City Winery

Girlyman with Edie Carey at City Winery

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Girlyman headlined City Winery last night. The minute the show was announced we snagged 15 tickets radiating out from center stage to the first aisle. Girlyman in NYC or VA == Party in our household. Smile

Since we accidentally discovered them in August 2007, they have had no trouble holding on to the top spot on my favorite band list. Coming up on our five year anniversary. I guess we’ll be exchanging something made of Wood in a few months. Winking smile

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One of the amazing things about Girlyman is that they are both the same and extremely different than they were then. They continue to grow and experiment (quite successfully) while retaining the same core qualities that ensnared me in my first 30-second listen of Joyful Sign (the song) on their MySpace page, all those years ago (yes, MySpace, for realz).

One measure that they stand the test of time is that I’m equally happy if they play their newest song or their oldest. At most shows you get a healthy mix. Because they are getting really close to releasing their latest CD (we already have it, since we were geniuses and pre-ordered it when they first announced it) last night was weighted toward the newest stuff (Supernova), but they would never leave their fans completely devoid of their classic numbers.

Supernova has 13 songs on it. They played 10 of them last night. You might think that wouldn’t leave time for anything else. If you thought that, you’ve never been to a Girlyman show. They play long sets and find a way to please almost everyone, even those of us who don’t get our request played. Including two encores, they played eight numbers that are not on Supernova (95 minutes on stage). For your convenience, each of the songs that were not on Supernova happened to be starred (have a leading asterisk) on the set list. The Request song ended up being Amaze Me. I’ll get to the two encores later.

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I mentioned above that Girlyman has grown/changed through the years. The biggest change occurred 2.5 years ago, when JJ Jones started playing drums with them (first when she was part of their opening band, then when she joined Girlyman full time). This tour marks another significant shift.

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It’s the first show I’ve been at where they retired two beloved instruments: Ty no longer has the djembe on stage and Nate didn’t have his baritone guitar. As wonderful as the djembe sound is (and Ty has a great feel/touch on it), JJ satisfies every desire for percussive sounds. The baritone guitar has been replaced by two instruments: 1) an electric bass which is passed around between Doris, Ty and Nate (plus a special guest) and 2) an electronic keyboard that is now Nate’s primary instrument.

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You can judge how wonderful the set list was for yourself, but if you weren’t there, you need me to tell you that they sounded equally good. For certain shows, City Winery can be less-than-ideal, because audience cross-talk can really interfere with the listening experience. Girlyman fans are awesome (everywhere we’ve seen them, in multiple states), so there was no talking and the sound washed over us.

Of course there were tuning songs. It’s really good to know that the loss of the baritone guitar did not mean the loss of tuning songs. Nate did at least one on the bass, but most were on the keyboards. I won’t spoil any, since I suspect that one of the better ones may become a theme on the remainder of this tour.

Beside the tuning songs, all of their banter was funny, with Nate in particular tickling my funny bone (often with near-whispered comments that were spot on).

While the addition of JJ was a biggie, the new songs on Supernova were arranged with drums as a first-class citizen. At previous shows, as much praise as I heaped on JJ, the song I found myself always calling out was Young James Dean (which they closed the show with last night). She’s awesome on that number. But, I now have to call out practically every one of the 10 songs from Supernova that they played last night, as the drums is now very integral to the sound of each (on the CD as well as live).

Girlyman rotated three special guests throughout the set, at times even having all three on stage at the same time.

Julia Biber on cello. Julia played the cello on Supernova as well, so it was a real treat to see her perform a number of songs live. She bowed and plucked (during the finale, she was forced to pluck because her bow went missing). She was also the subject of a running joke throughout the set as both Nate and Ty kept pronouncing her last name in a British accent (they didn’t go quite so far as to say: “Biber, Julia Biber”, as in “Bond, James Bond”).

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Ingrid Elizabeth (of Coyote Grace) played electric bass and danced (yes, danced!). First, let’s get the bass playing taken care of. We’ve seen Coyote Grace once, when they opened for Girlyman at The Barns at Wolf Trap. Ingrid plays both electric and upright bass magnificently, so having her play the electric with Girlyman was delicious.

When Girlyman played Kittery Tide they cleared the cello area (far left of the stage, which is how the bow got misplaced). Ingrid came out in tap shoes and danced (impressively IMHO) to the very upbeat number. I was particularly amazed at her perfectly timed high jumps, which coincided with JJ’s biggest drum strikes.

