The Grascals at Highline Ballroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DannyRobertsJeremyAbshireKristinScottBenson

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheGrascalsJeremyAbshireCenterStage

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

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

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

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

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

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

SetListAndCDs

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

KobeSkirtSteakSalmonKobeSlidersWithFries

ChocolateCakeIceCreamBerryTortIceCream

Martin Rivas and Rachel Platten at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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The last time we saw Martin Rivas perform a full set was September 13th, 2010, over four months ago! That night, the set before him was Rachel Platten. That show was at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 and I wrote about it in this post. It was my first time seeing each of them performing a full set and if you read my previous post, you know how I impressed I was with both! Last night was a repeat of the lineup and we couldn’t have been more excited to see it again.

There are three major reasons why we are energized to see artists that we love multiple times:

  1. We enjoy the electricity of the live show, even if we’ve seen the same set a dozen times. Enjoying it with other fans enhances it all the more.
  2. We love to support the artists (monetarily and by being part of the audience experience).
  3. Even when the sets are the same, there’s always something fresh and different (banter, band composition, etc.).

Martin came out with an electric guitar. I’m think that was a first for us in all the times we’ve seen him. He had an extra-full band last night (more on that in a minute). It was loud (not too loud, but darn loud). It was rockin’, in a heart-pumping way.

MartinRivasTuning

There are so many people to cover that I won’t go on-and-on about Martin (since I have in the past and you’re welcome to read all about it), but I’ll repeat that Martin has a wonderful voice, an incredible energy, plays guitar really well and is very generous with highlighting the amazing musicians that play with him whenever he has a full-band show.

Martin has a warmth and ease on stage that is fantastic. There was a young boy sitting at our table (I’ll guess roughly 10-years-old, yes, his dad was there too). Martin chatted with him for a minute before the show started, but he called him out a couple of times during the show and got the entire audience (the place was incredibly mobbed for both sets) to say “Hello Alfonso!” as well. I assume (and hope) it was a very magical evening for Alfonso.

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Covering the band, then special guests, standing left-to-right on the stage:

Patrick Firth on grand piano, electronic keyboards and background vocals. Patrick is wonderful all around and Martin gave him a number of leads which Patrick nailed.

PatrickFirthCloseupPatrickFirthKeyboards

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and vocals. Chris is always wonderful and last night was no exception. He took quite a number of leads, all tasty. He closed the show with a lead that was so fast it was mind-boggling. I was sitting four feet away from him, so I got the full visual experience as well as the aural sweetness of being directly in front of his amp.

ChrisKuffnerChrisKuffnerGuitarLead

Ryan Vaughn on percussion. This is one of the things I meant by extra-full band above. Martin had his normal drummer with him (next in my lineup). Ryan complemented him with washboard (always a favorite of mine), cowbell, tambourine, triangle, bongo, shaker and sharing the drum set at times as well. It brought such a fullness to the percussion. An absolutely fantastic addition and Ryan has an excellent sense of rhythm.

RyanVaughn

Craig Meyer on drums (web site coming, I think). Craig is a very animated drummer. Even with his larger than life drum strokes, his hand, stick, brush, etc., all hit the drum at exactly the right time. The music during Martin’s set was very hard-charging and Craig drummed his %$#! off to keep the beat lively. Coupled with Ryan, the two of them delivered the rhythm section perfectly.

CraigMeyerCloseup

Brian Killeen on electric bass. Brian did an excellent job keeping the bottom full and interesting. Toward the end of the set he cut loose a bit more (never a solo) and actually harmonized (on the bass) with Martin’s singing.

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Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. I’ve written about Greg a number of times. The most recent one was about his own band, the Greg Mayo Band. He (they) blew us away that night, but the biggest surprise was how amazing Greg was (is) on the keyboards. I went because every time Greg has played with others he was on the electric guitar and I simply love his play. Last night was spectacular (no surprise). I was three feet from Greg and four feet from his amp. His leads were so crisp, and his amp was pointed directly at my right ear, that the only downside was a bit of ringing. Well worth it!

GregMayoCloseupGregMayoGuitarVocals

Sierra Noble on fiddle. Sierra joined Martin’s band for roughly half the numbers. Except for the few leads that Martin gave her, it was hard for me to pick out the fiddle with three electric guitars, an electric bass, grand piano, electronic keyboards and two percussionists. I will need to hear Sierra in a more conducive environment to form a clearer opinion.

SierraNoble

That made for a core band of seven and for many numbers eight people on stage at the same time. That’s the same number that the Greg Mayo Band had on stage for their set. It is one short of the record set by Alex Berger for sets that I have attended at Rockwood.

Martin brought up two special guests to sing a song with him. Had he brought them up at the same time, he would have set the record for the most people on stage at the same time. Instead, he just tied Berger twice, once with each guest.

