Chris Ayer

Chris Ayer, Rebecca Haviland and Chris Anderson at a House Concert

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Two weeks ago I announced that we were no longer involved with Zope Corporation. That was supposed to mean not driving up and down I95 every month. Apparently, our love of music and friends didn’t get the message. Winking smile

Lindsie Davis runs regular house concerts. We’ve been lucky to have attended three of them (including last night). In addition to loving every one of the shows, we’ve become good friends with Lindsie, which in the long run (even the short run) is more valuable to us.

Update: Lindsie just forwarded three photos that she took. We’re in two of them. I’ll post the first here, then the others down below.

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Before we knew we’d be out of Zope, we were discussing coming to Lindsie’s next show, which she was trying to put together but hadn’t set a date yet. By the time the date was set, we were already out, but we decided to make the trip, and turn it into a going away party as well. I’ll cover the party aspect briefly after capturing my thoughts about the show itself.

Rebecca Haviland and Chris Anderson opened the show. They have now named their group Rebecca Haviland and Whiskey Heart (I guess that makes Chris’ name: Whiskey Heart). It works for me, but I’m probably just going to call him Whiskey from now on. Winking smile

RebeccaHavilandAndWhiskeyHeart

We see them perform a bunch, recently in a variety of configurations, but I have to admit that I was still taken by surprise last night (a most pleasant surprise). On March 21st, we saw them perform as a duo (for the first time) at Watercolor Café. The big difference last night was no vocal microphones.

Rebecca and Chris each had their instruments (electric guitar and electric bass respectively) plugged into amps. But, they had them dialed softly (perfectly). That Rebecca’s amazing voice could easily be heard above the amps was not a surprise. That Chris sang loud enough to be so perfectly balanced with Rebecca was the giant surprise. They sounded better together vocally than at any previous show. That means that Chris will have to sing louder, or the sound guy will need to crank him more, at future full band shows.

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The acoustics were perfect and every song was fantastic. After missing If You at the last show, they performed it last night. Even though it was new to probably 95% of the people in the room (it was a very well attended show!), this was the best crowd participation in singing the Oh, oh oh oh oh part (along with me, of course). Really great!

RebeccaHaviland

Whenever Rebecca was tuning, she was quite funny telling us stories and informing us that this was her first-ever house concert performance! I’m willing to bet that it won’t be her last. I have a strong suspicion that she had every bit the blast that we in the audience did. Chris Anderson is an old pro at this. In fact, he was at all of the previous house concerts that we attended at Lindsie’s.

ChrisAndersonRebeccaHaviland

After their set, Lindsie announced that there would be a 10-minute break to eat the amazing desserts and stretch the legs. Those rarely last only 10 minutes, so I was impressed that this one was officially ended (with blinking lights) at the 14-minute mark. Well done running a tight ship Lindsie!

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Chris Ayer took to the stage (OK, the front of the room) and captivated everyone with his incredible songs, voice and guitar play.

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Chris always gets a ton of requests for particular songs (many of them long out of his regular rotation). He told us about one guy in Europe who took to the Interwebz to hammer Chris when he didn’t get his desired song. That dude needs to chill (see, I’m still young at heart). Winking smile

Last night, Chris decided to finally perform two songs he’s been promising someone for a while now (two different people, if I understood, both of whom were at the show). One was Opening and the other was Warmer. Bravo! It’s such a treat to hear great songs that rarely get played live nowadays.

As with Rebecca, whenever Chris was tuning, he had us cracking up. Aside from his typical tuning, he complained that the capo the guy at The Guitar Center talked him into was a bad choice. I noticed it once, it doesn’t put equal pressure across the fret, so Chris had to play with it to tighten it, but also compensated by retuning the string it wouldn’t catch. That gave him plenty of time to make us laugh.

ChrisAyerTuning

While I could recite Rebecca’s set list by heart (but won’t), Chris provided his official set list for Lois to photograph:

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Our host with the performers:

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Our host with us and Chris Anderson:

ChrisAndersonLoisHadarLindsie

It was a great show, well worth the long drive down (unreal traffic once we got into Friday afternoon Washington rush hour). Afterward, we headed to our friends’ house in Leesburg, where we spent the night (and where I’m now typing this). Shortly I’ll be off to watch the older son play baseball (he’ll be the starting pitcher) and then after lunch, the long trek home.

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Back to the party aspect of last night. We reached out to a bunch of current and former Zope employees and their families. 15 of us met for dinner at Portabellos in Arlington. Wow, such a great meal, excellent company and everyone in the restaurant was nice and treated us very well.

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After the meal, 13 of us headed to the house concert. So, Zope was very well represented at the show. In a nice twist, one of the current Zope employees (Satchit) won the merch raffle, so he walked away with two of Chris Ayer’s CDs and two of Rebecca’s. Score!

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An absolutely fantastic night, beginning to end. So glad we never hesitated to make this long drive to implant those memories.

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Chris Ayer, Matt Simons and Adam Barnes at Rockwood Music Hall

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Chris Ayer, Matt Simons and Adam Barnes have toured together in the UK and Europe a couple of times. March saw Adam crossing the pond to tour the US with Chris and Matt (by now you should have figured out that Adam is the Brit of the three). Last night they headlined a two-hour set at Rockwood Music Hall to close out their month-long tour.

In typical fashion, I’ll cover them in the reverse order that they appeared on stage. Each of them called the others up to sing on at least one song.

It’s been five months since we’ve seen Chris Ayer perform. That’s practically crazy talk, but at least the drought is now over.

Chris opened the show with a new song called Turnip. He noted that no one seems to like the title, but that’s what it is. Regardless of the title, the song is fantastic, so let’s allow Chris to call it whatever he wants.

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I don’t think it had anything to do with our five-month deprivation, but everything aligned last night in a way that we both felt Chris delivered a flawless performance.