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Not to keep it too serious, in the middle of the song Ingrid danced across the stage, behind every member of Girlyman, with grand hand and arm gestures as her body was obscured by each of them. It was funny, entertaining and yet could still be considered very good dancing!

The final special guest was the opener, who sang on at least four numbers (you can see her name on three of them in the set list, but she also sang during the first encore). She complemented them well, but I’ll save her name for when I get to her set, just after describing the encores.

The first encore consisted of their now regular rendition of Staying Alive, to thank all that is holy for Doris’ recovery from Leukemia. It’s always a fun number, but having all three guests on stage (this is where Julia was forced to pluck) enriched the sound even further. It was a big finish, except that the crowd wouldn’t stop clapping and they were forced to return for a second encore.

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They asked for requests. It was obvious which song was called out the most. Nate just said “Yes, I heard you, Easy!”. It might have been clear, but it started a humorous debate that they now needed to pick a song of theirs that had Easy in the title. In seconds, they rattled off three different songs: 1) Everything’s Easy, 2) Easy Bake Ovens and 3) Easy Pearls. Of course, they knew/heard that the request was for Everything’s Easy, which they performed beautifully. Smile

Edie Carey opened the show. She started out talking for longer than I expected, and within seconds, had everyone (or at least me) eating out of her hand. She was charming, disarming, candid and interesting. That continued throughout the set, with long introductions that were at least as entertaining as the songs.

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I think she either had a slight cold or was suffering from allergies, because her voice sounded a touch nasally to me. It worked really well anyway (didn’t affect her ability to hit any notes), but I think it’s typically a little clearer.

She accompanied herself very well on an acoustic guitar. Like Girlyman, she rotated a number of guests.

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Elana Arian played the violin (fiddle) on every number. I think she also sang a bit of harmony, but don’t quote me (or hate me) in case I am making that up. Her violin play was excellent and I thought it complemented Edie’s vocals and guitar extremely well. I found out after the fact that she’s a singer/songwriter as well, so you can check out her original music by clicking on her name.

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Edie brought up Doris and JJ to join her a couple of songs into the set. Doris played the electric bass and JJ the drums (duh). Lovely, as the sound kept getting fuller.

Then Nate joined on the electronic keyboards and vocals.

Finally, Ty came out for two numbers (I believe). Ingrid Elizabeth joined for one of those as well. So, it started out with an acoustic guitar and violin, with solo vocals, and eventually built up to a full band with rich harmony. Very well done!

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Edie was an incredibly well-matched opener for Girlyman. That’s no surprise, as she’s opened for them on at least one previous tour, so it was no accident that they selected her again.

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Ary does the sound, setup and teardown at all of Girlyman’s shows. She does an incredible job and deserves a huge shoutout:

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Circling back to our Party. We invited a mix of people to join us. That included four NYC-based singer/songwriters (none of whom were familiar with Girlyman): Bri Arden, Jeff Litman, Matt Simons and John Schmitt. Unfortunately, John was performing at a house concert in NJ earlier in the day, and due to the monsoon, ended up not being able to make it to the show. We missed him, and he missed a great show (which he’ll know, when he reads this).

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Our party also included a family who traveled from MN specifically to see this show!

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The rest were our music loving friends with whom we enjoy so many shows together. Of those, two had never seen Girlyman before, so that was a treat to introduce them to their music.

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One of those was sporting a stunning diamond ring, having just accepted the proposal of another of our amazing singer/songwriter friends.

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We enjoyed a lovely meal and some wine made right on the premises (yummy if you ask me). It was a perfect evening. The only thing that tried to dampen our joy was the rain (get it, dampen?). Winking smile

OK, when does Girlyman return to NYC? I have to get it on the calendar and grab a bunch of seats together, so we can plan the reprise.

Dickey Betts at City Winery with Kristy Lee Opening

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Sometimes dreams do come true. Sometimes they don’t live up to expectations, but even then, the dream coming true is often enough reward. Such was the case last night, for me.

I grew up listening to what many people now call Classic Rock. There were so many great bands that I always feel stupid (rather just silly) saying So-and-so was the best, etc. Still, I often find myself using terms like favorite. A more accurate description would be one of my favorites, of which there were many.