The first was someone I’ve heard about for a while now. Many of my friends rave about his shows at Rockwood. This week, he got a lot more famous than he’s been before.

Caleb Hawley sang harmony and lead. In addition to being a local NYC favorite, Caleb was a first round contestant on American Idol. He blew away Steven Tyler and moved on to the Hollywood round! So, you can only imagine the reception he received when Martin called him up. Local hero makes good! Smile

CalebHawley

Rachel Platten joined Martin to sing North. Wonderful, but more about Rachel in a second.

Martin handed out home-baked cookies to pass around. I had one (even though I got the evil eye from Lois, since I had dessert when we were out to dinner earlier).

Cookies

Martin played a slightly longer set than usual at Rockwood and said goodnight. The crowd really wanted to hear more. Martin checked with the sound engineer and got the OK. He closed the show with a Stevie Wonder cover, Living For the City. They did it long and strong. We sang along a bunch (everyone, not just Lois and me). What a way to end an already incredible set.

When it was over (actually, before the encore!), I grabbed one of the set lists. Unfortunately, the corner was tucked under one of the monitors and it ripped when I yanked it. You’ll just have to make do with this. Winking smile

MartinRivasSetList

Rachel Platten also plays in a number of band configurations. Last night was a 4-piece. Rachel on electronic keyboards, Martin Rivas on acoustic guitar and tons of harmony, Craig Meyer on drums (dramatically stripped down from the set he used with Martin) and Sierra Noble on fiddle.

SierraNobleRachelPlattenCraigMeyer

Rachel has an incredible voice, plays the keyboards extremely well (with zest!) and writes very catchy pop tunes. Many of her lyrics are deep and quite good, but that can (unfortunately) be easily lost in the hooky tunes and her captivating voice. So, listen to the words closely, she’s a very good songwriter!

If that weren’t enough to get you to go out and see Rachel (she’s touring all over at the moment and releasing a new CD in the spring), she has a 1000 megawatt smile that bathes the audience in a floodlight effect. If you can listen to her sing and play and watch that smile and not have your spirits lifted, a defibrillator might be your only hope! Winking smile

RachelPlattenSmiling

In addition to straight-up pop, Rachel mixes it up in a number of ways. Don’t Care What Time It Is is a hip hop/rap song that she stood and sang (the only number she didn’t play the keyboards on). It’s also one of two numbers that she played a human beat-box on. She and Martin killed it. A number of times they sing so fast that your head spins. Delicious.

I linked to the lyrics of the song and you can also listen to it (free!) at that link. On the right side bar are a number of other Rachel hits. Explore and fall in love with her. Buy her CD when it comes out!

Craig was great even though he played a minimalist drum set (as he does for most of Rachel’s shows). In addition, Craig was very playful with Rachel and Martin, often using his brushes on them and on Martin’s guitar as well. Basically, if he could hit it, he did. Smile

CraigMeyerAnimated

As with Martin’s set, I couldn’t hear Sierra Noble playing the fiddle at all, whenever Rachel, Martin and Craig were playing. Rachel did give Sierra two distinct solos, which were very easy to hear. I can’t put my finger on it, but I wasn’t as impressed as I expected to be, given the raves I’ve heard about Sierra. I intend to listen to her some more and perhaps catch one of her own shows as well, to get a better sense.

SierraNobleFiddle

The only disappointing thing about Rachel’s set was that it was a tad shorter than normal. She started 20 minutes late (the person who was on before Rachel filled Rockwood to the brim and it took a while to transition between them and their respective crowds). I think Rachel cut it a bit short in order to get Martin and Rockwood closer to their original schedule.

Another amazing night out. Thanks to everyone who was on stage and to our friend for snagging two seats right up against the stage for us (you know who you are!).

We have a big week of music continuing tonight, so check this space each day for what we did the night before! Smile

Alex Wong and Guests at Rockwood Music Hall

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It’s been a month since we’ve seen Alex Wong perform at Rockwood Music Hall. It’s not good to go much more than a month between doses of Alex, so it’s good that he had a show last night. Winking smile

In fact, after seeing his solo show at Rockwood 1 on December 9th, we saw him sit in for one song with Alex Berger at Rockwood 2 on the 13th. That night, they performed a song they had written that weekend (and just finished up the morning of the show!), called The Fighter. I wrote about how beautiful a song it is.

Alex opened last night’s show with that song, solo this time, at the piano. As much as I like the song, it also immediately reminded me of the fact that our beloved Alex Berger is now too many thousands of miles away, back in merry old England, leaving us less merry in these old United States…

AlexWongPiano

Next Alex invited Rachel Platten to join him. Rachel played the piano and Alex the guitar. They played a song they co-wrote about Alex’s first Christmas in NYC (one he spent here not by choice!). It’s a wonderful song called Make It Home. We’ve seen Alex perform it solo a number of times, but this is the first time we got to see Alex perform it with Rachel, harmonies included.