His guitar play was stellar (which isn’t unusual, I’m just noting the various components of flawlessness). His voice was great. He chose a wonderful set list. When he invited Matt and Adam up (separately and together), the harmonies were heavenly.

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Matt joined for a few songs in a row, playing the grand piano and singing their patented gorgeous harmonies.

Adam joined for two numbers. On the first, they sang stunning three-part harmony. For the second, on the first verse/chorus, Adam sang harmony with Chris (while Matt sat patiently at the piano), and that two-part harmony was awesome too. Then Matt joined for the remainder of the song, again, incredible.

Chris announced that he was going to close the show with his signature performed-in-the-crowd version of Roy G Biv. All three of them descended into the audience and Chris had most people singing along with him. Always a treat to see/hear that song, whether it’s in the audience or on stage.

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When the song was over, Chris was done. But, there was still more than enough time for him to play another, and the crowd simply wouldn’t have it any other way. He was forced (quite literally) to plug back in and do an encore. A number of songs were called out. Lois asked for Wintertime, I asked for Snakeskin Heart. I heard at least five other song titles yelled out.

Chris was amused, but asked us whether it would be OK if he sang Hiding Place. No one objected. Winking smile

It’s a great song, and he nailed it, so it was a very fitting encore.

Here’s the set list (in traditional style), and you can fill in Hiding Place in your mind:

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Matt Simons played a set at the piano. I think that all but one of his songs was off of his upcoming CD, Pieces, which will be released in June.

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Matt recently released a single off that CD, Gone, which he played last night. You can buy it for a buck and/or pre-order the full CD for digital download or a physical copy.

Matt typically mixes it up between the grand piano and the electronic keyboards. Last night he played the piano only. I nearly always prefer the spacious sound of a piano, so I was very happy. Matt’s play was excellent on his set and on Chris’. His vocals were great too.

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Even though the CD won’t be released until June, Matt had copies of it at the show. They are labeled Promotional Copies, Not for Resale. As Matt pointed out, they don’t say Not for Sale, just not for resale. Winking smile

So, you could buy one at the show. We bought two, so I could put the second one up for sale on EBay and accomplish two things: 1) Get $500 for the CD, because it’s not yet available to those who want it! and 2) flaunt the law and see if I can get away with it! Winking smile

I already mentioned that all three were on stage during each other’s sets, so I will redundantly report that Chris and Adam sang with Matt, beautifully.

Chris also joined Matt for a song that Chris played guitar and Matt sang lead, without playing the piano. They sang harmony on the chorus. It was gorgeous, with the mellowness of the guitar, coupled with Matt’s vocals.

The one older song was also performed with Chris: I’m Already Over You. Excellent!

Kicking the whole thing off was the one person we hadn’t seen yet, Adam Barnes.

Adam has an excellent voice and plays the guitar nicely (a few songs finger-picked, the rest, rhythm).

His songs are very slow and soulful (at least this set was) and he delivers the lyrics with a deliberate passion, so the pacing becomes a critical part of the feel of the song.

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Adam broke out the harmonica on one song and shared a bit of TMI about mustache hairs and the potential hazards thereof. Winking smile

AdamBarnesHarmonica

As with the others, he first invited Chris up to sing harmony with him, then Matt joined so that the three could dazzle us together. This was proof that no matter who the songwriter, Adam, Matt or Chris, each is capable of writing songs that support this type of harmony.

We grabbed some Adam Barnes stickers after the show. Who knows where you’ll see one. Smile His guitar is an advertisement for Chris Ayer though. Winking smile

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We were both so happy to be able to make it out to this show.

While I mentioned how amazing the performances were, the evening itself was not without a hiccup. Right before one of Matt’s songs, he asked for a glass of water. The waitress brought it over to him. As she left the stage, the woman across the table from me moved a bit hastily to let her get by. In the process, she knocked over her full glass of red wine all over me (shirt and jeans). C’est la vie. At least, whenever I need a quick hit, I’ll probably be able to squeeze a few drops out of those jeans.

As is typical at Rockwood, we got to share the experience with a bunch of our friends, some of whom Lois captured. The two ladies had birthdays on consecutive days. Matt gave a shout-out from the stage to the one whose birthday it was yesterday. Smile

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Chris Ayer at Rockwood Music Hall

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Chris Ayer announced a show at Rockwood Music Hall with the following tweet:

chrisayer Chris Ayer

Show tonight in NYC! Rockwood 8p: playing brand new songs w/ @CAndersonbass @matt_simons & @adamchristgau that we’re recording today.excited

We already had it on the calendar for a while, but didn’t know it would be a full band show. In the end, it was close, but not exactly what Chris anticipated. The above was followed by this tweet:

adamchristgau Adam Christgau

Awesome… sick again. Looks like being 29 got off to a great start

So, after braving his cold in the studio all day, Adam simply couldn’t make it out for the show.

Chris is recording a new CD this week. We’re very excited for this, because Chris’ new songs (some of which he’s been playing for the past few months) are great and we look forward to professionally produced versions of them.

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Chris opened last night’s show solo. In a nice twist for Rockwood, the large crowd was very quiet (necessary for a solo acoustic guitar performer). Thanks! Chris actually joked about it. When he first walked on stage he asked everyone how they’re doing. Perhaps one person quietly said “Great”. Chris said (I’m paraphrasing): “Ah, a quiet crowd, that’ll work!”. Winking smile

When he started playing Hiding Places (one of the new songs that I can’t wait to get a recorded version of) he was finger picking. A little way into the song he switched to using a pick. Seconds later, the thicker of the two middle strings broke.

If Chris were a normal guitar player, we could queue all the “He broke his G String” jokes! But, Chris is a lefty, so the third string from the top for him is the D (or perhaps I have it reversed and it is the G, and we do need to queue the jokes!). Winking smile

Either end string can often be ignored and the performer can power through the song, especially when there are other band members making music. Break one of the middle strings and it’s near impossible to make pleasant sounds.