Near the top of my list of bands (not necessarily in this order) were: The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, Santana, The Who, Yes, The Beatles.

As many great guitarists as they were/are (who can possibly count), back then, my three favorite rock guitarists were Carlos Santana, Steve Howe and Dickey Betts. This is as much for their individual skill and style as for my love of the songs that they branded on my heart/soul/mind.

The greatest concert I ever attended was on June 10th, 1973 at RFK Stadium. 12 hours, mostly music (the intermissions were refreshingly short). The New Riders of the Purple Sage opened the show from 12-2pm. The Grateful Dead played from 2-7pm. The Allman Brothers Band played from 7pm-midnight!

I’ve never seen Dickey Betts perform live since then (heck, what’s 38 years between friends). I’ve seen the new incarnation of the Allman Brothers twice at the Beacon Theater (more on that at the bottom). I’ve missed a few opportunities to catch Dickey Betts and Great Southern over the past years and was glad to finally snag three great seats for last night’s show at City Winery.

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I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know whether it would be mostly new music written by Dickey and/or his band members (Great Southern), sprinkled with a few classics. I was blown away to find out that it was mostly Allman Brothers songs, many written by Dickey himself.

The good: awesome set selection, great individual performances, nostalgia heaven.

The disappointing: somewhat faded skills (still better than most guitarists), classic leads were often simplified (or not executed that well), vocals were nowhere near up to snuff (timing, hitting notes and some lost words).

To repeat, Dickey was great, but he’s lost a step or two. He’s a bit more hesitant and not quite as smooth, though on occasion, the full-blown magic is there to enjoy. He kept the peddle that he pressed to switch from rhythm yo lead about 4’ away from him. It seemed to be a chore whenever he wanted to switch, and often caused him to start the leads a few notes later than he might have liked.

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I know it’s obvious to blame the change on age, but Dickey is not much older than Dave Mason, who in my opinion is as brilliant on the guitar today as he ever was. Dave’s voice is still the same too. Good genes, clean living, or both, who knows.

Some words on the rest of the band, left-to-right on the stage:

Andy Aledort on electric guitar. Andy took quite a number of the leads (I’d guess roughly equal to the number Dickey took). He split them between normal and slide. He performed the dual leads with Dickey that are a signature of many Allman Brothers Band songs and did an excellent job.

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I have no qualms with his guitar play, other than he took took many liberties (for my taste) from some of the original leads. I know people believe that artists should be able to grow, or do whatever they feel, but Andy doesn’t have the excuse of being bored playing these numbers for 40 years, so I would have preferred to hear them played the way they were recorded originally.

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Duane Betts on electric guitar. I can’t find a good individual link to Duane (though his name pops up a lot, including YouTube videos of him). He’s Dickey’s son. I didn’t know that (like I said, I had no idea what to expect). Dickey never introduced the band, so I only found out this morning. That said, Dickey was very generous in pointing to every member of the band when they did something exceptional, giving the crowd the go-ahead to show their appreciation. Still, I’m a big fan of introductions!

Duane provided a third guitar for some of the classic dual leads, making them triples. Those were extremely sweet! He also took center stage as the main lead guitarist at least four times, with two of them being pretty long leads. He’s clearly a very talented guitarist, though I didn’t feel like I was watching a young Dickey Betts. He too suffered from getting to the pedal a few seconds late when it was his turn to take a lead.

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Pedro Arevalo on electric bass. Fast, clean, tasty, excellent. When the band returned after a long drum solo, Pedro and Dickey sparred a bit on the guitar and bass, which gave Pedro a great opportunity to show his stuff.

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Mike Kach on keyboards (organ and electronic) and vocals. Mike was superb on the keyboards (he used mostly a piano sound on the electronic keys, and either switched occasionally to an organ sound, or had an real organ keyboard below it, out of my sight). He was also the primary lead vocalist, a job he didn’t handle as well to my taste. He sang harmony on the numbers that Dickey sang lead.

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Mike had a Greg Allman look to him, adding a touch of mock authenticity to the Allman Brothers sound. Winking smile

Sitting behind these guys (and perhaps more importantly, behind their wall of amps!), were two drummers. Each had a full drum kit. In between them, higher up on the stage, was a full bongo-style set.