AlexWongRachelPlatten

The song is special for another reason. Alex and Rachel have made the song available for purchase at Bandcamp. It costs (a minimum of) $2.25 (please feel free to donate more, we did!). 100% of the proceeds go to City Harvest. The production quality is superb (no surprise, Alex is one of the best producers around!). You’ll get a great song and be donating to a very worth charity. Just do it, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself and have the music to enjoy for years to come!

RachelPlatten

Next Alex invited Melissa Tong and David Fallo to join him. I’ve written about both many times. Suffice it to say that any string section in any style of music would be instantly enhanced if either Melissa or David joined them. Both at the same time? Dream time!

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MelissaTongDavidFallo

But wait, there’s more! I purposely left out one thing about Make It Home above because it fits better here. One of our favorite drummers is Adam Christgau. Adam was supposed to leave for a tour in Australia, yesterday morning. On Tuesday, his flight was canceled preemptively due to the anticipated snow storm (that wasn’t much of a storm after all). So, Adam was stranded in NYC (much as Alex had been in 2004, for different reasons). Alex dedicated Make It Home to Adam, who happened to be in the audience for Alex’s show.

With Melissa and David on stage, Alex coaxed Adam to join them to play the drums. Since Adam was there as a guest, he didn’t have his equipment with him. No worries. Seth Faulk, another top local drummer handed Adam his cymbals (Rockwood has the core drum set) and his brushes. Thanks Seth!

AdamChristgau

With that, Alex proceeded to right a wrong that he perpetrated on his audience a month ago. As I mentioned in the post about that show, Alex teased us by playing the intro to Brooklyn Blurs (one of our favorite songs) and then changed his mind. Last night he played it, with the strings and drum, more than making up for his indiscretion the month before.

During the song, I could swear that I heard someone singing the ambeR Rubarth part (harmony) absolutely perfectly with Alex. I couldn’t see anyone doing it, and it wasn’t anyone on stage (it was a female voice). After the show, my friend turned to me and said: “Did you hear that woman over there singing the ambeR part perfectly?”. Yes, yes, I did! I honestly thought it was just me knowing the song so well that my mind filled in ambeR’s part on it’s own! Whew, I’m not totally addled just yet… Winking smile

Adam tried to get up after Brooklyn Blurs, but Alex cajoled him into playing one more song, Motion Sickness, with Melissa and David as well. Not just them, but the entire crowd was split into two to sing along with the chorus. I was on the side of the audience that in the previous two shows was assigned the “na na na na, na na na na, na na na na, na” part. Alex changed it up this time, and our side was given the “oh, oh, oh oh oh” part. I’m adept at both, so he didn’t throw me for the loop that he hoped to! Winking smile

After dismissing the band, Alex started his looping machine and tapped out some percussion on the guitar body. Then he added a whooshing sound by rubbing the strings. While that looped endlessly, he returned to the piano and played another new(-ish) song (I think it’s one he co-wrote with Paul Freeman). Absolutely wonderful!

For more Alex Wong / Paul Freeman goodness, check out their new project, Bellows Band where you can hear three songs stream for free!

He followed that with a song he co-wrote with Nate Campany. I call it the Yeah Yeah Yeah song (that’s the entire chorus). Last time, Alex Berger sang the Yeah Yeah Yeah part in harmony with Wong. This time, the audience did. It was awesome. In particular, Seth Faulk (the aforementioned drummer) stood right over my left shoulder and sang incredible harmony with Alex. Nicely done all, but especially Seth who gave me a personal concert! Smile

I might be missing another song or two, but suffice it to say that the entire set was a blast.

Making it even better was running into three friends who we sat with (I didn’t know any of them would be at the show, though I could have guessed). We even got to introduce one to the other two, so the circle widens. Good music, good company and a good glass of wine. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ChrisThileMandolin

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

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

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

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

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

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

NoamPikelny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RickySkaggsMandolin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JustinMosesBanjo

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

JustinMosesDobro

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

Continuing backwards, skipping over the Punch Brothers.

Another surprise for us was the second act.

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

NanciGriffith

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

MauraKennedyPatKennedy

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

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

NanciGriffithGuitarist

A very nice set all around.

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

AbigailWashburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Mayo Band at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Another day, another post that’s 24 hours late, another day of two posts (this one being the first).

Everyone knows the expression: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

Let’s add a new one: Be careful what you wish for, you might just think you’re getting it, but get something wildly different than you expected, and be completely blown away (in the positive sense) in the process.