Chris stopped and replaced the string, pretty quickly. He joked that this was the first time he injected an intermission in the middle of a song. Technically, it wasn’t an intermission, because he didn’t pick up where he left off, he started the song from the beginning (yay!). Smile

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A couple of songs later Chris invited the others up to join him.

Matt Simons on grand piano and vocals. Matt actually did a bit more singing than playing the piano. Both were excellent, but their harmonies are exquisite. My fingers are crossed that there are a ton of them on the new CD.

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Chris Anderson on electric bass. We’ve seen Chris Anderson play with Chris Ayer a number of times. Anderson typically plays the upright bass, though a few numbers have been on an electric. Last night they were all electric. It didn’t matter, with the exception of one song that demanded it, Chris was very subtle on the bass, suited perfectly with each song.

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Chris closed the show in what has become a tradition. Typically, he descends into the audience (with the band when there is one) and belts out an unplugged version of Roy G Biv. Considering how crowded it was in Rockwood, he varied by asking the audience first whether he should play on stage, or unplug and join them. He was enthusiastically welcomed into the audience (with the necessary parting of the sea) for the big finale.

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Another excellent set by Chris, Matt and Chris. If you’re reading this in Europe, you can catch Chris Ayer and Matt Simons on their upcoming tour there in roughly 5 weeks.

Here’s the set list, our view and Chris’:

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We brought along our goddaughter and some friends, who had seen Chris play before in a 100% unplugged solo show.

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Another friend joined for his first Chris Ayer experience:

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Matt Simons, Chris Ayer and Ryan Vaughn at The Cupping Room Cafe

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Many of the musicians that we see regularly tour all over the US and Europe. In addition to playing the kinds of shows we attend, a number of them also play semi-regularly at local bars and restaurants. We new that Matt Simons serenades the diners at The Cupping Room Café, often with guest performers, but we hadn’t been able to make it there on a night when he was performing.

We had early dinner plans last night and also intended to see a late show at Rockwood Music Hall (the subject of the next post). Then I saw the following tweet:

ryandrummerboy Ryan M. Vaughn

playing The Cupping Room in SoHo w/ the likes of @matt_simons and @chrisayer TONIGHT from 8PM til 11PM! A healthy mix of originals & covers!

Our dinner ended at 8:15. We grabbed a cab and headed down. It was gorgeous outside when we left the restaurant. By the time we reached SoHo it was pouring. It never let up the rest of the evening (no rain was predicted for yesterday). We walked into the Cupping Room shortly before 9pm to the very sweet sounds of Chris Ayer and Matt Simons singing harmony, accompanied by Ryan Vaughn on all manner of percussion, primarily his signature cajon.

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With one exception, Matt and Chris alternated singing songs (with most having the other harmonize). They played roughly 2/3’s originals and 1/3 covers. That’s a great strategy to pick up new fans (which restaurants and bars are better suited to than shows, where people won’t typically show up unless they know your music to begin with). The covers are familiar and allow people to see your talent as a singer and musician. The originals show who you are in your heart, soul and intellect.

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Even though we missed the first 45 minutes, we got to hear a number of our favorite songs. All of the covers were big hits, but we hadn’t heard them do these specific ones before, so that was a real treat as well.

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They took a break at around 10pm. After saying a quick hi to both Matt and Chris, I had a long-ish conversation with Ryan Vaughn, my first time speaking to him (I don’t think I ever introduced myself to him before either). I got a hard-core and very much appreciated lesson in drumming equipment (and cajon’s). It started when I joked about how bent his cymbal was and he explained how it happened (and why). Thanks Ryan, I’m a thirsty sponge for this kind of stuff!

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Since we had dinner earlier (including a wonderful bottle of wine), we took advantage of the full coffee bar section of The Cupping Room and both had lattes. During their break, the restaurant fed them (I think all three ordered burgers). The food looked fantastic, so next time we come see Matt there (yes, there will be a next time), we’ll try to schedule it to have dinner there as well.

In a delightful surprise, a couple of our friends showed up to see them play as well. They hadn’t been to this place either and seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.

When they started playing again, we stuck around for another two songs and then had to duck out to make our 11pm Rockwood set. I got to mention that to Chris during the break, so they didn’t have to wonder why we didn’t hang around to the very end.

An absolutely wonderful way to spend two hours on a dreary night in NYC.

Here’s an abbreviated version of the songs Chris considered playing last night:

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

Chris Ayer and Matt Simons at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Chris Ayer and Matt Simons were scheduled to have back-to-back full sets at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 last Saturday night (8/27/2011). Hurricane Irene had a different plan for NYC that night. Rockwood, along with nearly every other business in NYC, shut down for the weekend, canceling a highly anticipated night out for us (and many others).

While NYC wasn’t crushed by Irene (though many individuals were, even in NYC), Upstate NY was devastated in parts, in particular, Schoharie County. 43 NYC-based musicians banded together and within days released a 43-track album, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting Schoharie Country.

Chris Ayer and Matt Simons each donated a track to this amazing collection of music. Minimum donation is just $15 (for 43 tracks!), but please give much more generously if you can afford to, especially if you’re a music lover.

Since Rockwood books a couple of months out, giving Chris and Matt their own sets, in particular consecutive ones (so they could play on each other’s) would be difficult on short notice. The compromise was to give them a set to split, at the much larger Stage 2 next door. It was scheduled for exactly one week later, same starting time (last night, 8pm).

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Matt Simons sang and played keyboards (grand piano and electronic) throughout the set. He opened solo, singing Fall in Line (the title cut of one of Matt’s two EPs). Fantastic! Matt was in excellent voice (lead and harmony with Chris) and his keyboard play was buttery smooth.

