St. Amand (one of the co-founders of SYREN).

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There were six dancers for this piece. They performed in every permutation from only one of them on stage to all six. They were: Sonja Dale, Chanelle Lagacé, Xuexin (Nico) Li, Brigitte Mitchell, Lynn Peterson (the other SYREN co-founder) and Chihiro Shimizu. They were all terrific, individually and collectively.

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Artemis can be configured from a quartet all the way up to a 19-piece chamber orchestra. Last night was seven pieces plus Matthew working his conductorial magic. The seven players were: Melissa Tong, Heidi Shaul-Yoder and Sarah Koenig-Plonskier on violin, David Fallo on viola, Laura Bontrager and Emily Brausa on cello and Eleonore Oppenheim on bass. They were fantastic (no surprise, that’s why we showed up in the first place).

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Dolce was set to Holberg Suite by Edvard Grieg. It’s a stunning musical piece, brought to life perfectly by Matthew and Artemis. SYREN’s choreography (or Kate St. Amand’s, to be more precise), matched the music wonderfully. Given that we’re not “dance first” people, the visual could have distracted me from the amazing music, but it didn’t.

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The second piece was “the last of the leaves” (I put it in quotes since it wasn’t capitalized in the program) also choreographed by Kate. In addition to the same six dancers above, two male dancers were added to the mix: Bryant Henderson and Jeremy Neal. The men dressed in the same outfits as the women.

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The dance was set to Shaker Loops by John Adams.

While the dancing and choreography were as fluid and interesting (to my untrained eye) as the first piece, the musical experience was nothing like the Holberg Suite. I would describe the piece as constantly dissonant. The skill require to play the piece might have been even more difficult, but it felt to me like I was watching horror movie transitional music.

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I was expecting a knife to come through a shower curtain, or someone to be pushed down a flight of stairs in the dark. Unlike Dolce, without the dance, I would not have been able to enjoy the music with my eyes closed.

The dance matched the music in this case as well, but I could have stood for a repeat of Grieg’s work. Smile

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I am thankful that we get to broaden our horizons through our connections with our friends and the musicians that we actively follow.

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Tonight through Sunday, SYREN is performing a different piece (without Artemis to my knowledge): Toward Home, music by Damon Ferrante.

Jesse Terry and Gavin Slate at Rockwood Music Hall

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Yesterday promised to be a perfect late afternoon / early evening. It didn’t disappoint!

Jesse Terry is an amazing singer/songwriter (many easy ways for you to verify that claim for yourself, on YouTube, his own site, MySpace, etc.). We’ve seen him perform at a house concert, then at The Bitter End. We’ve been waiting patiently to catch him again, given his touring all over the US.

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Jesse was listed at 7pm. Whenever we go to Rockwood, we check out the act before to see if we’d enjoy them, mostly to raise our chances of getting a seat. Listed before Jesse at 6pm (first set of the night) was Gavin Slate. A single song on his MySpace page was all I needed to hear to be sure we’d enjoy his set.

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It turns out that Gavin came down from Toronto just for this show. He’s good friends with Jesse and rather than have two separate sets, they combined the two and played together. I knew that in advance because I follow Jesse on Twitter (and our mutual friend also told me), but some of Jesse’s supporters didn’t walk into Rockwood until 6:40, thinking he wouldn’t be on until 7pm.

Jesse and Gavin alternated songs throughout a 105-minute set. That was great because there was obviously no break between the 6 and 7pm slots, so we got at least 7.5 minutes extra (two songs worth) from each of them!

We love the in-the-round format in general. Even when it’s only two people, there’s a freshness from having each rest their voice and fingers between songs. The banter is typically a little faster paced because the performers feed off each other. The only thing missing is that while Jesse and Gavin are good friends and have tremendous love/respect for each other’s music, they don’t tour together (this was their first-ever formal show) so they don’t sing harmony on the other’s numbers.

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I can rave about Jesse all day long, but let me summarize by saying three things:

  • He writes beautiful songs
  • He has an extraordinary voice
  • He plays the guitar beautifully (I love his finger-picking in particular!)

All three were in play last night. Jesse debuted (at least from our perspective) a number of new songs, including one he just finished this week! They were all fantastic. I mentioned to his wife (they were married in December) that she is an obvious inspiration to him, because his songwriting continues to be on fire.

Jesse will be back at Rockwood on May 6th, for a 2-hour shared set with another of our favorites, Alex Wong and Michael Logen. They’ll be on from 7-9pm. Not to make the same mistake (listing-wise), I heard Jesse mention that Keegan DeWitt is part of their set too. He’s listed separately at 9pm. So, this is more likely a 4-person shared set from 7-10pm. Should be epic!