Perfect, just rolls off the tongue. Winking smile

Regular readers know that I’m working my way through a mental music bucket list, mostly local performers who I have a burning desire to see perform full sets. Most come from seeing them support other artists and recognizing their enormous individual talent. The rest come from trusting other people who tell me “You have to see so-and-so”.

Greg Mayo has been way up on my list since I saw him support Martin Rivas at a benefit for the Gulf on July 30th, 2010. I have seen Greg a number of times since then, always in a supporting role, always on the electric guitar.

GregMayo

We see a lot of excellent local musicians, including a lot of fine guitar players. In my opinion, Greg is the best of them. His buttery smooth leads are flawless and always interesting. I had heard that he also headlines his own band/shows as The Greg Mayo Band. I knew that I wanted to see him bust loose even more, expecting guitar explosions extraordinaire.

When I saw that Greg was playing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 (a simply fantastic place) I knew I was going. When I saw that it was at 10pm (normally a bit later than we like to go), I was doubly excited, because I badly wanted to see the show at Rockwood 1 from 8-10pm that I wrote about yesterday.

So, bottom line, you all want to know how amazing Greg Mayo was on the guitar, right? Well, your guess is as good as mine, because Greg didn’t touch a guitar during his show. If I had done any research at all, I would have known that. Now go back and read our new rolls-off-your-tongue expression: BCWYWFYMJTYGIBGSWDTYEABCBA(ITPS)ITP!

Greg played the grand piano and electronic keyboards, fantastically. He sang, amazingly. In general, he and his big band put on a killer show that was completely unexpected (to me, not to his fans).

GregMayoKeyboards

I would describe Greg’s music as Rock-N-Soul, with a good measure of Big Band thrown in. I noted recently that the most people I’ve seen on stage at one time at Rockwood 2 is nine (Alex Berger’s show). Greg only had eight in his band, so the record still stands, but it was quite a huge sound.

I love most instruments, so I always feel silly when I say things like: “I love the guitar”, etc. But whenever an extraordinary musician plays an instrument, I am compelled to not only recognize that musician, but the fact that the instrument they are playing has its own special qualities that stir something in me that other instruments stir in different ways.

Ever since I was obsessed with music as a teenager, good brass sections (even good brass soloists) can reach somewhere inside me and get to places that other instruments don’t typically reach (though other instruments reach me in different, often more interesting ways!). As an example, for years, Chicago was my favorite rock band, partially due to their brass section.

I can keep going with background, but let’s skip all that and mention each person in the band, they all deserve their own shout-out! Standing left-to-right (stacked) on the stage:

Rebecca Haviland on vocals and tambourine. Gorgeous voice. Perhaps a bit under-mic’ed, but nonetheless a wonderful addition to Greg on the harmonies, with a reasonable number of leads for Rebecca as well. Her dancing and energy added to the color and impact of the set.

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Matt Simons on tenor sax. From Greg’s website, it seems that Matt is not Greg’s normal tenor sax player. That appears to be Matt Abatelli. I can’t speak to the other Matt’s sax skills, but let me heap some crazy praise on Matt Simons, who I didn’t even know played the sax to begin with!

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If you clicked on the link above about yesterday’s post at Rockwood 1, then you know that I’m a big fan of Matt Simons’ own work (solo and in conjunction with Chris Ayer and Morgan Holland). I had only seen Matt play keyboards, very well. His sax solos were killer. Now I need to find out what other instruments he plays. Awesome!

(Now an apology that I will correct later. I heard the trumpet player’s name clearly on Saturday, so this isn’t Greg’s fault, but since I’m late in posting this, I’ve already forgotten it, and it wasn’t his regular trumpet player. I sort-of remember Tony as the first name, so I’ll use that as a placeholder, until I get the right name.)

Wayne Tucker played the trumpet. Kenny Warren is listed as the normal trumpet player on Greg’s site. As with the Matts above, I assume Kenny is great, but I know that Wayne is! He didn’t take as many solos as Matt Simons did, nor were they as long, but he was great in his play throughout the set.

Wayne Tucker

John Liotta on baritone sax. John was excellent as well, making for the brass section trifecta! Seriously, these three guys rocked it hard!

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Kenny Shaw on drums. As you might imagine, a sound this big requires quite a good drummer to keep everyone charging (including the audience!). Kenny didn’t disappoint. OK, that wasn’t positive enough, he did his job wonderfully!

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Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. I wrote about Chris in yesterday’s post, as he, like Matt Simons, did the same 5-foot walk from Rockwood 1 to Rockwood 2. While Chris played the upright bass in support of Morgan Holland, he was an integral part of the big sound of Greg’s band on the electric bass and of course, singing background vocals as well. Chris always delivers on the bass (always). For the huge sound that Greg’s band produces, Chris was at the top of his game. The bass was quite loud and easy to pick out, even though I couldn’t see Chris at all from my seat.