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Matt invited Chris up to sing harmony on his next three numbers. Lois and I are suckers for great harmony. We’re spoiled by the consistently brilliant three-part harmonies of Girlyman, but I have to tell you, Matt and Chris (and Chris and Matt) are two of the best at duo harmony (and when Morgan Holland used to sing with them before deserting the East Coast, at three part as well). Their voices blend so well.

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When Matt is singing lead, Chris typically takes the high parts (often very high). When Chris sings lead, they switch and Matt hits high notes so sweetly.

Matt played two new songs, Pieces and Emotionally Involved with You, closing with an older one, I’m Already Over You. Great selection, but there was a twist to these three songs that was executed perfectly. One one, they played together (Matt on keyboards, Chris on acoustic guitar). On another Chris played the acoustic guitar and Matt sang without playing the keyboards. That was quite unusual for him to sing lead on his own song without touching an instrument. It was perfect (they’re smart guys).

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To round it out, Matt sang lead and played keyboards with Chris singing harmony without playing guitar, so all permutations were displayed in the three songs.

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Matt walked off the stage to turn the second half of the set over to Chris.

Chris opened solo playing a new-ish song, Where Do You Want to Go. Then Matt joined him for the remaining numbers. The traditional Chris Ayer set list is included in both views (ours and his). Matt’s set list (spelled out above) is written on Chris’ arm below his own list.

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Just as with Matt’s set, Chris’ voice was spot on, as were their harmonies. The place was crowded. I could tell from a number of the people around me that Chris picked up some new fans. They were mesmerized during his numbers, but it was fairly obvious they had never seen/heard him before.

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If you read this space regularly, you’re probably getting tired of me telling you what a brilliant songwriter Chris is (independent of his amazing delivery, both live and recorded). Deal with it. If there’s even one new person reading this post, they need to understand that Chris isn’t just another talented singer/songwriter (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Winking smile but rather, he’s a true gift to those of us who want to have our horizons expanded by the poets of the world.

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Two perfect mini-sets, combined into one perfect full set. Exactly as it should be.

Chris Ayer at Rockwood Music Hall

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Chris Ayer just returned from touring the UK and Europe. We missed him while he was gone, though it might sound protectionist if I publicly admit that we didn’t want to share him with the rest of the world. Winking smile

Matt Simons, one of Chris’ partners-in-crime toured with him, but wasn’t in town last night, so Chris played the set solo.

Most of the set consisted of new (and new-ish) songs. It doesn’t matter. Chris is such a great songwriter, that his old stuff holds up (don’t ask him to agree to my opinion!) and his new stuff is amazing.

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A few days ago, a friend asked us what we were doing Friday night. We told him that we’d be at Rockwood Music Hall at 8pm to see Chris. We told him he was welcome to join. His parents were visiting for the weekend and we told him they were welcome too. We decided to have dinner together beforehand.

Over dinner, the three of them asked us about Chris. I described him as:

  • amazing songwriter
  • excellent guitar player
  • wonderful singer
  • complete package, whether he’s playing solo or with a full band, both experiences are worth catching

Whenever we praise someone like that, no matter how heartfelt, I worry that it will be taken as hype by the listener. Even worse, I then get nervous if we’re all about to see that person perform, because I end up listening more critically, worrying whether the others will agree with my description.

No need to worry. Chris was awesome as always. In addition to the five of us, another two friends joined, with one of them bringing her friend as well. There were eight of us, four of whom had never seen Chris perform. They were all transformed into new, instant fans, within two songs.

Our friend’s dad turned to me and said “He’s as good as you said he would be!”. Whew! Smile

Our friend said to Lois: “Chris is a poet!”. Ha! I’ve written that exact phrase a couple of times in blogs. Here is how I defined poet in a post about Chris in May:

There are a ton of great lyricists out there. Substantially fewer of those are also poets. Great lyrics can tell a great story, have catchy rhymes or phrases and therefore clearly are the foundation of great songs. Poets create all that, but in addition, they emblazon images in your mind. Their turns of phrases are like Van Gogh’s brushstrokes. Many great songwriters achieve poetry on occasion. Poets achieve it regularly and prolifically. Chris is one such poet.

Chris writes his set list out on his arm. In our traditional fashion, I show it to you from our perspective (upside-down) and his (so that he actually knows what he’s going to play):

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He might have to start writing past his elbow (on his biceps), because last night he had to ask the audience for a song to play in addition to the full set list. Someone called out Snakeskin Heart and he obliged, beautifully.

Chris delivered exactly the experience we described he would. We didn’t doubt it in advance, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get a twinge when we’ve given the hard sell to newcomers.

Circling back to dinner. After a wonderful meal, we headed out to catch two cabs, only to be stopped by an apocalyptic rainstorm. We waited in the doorway to the restaurant for 25 minutes. When it slowed to a hard drizzle, we walked an avenue block and were lucky enough to catch two cabs within five minutes.

Chris must have been nervous whether the rain would keep people away. Here’s what he tweeted shortly before the show began:

Dear show-goers this evening; think of rockwood as an ark, that will carry us from flooded peril! Bring your twin.

There was a very nice-size crowd there, but I don’t think I saw any twins. Perhaps the other halves were (foolishly) at Rockwood 2 (next door). Winking smile

The dad and I walked in at 7:57pm. Good timing. Smile

Another Amazing Weekend

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This was our third consecutive weekend hosting out-of-town visitors. Since the last two were fantastic, the bar was set high for this one. Don’t worry, we cleared it.

When our friends (parents of our godchildren and our closest friends for nearly 30 years!) asked whether this weekend would be a good one for them to come up from VA, the automatic answer was of course! The only (minor) complication was our unmovable commitment to attending four sets of music on Saturday night.