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Gavin was a complete mystery to us, other than liking what we heard on MySpace. Like  I said above, we were not disappointed. Gavin has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well and writes very interesting songs. He has a relaxed style on stage and told a few good stories (one in particular had us in stitches and I had to go up to him after the show to chat about it!).

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We bought his EP after the show and listened to it this morning. Wonderful! When I loaded it up, the Gracenote database had it classified as Pop. That surprised me, since Gavin was playing solo with an acoustic guitar last night and I would have described it as closer to folk. But, the production on the EP is terrific with a full band and I have no trouble accepting these songs as Pop. Very well done.

We heard all four of the songs last night. Each was completely recognizable on the EP, yet very different. More than the instrumentation (which was dramatic enough), the harmony on the EP struck both of us immediately. Gavin can certainly tour solo and hold our attention completely. It’s nice to know he could show up with a full band and make good use of them as well.

We weren’t scheduled to be in the city this Friday, but Jesse announced that Carley Tanchon has her Record Release show at Rockwood at 7:30pm at Rockwood 2 that night (April 1st). We were able to change our plans and we’ll definitely be there. Hope to see you all there as well! Smile

Having just discovered The Meatball Shop two days earlier (well, not actually discovered, but rather finally experienced), it was hard not to work that into our plans again. Since the show was early, we decided to have an even earlier dinner there. Five of us took two cabs down there. Ours arrived a bit later than theirs. We walked in at 4:30pm. The place was crowded and our three friends were seated at the bar. We could have sat at the bar as well, but not near them.

In a bold (and highly unusual) move, Lois decided to try and force Spring to appear on the spot. She made the executive decision that we would eat outdoors! It was definitely brisk, but surprisingly not the least bit uncomfortable. We had another amazing meal (I branched out and had the same exact dish, but this time with pork meatballs instead of beef).

Chris Kasper at Rockwood Music Hall

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I just posted that we saw Marjory Lee at Arlene’s Grocery last night. Her set ended at 8:45pm and the six of us walked the block and half to Rockwood Music Hall to catch Chris Kasper.

We caught most of a Chris Kasper set (also at Rockwood) back in October 2009! He was on before ambeR Rubarth. That night he was accompanied by another acoustic guitarist, Ross Bellenoit. You can read my thoughts on that show at the bottom of this post.

I can’t believe that I missed Chris a few times since, so I was particularly happy that the timing worked out so well last night.

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One of the interesting things in seeing indie musicians live is that a lot of things can change from one performance to the next. Last night, instead of just one other guitar player, Chris had a full band. I’ll cover them all in a minute.

Aside from the obvious fuller sound (and different instruments), Chris proved my earlier assumption about his guitar play. Last time, Chris deferred to Ross (who is excellent), but flashed some quality play of his own. Last night he showed more of his guitar chops.

Chris has a nearly-perfect voice for folk music (to my taste). Enough gravely/raspiness to make every word sound authentic. I really like his songs too (lyrics and melodies). Basically, he’s a top singer/songwriter in my book.

Accompanying him last night, standing left-to-right on the stage:

Kylie Ryan on fiddle, banjo, glockenspiel and (way too soft) harmony (sorry, can’t find a good link for her). Kylie played the fiddle beautifully, enhancing Chris’ sound on a number of songs. She also played the glockenspiel on one song. That led to a funny situation. The microphone kept slipping down when she was setting up. A helpful audience member propped himself on a chair against the wall and held the mic stand in place throughout the song. Yay for good samaritans!

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Kylie sang harmony on many songs. Unfortunately, it took a lot of concentration to pick out her voice, even though I was sitting a few feet from her. When I locked in, I was impressed. After the show I told her that she needed to pump it up a bit. She told me that she had a cold and that when she’s feeling better, she cranks it up. Feel better soon, we look forward to hearing your healed voice! Smile

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Phil D’Agostino on electric bass and very light harmony. Very nice job throughout. It was a mellow set, so no fancy bass needed or delivered, but solid bottom was a nice addition.

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Kevin Killen on drums and very light harmony. Just like with the bass, the drums could have overwhelmed Chris’ sound. Not so in the hands of Kevin. I’ll tell you what I told Kevin when we bumped into him on the street after the show: “You are the brush master!”. Yes, most of the set was played with the brushes, to excellent effect. Kevin’s cymbal play was outstanding.

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On one number, Chris called up a guest to sing harmony with him.

Adrien Reju sang gorgeous harmony with Chris. She has her own set at Rockwood on April 14th at 7pm.

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I am so glad that we finally got to see Chris Kasper again. I am looking forward to the next time. Even though we already bought both his solo CD’s and one of him with his previous band Lowlands, we like to support the musicians we enjoy. So, aside from putting money in the tip jar, we bought another copy of Chasing Another Sundown, which we intend to gift someone with, shortly. Smile