In addition to changing instruments, Chris also changed outfits, since Greg likes the band to dress up. Smile

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Paul Maddison Erik White on electric guitar and vocals. Paul was playing the instrument that I expected Greg to be playing, so he had a tall order to fill in my mind. He did an excellent job, but the music isn’t really oriented to overly-highlighting the guitar (though there were enough cool licks to satisfy).

Paul Maddison

On one number, Paul was playing a riff that sounded exactly like a Doobie Brothers number. I turned to Lois and said exactly that. One second later, the song morphed, and Rebecca Haviland indeed sang two verses of a Doobie Bothers song before morphing back into the original number. Cool!

Like the set at Rockwood 1, Rockwood 2 was jammed for Greg’s set. Not only that, but the energy carried a number of people to dance (in very close quarters), and to jump up and down when Rebecca did it on stage. The floor was shaking like there was a train passing underground. That’s something we all experience at Joe’s Pub (where the underground train is real!), but this was a first at Rockwood for me. The joint was literally jumping!

We’ll be back for Greg’s next show at Rockwood 2 on February 12th and you should be too!

So, who was on before Greg’s set at Rockwood 2, opposite the completely mobbed show that I attended at Rockwood 1? None other than Beatle progeny Sean Lennon!

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While we were settling in for Greg’s show, Sean and his band were breaking down their equipment on the stage. Yes, he was packing up, being a regular musician. He stopped and allowed us newcomers to take some close-up photos as well. I didn’t hear his music, but I got the strong sense that he’s grounded and nice. So wonderful to see!

SeanLennon2SeanLennon3

Morgan Holland, Chris Ayer and Matt Simons at Rockwood Music Hall

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Morgan Holland had her EP Release Party last night at Rockwood Music Hall. She invited most of the people who performed on the EP to play with her last night. Two of them opened for Morgan before joining her in the extended (two hour) set.

Chris Ayer was first up. We’ve only seen Chris perform once before (covered in this post) and we were excited to see him again last night. He’s excellent, all around.

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Chris has a fantastic voice, plays the guitar very well and writes interesting and entertaining songs. He has a charm on stage that is hard to resist. Oh, and the ladies can’t take their eyes off of him. They’ll show up even if they’re tone deaf. Winking smile

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Chris had a strange-looking tattoo on his right forearm, or at least that’s what I thought until I saw him consult it the second time. Then I realized it was his set list, written in sharpie. Winking smile Here it is the way it looked to us, then flipped and rotated, the way it looked to Chris. Smile

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After performing a number of songs solo, Chris invited Matt Simons to join him. Matt played the piano and sang harmony (beautifully).

To close out his set, Chris invited Morgan and Matt up to sing harmony with him on a gorgeous number. When the song was over, Chris and Morgan left the stage and Matt went into his solo set.

Lois and I participated in Matt Simons’ Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of his current EP. I am really pleased with the result and encourage all of you to check it out (and buy it, of course!).

Matt played on the grand piano and electric keyboards (standing!) and of course sang. As with Chris’ set, Matt invited Morgan and Chris up to join him on his last number.

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As much as I like Matt (and I have more praise to heap on him in my next post), I wasn’t as enamored with his set selection last night. Still, always a treat to see him!

There was a brief break before Morgan’s set, since there were more instruments and musicians that needed to be squeezed onto the stage. I’ll cover the additional musicians in a minute.

The night that we had previously seen Chris Ayer was the same night we discovered Matt Simons, who was accompanying Chris. Morgan Holland joined them for Chris’ last song and sang harmony. At the time I didn’t realize that she was also pursuing a solo career.

A few months ago I heard that Morgan released a new EP. It was available on Bandcamp (I linked Morgan’s name at the head of this post to her Bandcamp page). I really like Bandcamp in general and have bought a number of albums/songs from them. One of the best reasons is that most (every?) songs are available for full, free streaming. You pay only if you want to download. Even then, it’s often a pay-what-you-wish model (perhaps with a minimum).

It’s hard to complain when you can check something out (many times if you like) before wanting to own it, and more importantly, supporting the artist.

It took me exactly one listen to Morgan’s EP (Old New) to know I wanted to own it and support her. I bought it right away and have enjoyed it (multiple times) ever since.

Morgan opened the show with an a cappella number with Chris and Matt. I’m a sucker for any well-delivered a cappella, and this was extremely well delivered!

ChrisAyerMorganHollandMattSimons

Morgan gave a good performance of a number of the songs last night, but she also threw in a cover. She praised her band many times, rightfully so.