I’ve already written about the music separately, but since this is a post about the entire weekend, I’ll link them here again. Rebecca Haviland: covered here. Matt Simons: covered here. Sierra Noble: covered here. Chris Ayer: covered here.

We had a small scare before everything got rolling. Our friends called from the airport to say that there was a mechanical problem on the plane. While it was (theoretically) simple to fix, they didn’t know how long it would take the mechanic to show up. There was a chance that they wouldn’t even get out that night (Friday, July 1st).

That’s exactly how the first of these three weekends began, with David and Rebecca (their son and daughter-in-law) not getting out until the next morning! This case turned out differently. Not 15 minutes later they called back to say they were boarding. I’m guessing the mechanic was on a smoke break. Winking smile

Shortly after they arrived at the apartment, nine of us (counting a 2-year-old as a full person) Winking smile walked up to the Peking Duck House for dinner. It’s been a while since we’ve been there (a minor crime against humanity). We had been talking about our need to correct that for the past two weeks, so this worked out perfectly.

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The meal was perfect. I never doubted it would be, but I report it here for the record.

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Given our music-filled night, we decided that Saturday would be a day of rest for us (conserving our energy). The parents, their daughter and son-in-law went to the Doughnut Plant (the site currently lists a Lower East Side address only, but there is one at 220 W. 23rd St. as well, which is where they went). Afterward, they walked the Highline Park.

They headed over to Broadway to see How to Succeed in Business. All four of them said it was terrific and they were sure both of us would love it. Something to add to the list. Smile

The six of us had a wonderful dinner at El Rio Grande (our favorite Mexican restaurant). In a complete shock, we bumped into a few good friends who were dining there outside. We were seated inside (our choice) on the other side of the window from them. Even though our chats with them were brief (before our meal and after theirs), it was a special delight.

After nearly falling asleep (due to the amazing frozen margaritas), I somehow gathered myself for the epic night of music and easily made it all the way through! I don’t know what the others did, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they didn’t fight the feeling of sleep and succumbed to it. Winking smile

On Sunday morning the four of them attended Church services at Redeemer. They spent some time at the Cooper Hewitt Museum then returned to the apartment to relax a bit. This week is both our and Laura and Chris’ anniversaries. We decided to celebrate at the Old Homestead steakhouse. All six of us couldn’t stop raving about the meal afterward. At least three (perhaps as many as five) counted this meal (and therefore this restaurant) as their favorite steakhouse meal (that includes Lois saying that her Lobster was the best she’s ever had).

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I loved my meal (thoroughly), but I admitted (out loud) that The Palm is still my favorite. I promise not to complain or hesitate to return to the Old Homestead though, should anyone suggest it again. Smile

After dinner, we all wanted (and needed) to walk off the calories (please don’t make me estimate the full damage). We walked the super-long block from the restaurant to the 14th Street entrance to the Highline Park. This was my first time seeing it in person. We walked from 14th St. until the end, currently 30th St. It’s spectacular. I highly recommend making the effort to get there, whether you’re a New Yorker or an out-of-towner here on a visit.

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We collapsed when we got back to the apartment (well, at least Lois and I collapsed, the others may have gone dancing for all I know).

On Monday morning (the venerable July 4th), Chris and I went for a long walk. When we’re in the city, I typically take long walks for exercise. For me, that means somewhere between five and eight miles, depending on my mood and my schedule. I do it 2-3 times a week, if I have the time. Amazingly, blogging is often the cause of me not having the time to walk. The things we do for our readers… Winking smile

Few of you who read this know Chris. He served six years in the Navy and remains in amazing shape by regularly working out. My only hesitation in walking with him, ever, is that he can keep up a grueling pace forever. He can walk backward, faster than I walk forward, and keep it up seemingly forever as well. I negotiated through an intermediary (Laura) that he would drop the drill-sergeant routine this time.

When we got to the Brooklyn Bridge (typically as far as I’d walk), that marked the 3.9 mile point. That would be just under an eight mile walk if we turned around. Chris looked at me and asked if I’d walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him it had been over 30 years since I’d done that, but I was game. Instead, he suggested we just keep trucking further from the apartment. It had been a year since I’d done the loop I knew we were now committing to, but I (happily) agreed.

We continued south, past the Seaport, on to the Staten Island Ferry, where we headed north up the west side. At 34th Street we started the long trek over to the east side. When we arrived at the apartment, Chris was fresh as a daisy. I was a puddle of sweat who dreamt only of removing my sneakers from my feet. Total distance: 11.36 miles (I wear a Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch that they all bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago). Total time was 3:14, but that included a stop in the World Financial Center to check out the progress at Ground Zero.

After a nice lunch out (Euro Diner if you’re keeping score) we veg’ed out all afternoon (I might have even slept a bit, shhh). All of that was to prepare for attending a July 4th party.

Up until three years ago, we used to host an annual 4th of July party on our deck. We had pretty good views of the Macy’s Fireworks when they had them on East River. This is the third year in a row that they were on the Hudson instead and we had no plans to fight the crowds to try and see them.

On Friday, we received an invitation to a party that claimed to have a spectacular view of the fireworks. Under normal circumstances, we would have said yes in a heartbeat, but we would have been adding four strangers to the party list, which felt wrong on our part. I politely declined, explaining why.

In a I’m not taking No for an answer reply, our host told us to bring our guests along. I only had one No in me, so this time I said Yes! We negotiated on what we could bring and settled on Sushi.

What a great plan, until we found out that our go-to Sushi restaurant was closed all weekend. Our backup Sushi place (also exceptional) was going to be closed on Monday as well. In a twist of fate (actually two twists), the first place was clearly marked as being closed all weekend. The backup place hadn’t updated their sign, so when Lois went in, she thought they’d be open on Monday.

Hiroshi Sushi is across the street from our apartment. I filled in our order before Lois walked over. When she started to say what time she wanted the order ready by, she found out that they were closed on Monday. As she was turning to leave, the person she was talking to called her back.