MorganHollandUkulele

Joining her on stage, left-to-right were:

Chris Ayer on guitar, ukulele and background vocals. Chris was excellent. His guitar play complemented Morgan’s play (she played guitar and ukulele on a few numbers) and his voice blends beautifully with hers.

ChrisAyerUkuleleMorganHollandGuitar

Matt Simons on grand piano, electronic keyboards and vocals. Ditto what I said about Chris above. Smile

Chris Anderson on upright bass. Chris is one of our favorite bassists. Of the many times we’ve seen him, this might be the first time we’ve seen him play upright, but I wouldn’t swear to it. He was excellent, of course!

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Stephen Chopek on drums. This was our first time seeing Stephen play. He was very good.

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I can’t tell you how mobbed Rockwood 1 was for this set, it was crazy. That would be impressive in and of itself. But, when you couple that with the fact that the show was up against none other than Sean Lennon (yes, that Lennon, John’s son) playing immediately next door at Rockwood 2, it was even more impressive.

I’m very glad we were among those that chose to check out and support the up-and-comers, though I’m sure that Sean delivered right next door!

P.S. Wanting to grab seats for Morgan’s set, we showed up 20 minutes early. We caught the last three songs of the previous set, a Jazz Quartet named The As-Is Ensemble headed by Michael Bellar. Michael played the grand piano and electronic keyboards (very well). I didn’t catch the other names (sorry!), but the upright bass player was excellent, as were both drummers. Very impressive!

MichaelBellarPlusBassistTheAsIsEnsembleDrummers

Melissa Tong and Pork Chop Willie at Banjo Jims

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This is my first post for 2011. It’s 24 hours late because I also just upgraded the disk and OS on my laptop, which caused me to be down all day yesterday.

We love bluegrass music and we love all things Melissa Tong. We’ve seen Melissa perform a number of violin styles, but had not seen her perform bluegrass, which she does regularly in her role as a member of Pork Chop Willie (PCW). PCW has a residency at Banjo Jim’s on the first Friday of every other month, with a full (electrified) band.

To be more exact, PCW plays North Mississippi Hill Country music, which is a little more raw, rootsy (I know, not a real word).

The core of PCW is Bill Hammer and Melissa Tong. Beginning this past Friday (the night we went), they are performing on the alternate first Fridays purely acoustic, just the two of them.

As with many neighborhood bars, there is no stage at Banjo Jim’s, just an area of the bar set aside for music. We were sitting in the center of the bar (essentially, the front row), on bar stools at a round table. That made for a strange (but interesting) experience, since we were looking down at the performers (slightly), who were both sitting.

PorkChopWillie

Given that intimacy, it felt more like sitting on a friend’s porch listening to them sing and pick a bit, rather than a show. That’s cool, we like that.

Bill Hammer played three different guitars, starting off on a cigar-box, 4-string guitar. He played with and without a slide on all three guitars. He sang most of the leads with Melissa providing harmony. They switched on roughly three songs where Melissa took the lead vocals.

BillHammer

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Melissa was her usual incredible self on the violin (now officially called a fiddle). Winking smile

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We were very glad to have come out for the evening and even happier that the predicted snow was afraid of PCW and mostly stayed away. Smile

For those who want to know what they played, here’s the set list:

SetList

Looking forward to catching the full-band PCW experience.

The Nutcracker at Richmond CenterStage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheGodchildren

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We waited nearly a year for the pleasure of seeing Alex Berger perform live again. We had to console ourselves by listening to his wonderful CD, Snow Globe. It’s great, but it’s not quite the same as seeing Alex live. Last night was his first time performing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. We weren’t scheduled to be in NYC this week, but we couldn’t resist changing our plans in order to catch the show.

Wow, we are both so grateful that we did that. This will be a long post, which I know means most of you will bail now. So, the bottom line first, it was an absolutely spectacular show (as in awesome, but also a spectacle, in the best sense!).

On to the details! Smile Most of the photos were taken during setup, since the stage was so crowded there were very few clear shots from as close as we were to the stage.

Alex is just here visiting (briefly) from his native UK. That he was able to get booked into Rockwood 2 is good enough. That it was mobbed is a testament to how many fans and friends Alex has. If you know someone who is nicer than Alex Berger, please tell me now, because I very much want to meet that person and become their friend!

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Let’s start with Alex’s talents (as a singer/songwriter, I don’t have enough time to cover his talents as a person!). Alex has a fantastic voice. I am a very happy person (nearly 100% of the time), but if I’m ever tense, I’m sure that listening to Alex sing would relax me instantly.

Alex is fantastic on the keyboards (last night he played the grand piano). He can tickle my ivories any time he wishes. Winking smile

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Alex plays the guitar beautifully (last night he played Adam Levy’s electric guitar). I believe we were at the show where Alex first played a guitar publicly (The Living Room, on 1/11/2010). Perhaps he was practicing for years, but if he has truly only been playing the guitar for roughly a year, he’s picked it up extremely quickly. He closed the show solo with a finger-picking masterpiece (more on that later).