He told her that he remembered us from years earlier when we used to come in all the time with Lois’ mother to their former Japanese Restaurant (a few doors down, now closed for probably eight years!). He was our waiter many of those times. He asked Lois if he could call the owner (and head chef), who was also involved in the other restaurant, to ask if he’d come in just to prepare this order.

20 minutes later he called us and said that the owner would happily do this for us. Wow, we were so grateful. The order was ready to be picked up at exactly 5pm (as promised) and was fantastic (as evidenced by the oohs and aahs of the partiers). I couldn’t resist trying something called “peanut and avocado roll”. Yummy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We also brought a white pizza (for those who might not like Sushi). I had the first two slices (and didn’t notice if anyone else did). Man, that was really good too. Finally, we brought a gigantic fresh fruit salad that was seemingly bottomless, but it got completely devoured (or so I heard), so it apparently had a bottom after all. That too was a big hit.

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On to the actual party (I have a tough time not talking or thinking about food though). Winking smile

When we first arrived at our friend’s apartment we were blown away by the view. But, he lives in a one bedroom (very high up) and we wondered how everyone would get to enjoy the fireworks while being crowded like sardines in the living room. Ah, I’m so naïve at times. That was never the plan.

There was a friend of our friend, who lived 15 floors down (still quite high!). He has a much larger apartment, but more importantly, a massive deck, facing the Hudson River. The two of them decided to combine their parties. In an additional act of generosity, the second host (the friend of our friend), allowed an entire party of his next door neighbors to attend the viewing of the fireworks on his deck, when they were done with their meal (and drinking) on their adjacent (but not facing the river!) deck.

I don’t need to describe the view or the fireworks to you. All of the photos above were taken by Lois, on her compact camera. She took a ton of photos last night too, but I don’t need to share them.

Our friend (Bob) from VA is a semi-professional photographer (with professional equipment). He set up his Nikon on a tripod and captured stunning photos. His daughter (Laura) is following in his footsteps. A few of her shots are included with his. Here’s a representative sample (I’m not compressing these photos, for those of you who want the full effect).

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Followed by the calm after the storm:

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Our friend (let’s call him Host #1) made two pitchers of exotic drinks. The first was green, looked like slime, and was called Key Lime Martini. The second was blue (and frothy) and had Blue Curacao, some coconut stuff and other secret ingredients. I tried the Key Lime first. It was amazing, but one sip was nearly lethal. I am putting my name on a list for when it’s time for me to go, this is the way I’d like to end it all. While I know at least two people who loved it, but purposely didn’t finish theirs (for fear of expiring), I was brave and downed my entire glass.

I later moved on to the Blue mixture. It tasted even better. So much so that I had a second glass (don’t tell Lois!). It didn’t feel as lethal, but for all I know, that’s part of it’s secret. I heard many people raving about this concoction (actually both). Our Host #1 can definitely fall back on Mixologist if his primary profession hits a brick wall. Wow!

Host #2 is a fascinating person who couldn’t have been kinder or more generous (as noted above). In fact, we met many friends of Host #1, each one was a complete delight to converse with. Without a doubt, we’ll be following up with a number of them!

We had to walk a number of blocks before finding the first of the two cabs that got us home and a bit further for the second one.

An absolutely incredible ending to an incredible weekend. I’m no longer annoyed that the fireworks have moved to the west side. I’ll need to be nice to Host #1 for the entire year, just in case Macy’s decides to do it there again next year. It will be hard to keep up the façade, but I’ll do my best. Winking smile

Thank you for including all six of us. It’s a night we’ll never forget!

Chris Ayer at The Living Room

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Topping off an extraordinary night of music was one of our favorites, Chris Ayer. For those of you who are new here, you might require proof that Chris is one of our favorites. Luckily, I can provide that.

Two weeks ago we hosted our first house concert. We wanted a solo, guitar slinging singer/songwriter. Without hesitation, both Lois and I agreed that we should approach Chris first. He said yes, and this was the result. Lois and I share a lot of musical taste in common, but we differ a bunch as well, especially at the extremes. So, agreeing on Chris so easily tells you everything you need to know about how we feel about him.

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Back to last night. We had gotten delicious doses of Chris during both Matt Simons’ and Sierra Noble’s sets. You can read about those sets here and here respectively. You can also get a flavor of the band that supported all three sets.

Let’s start with the traditional photos of Chris’ set list, first from our perspective, then his. The twist is that this time, we’ll throw in a bonus of a bit of his guitar as well (no extra charge!):

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He kicked the set off solo, starting with two very new songs. Great start. Both were good, new material feeds the brain, old (great) material feeds the soul/heart.

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Then Chris brought the band up. A quick rundown (probably repetitious for the stauncher readers out there):

Chris Anderson on electric and upright bass plus vocals. Chris switched back to electric for most of the set, but threw in some upright to keep me on my toes, making Sierra’s set the only one that he exclusively played the upright on.

Ryan Vaughn on drums. Once again, superb.

Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. Since I can never say enough good things about Greg, I feel badly (for me!) to make this one so short. Here goes: he was his usual (awesome) self.

Matt Simons on keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and heavy vocals. As I mentioned in the post about Matt, when Chris and Matt sing together, it’s magic, no matter whose song it is or which one is singing lead. No exception on Chris’ set, Matt was perfect.

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Here’s a group shot (where Matt was out of the picture).

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After a couple of songs with the band, Chris brought up Sierra Noble to sing harmony and play some violin. He gave the band (excluding Matt) a break. When Sierra and Matt sang three-part harmony with Chris, everything got cranked up another level (which only made me mad that Chris clearly was holding something back on the earlier stuff!). Winking smile

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Sierra remained on stage when the band returned.

If you know Chris Ayer’s music, then you know from the set list above what a great choice he made last night. He mixed it up with completely new stuff, great older stuff and very recent stuff. He mixed it up with solo, full band, three-part harmony (without the band), etc. If there’s anything in particular that is your favorite thing about Chris, you were sure to have at least a healthy dose of it last night. If you’re like us and love it all, it was a buffet.

In what has become a bit of a tradition at Chris’ shows, he ended the evening with a descent into the crowd to perform Roy G Biv. As he did the last time he played The Living Room, the entire band descended with him. Well, they all did except for Ryan Vaughn who remained at the drums.

Chris (and everyone else) would have none of that. Since the most critical thing Ryan would be playing during Roy G Biv is the cowbell (look up the lyrics if you don’t know why), they teased him about the fact that cowbells are notoriously portable. He didn’t protest too much. He too came into the audience with a few percussion goodies in hand.

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Once Ryan was in, the party could begin. Chris actually kept turning (slowly) in a full 360, to make sure everyone got serenaded head on.

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The rest might be a bit hard to pick out, but here’s one shot that has Sierra in the background and Greg Mayo playing guitar. The highlight of the picture are Matt Simon’s hands, leading the audience in keeping the beat by clapping.

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A fantastic, energetic end to one of our best nights out. From 8pm until nearly midnight, without a single disappointing song, surrounded by friends who enjoyed it every bit as much as we did. It doesn’t get much better than this, but I promise, we’ll keep trying to disprove that! Smile

Sierra Noble at The Living Room

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In what is obviously becoming a regular occurrence, we discover new musicians in the following cycle: 1) they perform side-person duties with someone we regularly see, 2) we see some mini-set where they headline a portion, 3) we see them perform a full set of their own, falling madly in love with them directly.

Sierra Noble fits that cycle perfectly, but amazingly, I was indifferent after that first side-person performance (nothing negative). Then we saw her at Backscratch 13. Here’s what I wrote about Sierra that night:

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.

Ha! I thought I got it, seriously, I really thought so. Last night, she hit me over the head with a sledgehammer (in the nicest way that one human being can do that to another). Here’s the point: at Backscratch, I realized she wrote beautiful songs. Last night (and now, listening to her CDs) I realize that she’s a phenomenal songwriter, consistently. In other words, she doesn’t just write beautiful songs, they pour out of her!

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At the same time, she has a great voice and style. I don’t feel that it’s necessary to compare any artist to another, but on the other hand, it’s sometimes helpful to get people interested in listening to someone new if they have a frame of reference. For me, Sierra’s voice evokes a mixture of Alison Krauss and Ruth Moody (of The Wailin’ Jennys).

The fact that Sierra and Alison both play fiddle has nothing to do with my comparison, it’s more about their voices. The fact that Sierra and Ruth both hail from Winnipeg may have more to do with the water they drink up there (the three days a year that it isn’t frozen). Winking smile

Sierra played acoustic guitar and the violin/fiddle on most songs and sang without instruments, backed by a full band on the remaining songs.

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Sierra was backed by the same band that played with Matt Simons the set before and with Chris Ayer the next set. I’ll just mention them briefly here, then continue with a few more of the highlights of Sierra’s set.

Left-to-right on the stage:

Chris Anderson on upright bass and light vocals. On the two earlier sets Chris played electric bass. He played the upright exclusively during this set. He’s masterful on both.

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Ryan Vaughn on drums. Excellent (again).

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Greg Mayo on acoustic and electric guitar and vocals. In my last post, I inadvertently said that Greg played both electric and acoustic (already corrected). He didn’t play acoustic during Matt’s set, but did play both on Sierra’s. On the acoustic he did some heavy finger picking (always a treat to see Greg perform varied styles!).

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Sierra also highlighted Greg on the song Bring an Angel, which they co-wrote.

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Sierra brought up Chris Ayer for two songs. The first was her amazing song Human After All, co-written with Michael Logen. We’ve seen Michael perform it twice (both times solo) and now Sierra perform it twice (both times with a male harmonizer). It’s a great song performed both ways, but give me a choice, and I’ll take the harmony every time. Make it Sierra and Chris and my heart will skip a few beats as well. Martin Rivas did an amazing job when he sang it with Sierra at Backscratch 13!

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The second song that Chris sang with Sierra was a song they co-wrote (recently) called Keep it With You. Wonderful, both the song and their performance. Chris added the acoustic guitar during this number.

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In keeping with the title Human After All, Sierra honored a friend and mentor who passed away three years ago today, July 3rd, 2008. She introduced the song saying that in most shows, she plays an upbeat fiddle medley. Instead, in memory of her friend, she would play a song he wrote for her.

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Oliver Schroer sounds like an extraordinary person (and a great musician as well). Sierra performed the instrumental, True Hearts Waltz. I’m impressed that she got through it. Clearly, this was an emotional undertaking for her. Our connection with Sierra grew immeasurably at that moment.

I started the above by relating it to Human After All. That’s what we are folks, whether we like it or not. All too often, we forget loved ones when they’re gone. Perhaps worse (though only on a few levels) is when we don’t have gratitude and love in our heart for people that help and inspire us along the way (noone makes their way through life on their own).

Witnessing Sierra Noble honor Oliver, and much more importantly, do her part in keeping his legacy alive by sharing with it people who didn’t have the privilege of knowing him, made both Lois and me very happy. That Sierra can feel and articulate this kind of human understanding at the tender age of 21 (did I fail to mention her age before?!?!?) is simply extraordinary.

Whew, back to the set. Here is the set list, though I think she might have played an additional song or two after the ones listed here:

SetList

Sierra announced that she has an EP available for purchase at iTunes and that she’s working on a new full-length CD. Given a choice, I will always purchase from Amazon.com over iTunes. Thankfully, Sierra’s EP, Possibilities, is available on Amazon. Not only did I buy it (it’s incredible), but I also discovered that she has a full-length CD from 2005 (she was 15!). I bought that too, Spirit of the Strings. It too is gorgeous.