Alex writes gorgeous (lush) songs. Most are more of a throwback to jazz, ragtime, Dixieland, blues styles, but he also has some pop tunes (just to confuse you). Winking smile One of the most pleasant concert surprises I had was seeing Harry Connick Jr. play at Radio City Music Hall (I simply didn’t know his music well). If you like him (and how smooth he is), you’ll like (love!) Alex Berger, I’m sure.

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So, if you trust me (and why shouldn’t you, I haven’t steered you wrong yet!), then we can move on to the numerous musicians who joined Alex on stage last night. I’ve never seen that many people on stage at the same time at Rockwood. Most songs had eight people playing at the same time (a veritable orchestra!). There was a ninth person as well (we’ll get to him), but not all the others were on stage when he was. So, the record (for me) is eight on stage at once.

Left-to-right and front-to-back, here’s who sat (or stood) in with Alex:

Melissa Tong on violin. I can never say enough, or get enough of Melissa. We just saw Melissa play with Artemis Chamber Ensemble the day before, and I covered that in this post. It was a treat to see her change styles so radically a day apart.

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Christiana Liberis on violin. Christiana was wonderful! She and Melissa did not play in unison, they each had their own leads. I admit to thinking that Lindsay Lohan was getting on stage to play the violin, but it was only the looks that deceived me. Christiana was well behaved. Winking smile

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Marika Hughes on cello. We’ve seen Marika a number of times and she never disappoints.

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Ward Williams on cello. We’ve seen Ward many times as well and he too is a wonderful cellist. As with Melissa and Christiana, Marika and Ward often played different parts.

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Tony Maceli on upright and electric bass. Tony was wonderful (as he always is). On the opening number, it was pretty much just Alex and Tony playing, with Tony taking a long tasty solo on the upright bass.

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Katie Scheele on oboe. Katie is part of Threeds a wonderful oboe trio in NYC. We’ve seen Threeds and Katie separately a number of times and always enjoy her performance. She had a few standout solos last night and was always interesting even when in the background.

KatieScheele

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Tucked away in the corner, behind all these wonderful musicians was one of my (newly discovered) favorite drummers. I wrote about Elliot in a post about Bess Rogers. Let me add to my praise of Elliot. Before seeing him, at least two people told me Elliot was a “real hitter”. That means he strikes the drums really hard. Both people think Elliot is a great drummer, so it was a compliment, but it could also be taken to mean that Elliot is one-dimensional. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Last night, Elliot drummed nothing like he did for Bess and Lelia. He used brushes, had soft touches on the rims only and in general kept a quiet (appropriately) but steady beat to the more jazzy numbers that Alex played. To repeat, my respect for Elliot Jacobson grew last night. Sorry, no good photo of Elliot, this will have to do:

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Including Alex, that makes eight people.

Alex Wong joined Alex Berger on stage for one number. They played a song they co-wrote this weekend. According to Berger, they finished it the morning of the show, when they were rehearsing it to play for us. That kind of stuff just amazes me. Yes, they both had the words written down. Still, they nailed it. Lois cried during the song, titled The Fighter.

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Alex Wong played the piano and Berger sang with him (they alternated verses and sang harmony throughout). Wong also scored all of the strings for the entire show. If you’ve never read this space before, then you don’t know how in awe I am of Alex Wong. Now you know! Smile

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Alex (back to Berger now) had a number of songs left on his set list, but the mean management at Rockwood told him he could only do one more. Winking smile

Set List

He chose to play a cover. The song is called Washing Day, co-written by ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy. I love the song. It has a wonderful feel to it (really slow). But, the thing that makes it a great song are the lyrics. Fantastic imagery to capture universal emotions. ambeR and Adam won 1st place in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition for this song! It was the first song they ever wrote together.

Alex said that he was playing it because it’s one of the songs that inspired him to pursue singer/songwriter as a career! ambeR was supposed to sing a song that she co-wrote with Alex earlier in the set, but she didn’t make it to Rockwood in time. At least she was there to hear Alex heap some mighty praise on her for being his inspiration!

Alex just killed Washing Day. Of course, his voice is perfect for the song. But, he also shone on the guitar, which is a non-stop finger-picking extravaganza. I was incredibly impressed all around, independent of the fact that I love the song.

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Right before playing it, Alex gave us a shout out, mentioning that we changed our plans to attend the show. Thanks Alex, it was more than just worth it, it was an evening we’ll never forget. We miss you already. Move to our (frigid) city soon!!! Smile

Artemis Chamber Ensemble at Holy Family Church

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We were supposed to be gone yesterday morning. When we heard about two shows we pushed our plans back by two days. The first of those shows was yesterday.