That wasn’t enough. When I visited Sierra’s Bandcamp Page, I saw that she had a smaller version of the Possibilities EP available for full streaming (and purchase). While it only has four songs vs Amazon’s six, there is a bonus track on Bandcamp that isn’t on the Amazon version. It’s a song she played last night: Coming Home to Say Goodbye (second song on the set list). I love the song, so I had to buy this one track separately as well.

OK, now you all go out and do what I did. Let’s make sure this youngster continues to make music for a very long time!

Matt Simons at The Living Room

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We’ve seen quite a bit of Matt Simons in the past few months, but they’ve all been in his exceptional role as sideman for a number of other artists who we follow. It’s been four months since we’ve seen him headline a set. Thankfully, that drought ended last night at The Living Room.

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Matt is a multi-instrumentalist with an excellent voice. When he headlines he always plays the keyboards (piano and electronic). I guess trying to sing and play the saxophone (he’s awesome) presents some logistical challenges (if anyone can solve that problem, I have faith in Matt). Winking smile

Matt opened the show solo with a powerful song (Miss You More) that had everyone stone silent. I laugh at my internal dialog at these kind of moments. I think “who needs a band at all?” Then the band joins, and I think “why ever play solo?”, etc. The real point is that both solo and with a band, Matt (and many others!) get it just right.

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Proving my point, right after Miss You More, Matt invited the band up. This is the same core band that played for the next two sets as well. Two of them played with Rebecca Haviland in an earlier set at Rockwood Music Hall (covered here). In other words, they played for the better part of four hours. Yeomen indeed!

I didn’t spy a set list, which indicates one of three things: 1) there wasn’t one, and Matt just winged it, 2) Matt had one on the piano and purposely hid it from me, or 3) it was written with invisible ink on invisible paper (again, probably to thwart me). Therefore, I can’t easily share with you the titles to all of his songs, though he played a number of them that I love.

The core band, left-to-right on stage:

Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris also sang light backup vocals. Chris is one of our favorite bass players. Check out my previous post (linked above in “covered here”) for more on Chris, including his singing and songwriting chops.

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Ryan Vaughn on drums. I’ve been writing a lot about Ryan lately, as he’s been drumming more often with the people that we consistently go out to see. Our previous sightings always came when Ryan played percussion (not the drum kit) on Martin Rivas’ sets. Ryan is great and exhibited many different styles across the three consecutive sets last night.

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Greg Mayo on electric guitar and light vocals. I mentioned in the last post about my mind control abilities. On the first song that Greg appeared, he took a fantastic lead (I think he’s patented them, so if don’t want to go to jail, don’t try and copy them!). Before explaining the mind control aspect, I need to digress.

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Having true, committed fans, is one of the hallmarks of the music business. We (yes, we count ourselves as true, committed fans) will do an awful lot to support the musicians we love. Yesterday I tweeted an article that implores musicians to find a way to connect their fans with each other. Here’s a real-world example of the result of that advice.

We attended a fantastic house concert in VA hosted by Lindsie. That night featured Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell. We met Lindsie that night, due to our mutual love of Ian, Chad and Mike. Since then, Lindsie (being a true fan!) came up to see Ian Axel headline Bowery Ballroom and we hung out in front of the stage with her throughout the show. Last night, she came up again to catch these three consecutive sets and again, we sat together. Her friend Ashley (sp?) joined her this time.

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A number of last night’s artists were new to Lindsie, including Greg Mayo. Before Greg took the stage, I turned to Lindsie and told her that Greg is my favorite local guitar player and that she was about to have her mind blown. Finally, back on track, immediately after his lead in the first song, I turned toward Lindsie and rolled my eyes in disbelief at how quickly he proved me correct! Smile

But, while Greg was perfect in his support of Matt on the remaining songs, he didn’t take a real lead again (no complaints). Just as they started Matt’s last song of the set, that thought came to me front and center. Of course, given my mind control powers, Greg took another great lead. Damn. I should have remembered that I probably could have called up as many leads as I wanted throughout the set. Oh well, next time! Smile

Matt called up Chris Ayer to sing and play acoustic guitar a number of times (Chris headlined the 11pm set). The two of them sings so beautifully together, whether it’s Chris supporting Matt on his songs, or vice versa (as happened a bunch in the last set).

On one number, Matt came out from behind the piano and sang, with Chris accompanying him on vocals and acoustic guitar. Gorgeous!

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Matt called up Sierra Noble to sing harmony with Chris Ayer as well. That role has traditionally been filled by Morgan Holland. Since Morgan is returning to CA for a Master’s degree, she won’t be available to sing with Matt and Chris. While Sierra is a star in her own right (and therefore won’t be available often to sing with them), having her join them last night was a real treat.

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For the second to last song, both Chris and Sierra returned (after someone having to go out and find them!). This time Sierra added her violin to the mix!

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I’m a big fan of Matt and always enjoy his sets. But, I’ll definitively claim last night’s set to be the best we’ve seen so far, though doubtlessly it will be topped in the future!

Matt and Chris Ayer both leave tomorrow for a tour of the UK and Holland. Some of the dates/venues can be seen on Matt’s Facebook Page. You can also stream some of his songs there (or on MySpace linked at the top). But, to listen to Matt, I recommend you visit his Bandcamp page. There, you can hear a lot of his songs in their entirety, for free. Then you can buy all of them, or the ones you like best, etc. I love the model where you aren’t buying blind, or off an unrepresentative sample of the song.

Referring back to the “connect your fans” section above, a number of our friends were there last night (which is typical). Let me know if you prefer Kelly or Sam to wear the hat when their picture is taken. Winking smile

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Rachel