The Artemis Chamber Ensemble had another show at Holy Family Church in New Rochelle. One of the tenets of Artemis is to have a configurable set of musicians/instruments, to be able to perform a wide variety of works in a wide variety of spaces. The last time we saw them (also at Holy Family Church) they were configured in a 19-piece ensemble, with a conductor, paired with two Church choirs. I covered that concert in this post.

Yesterday had a dramatically different feel. There were a total of six musicians (who performed in a variety of configurations) plus one baritone vocalist. The conductor (the absolutely amazing Matthew Oberstein) was in attendance, but he didn’t conduct. I asked him after the performance whether he had drilled them in advance and he said that he had nothing to do with it, he was there to enjoy it as we were.

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Another Artemis goal is to play as many pieces by contemporary composers as they can (obviously, Mozart’s Requiem doesn’t qualify). Yesterday’s program was titled “Chamber Music: Then and Now”.

The program started with String Trio No. 2 by Bohuslav Martinu. It was performed by Melissa Tong on violin, Christine Chu McGovern on cello and David Fallo on viola.

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Melissa is one of our favorite violinists (and people!). She was, of course, fantastic yesterday, as was every single person who played and sang. She introduced the piece explaining the various influences that we would hear.

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Christine Chu McGovern was superb on the cello on every piece.

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David Fallo was a very pleasant surprise for us. We’ve seen him a half a dozen times (at least), supporting Alex Wong, The Paper Raincoat and ambeR Rubarth (usually with Melissa Tong sharing the string duties with him). I’ve always loved his play in those shows, but you can’t really compare background strings in a pop show to the kind of performance David gave yesterday. Wow!

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As for the piece itself, neither of us is likely to want it on our iPod. The virtuosity of the musicians was obvious (it’s no easy piece to play), but it’s way too dissonant throughout to be our cup of tea. I don’t know Martinu, so I don’t know if this piece if typical of his work.

Next up was Dover Beach, for baritone and string quartet, Op. 3 by Samuel Barber. Joining Melissa, Christine and David was an additional violinist, Bryony Stroud-Watson. Christopher DeVage supplied the amazing baritone singing.

Bryony Stroud-Watson also performed at the Mozart Requiem concert. She was amazing then as she was yesterday. I didn’t mention her in the last post (though I included the program which listed her) because I only selected a handful of the 19 musicians to highlight. Last time, it seemed to me that both Melissa and Bryony played the same notes at the same time (most pairs did that as well, violas, bassoons, etc.).

BryonyStroud-Watson

Yesterday, even when Melissa and Bryony played together (as in the piece I’m discussing now), they played different lines. I’ll mention Bryony again for the last piece of the program.

Christopher DeVage has a gorgeous voice (velvety). In addition to singing, Christopher introduced this piece, explaining that it began as a poem that was later set to music.

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I found the singing beautiful, but distracting, since I can understand the English (as opposed to operatic Italian), but I didn’t find the lyrics compelling in song. The quartet was amazing.

Voyage, for flute and string quintet by John Corigliano was next. Corigliano is the only living composer among yesterday’s selection. Two additional musicians were added to the mix for this piece. Melissa Healy on flute and Scott Thornton on upright bass. Melissa introduced the piece.

MelissaHealyBryonyStroud-WatsonMelissaTongScottThorntonChristineChuMcGovernDavidFallo

Melissa Healy is an extraordinary flutist. I’ve always been a fan of the flute (specifically, Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway).

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Scott Thornton also played the bass at the last concert. He did a very nice job on this one piece yesterday.

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Love Blows as the Wind Blows, songs for baritone and string quartet by George Butterworth swapped Christopher and his vocals for Scott and his bass. This piece was introduced by Christopher, reading a piece of the poem/song before singing it with the flute and string quartet.

Again, I found the fact that I could understand what he was singing more distracting than enhancing. The music, again, gorgeous, as was Christopher’s voice.

Saving the best for last (at least in my opinion), they performed Flute Quartet No. 1 in D Major, K. 285 by Wolfgang A. Mozart. The quartet consisted of Melissa Healy (flute), Bryony Stroud-Watson (violin), Christine Chu McGovern (cello) and David Fallo (viola).

The piece is spectacular. Melissa’s flute play was heavenly (and mind-boggling). Lois wondered if Melissa took any breaths during her long lines.

Bryony was fantastic on the violin (as before, but without Melissa Tong on stage, there was no question as to who was hitting what notes on the violin).

Christine and David were equally wonderful, as they were on all of the other pieces.

Holy Family Church is a wonderful place to hear these types of concerts. The acoustics are wonderful and the people are so welcoming.