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Frankie Lombardi on drums, the bongo set (a bit) and harmony. Frankie was exceptional on the drums. So fast, so interesting. He took an incredibly long solo that was absolutely mesmerizing. He only played the bongo set a few times, but when he was there, he also sang some harmony while Dickey sang lead, making it 3-part with Mike.

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James Varnado on drums. James was exceptional as well and was incredibly well-matched with Frankie. He too took a very long solo and killed it. Their solos couldn’t have been more different, which was also a treat, since they came back-to-back. James had a masterful touch of very soft/subtle (but really fast) build-ups.

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Before they took their individual solos, they played a long duo. They played together perfectly, but also often created a stereo effect of starting a drum riff on one end of the stage, and as the drummer made his way to the other side of his kit, the other one picked it up (flawlessly) and continued across his set. Beautiful!

That duo followed by the solos occurred toward the end of my favorite Allman Brothers Band song, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. The band walked off the stage leaving only the drummers. When the solos were over, Dickey and Pedro returned (mentioned above) followed by Andy, Duane and Mike. They then finished the song to rousing cheers.

I was blown away that they did In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. As much as I enjoyed it, it was the biggest disappointment in terms of living up to my expectations. I have listened to that song so many times over the past 40 years on the Live at the Filmore East album (one of the greatest albums of all time). Any note that’s out of place is jarring to me. Last night’s rendition wasn’t even close, though it was obviously recognizable as the same song.

That leads me to one final thing about the drums. The Allman Brothers Band has three full-time drummers/percussionists on stage at all times (and they typically add a fourth guest for some numbers). It’s such an integral part of their sound, giving such a huge bottom.

As extraordinary as last night’s drummers were, it wasn’t as obvious (or true to the ABB sound) during the songs. I’m guessing it’s because their kick drums were hidden behind a wall of Marshall amps. The drum play was slick, but the bottom just wasn’t there like at an ABB show.

I said up top that I would mention my recent ABB experiences. Those shows were great, but even though Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are amazing guitarists, they try to avoid being copycats of Duane and Dickey. That’s the part I don’t like. The drummers are still worth showing up for, and the bass player is one of the best.

After walking off the stage, the band returned for an encore. They played Rambling Man. A great choice to end the evening.

Lois went up to the stage to try and grab the set list. It was behind the monitors, taped to the floor. I couldn’t tell whether she couldn’t reach it, or whether she didn’t want to risk ripping it. She took a photo of it (upside down) just in case she couldn’t get the actual papers (two sheets).

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Standing off to the right of the stage was a man who was equally anxious to get his hands on it. He asked James Varnado whether he could have it, and James said no and kept walking.

Lois asked Andy Aledort if she could have it. He hesitated and said he wasn’t sure, but then walked off.

Lois left the stage area and found the band tech (the back of his T-Shirt said “Tour Staff”). He was the guitar tech and coordinated pretty much everything that happened on the stage before and during the show. Lois asked him for the set list, and he obliged, after apologizing for having to do something for his brother first.

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He delivered! Below is what I believe to be a master set list. They didn’t play all the songs on this list, but I think they were prepared to play any of them. They picked roughly 1/2 the songs on the list. There was a late show that night (because the Sunday show was canceled due to Hurricane Irene). Perhaps they played a very different set after we left.

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From memory, the one’s I’m sure they played last night (not in order): Les Brers in A Minor, Statesboro Blues, Blue Sky, One Way Out, Seven Turns, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Jessica, Rambling Man (probably a few more, though each song was pretty long).

In addition to giving Lois the set list, he also gave her a Dickey Betts guitar pick. Cool! Memorabilia is one thing we really like. Thanks again “Tour Staff” guy, we are forever in your debt! Smile

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Kristy Lee opened the show. She’s a singer/songwriter from Mobile, AL. The people who showed up early enough (1/3 of the eventual crowd) were largely rude and talked quite loud. Thankfully, Kristy has a very powerful voice (speaking and singing) and as annoyed as I was at the talkers, I could hear every word Kristy spoke and sang.

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She accompanied herself on acoustic guitar (mostly strumming, but very nicely). I liked everything about her: voice, songs, stage presence.

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Jimbo Kurisko accompanied her on acoustic guitar. No good individual link, but you can easily find YouTube videos of him and Kristy. Jimbo was absolutely outstanding! His leads were fast (mostly finger picked) and he and Kristy have a great rapport. She highlighted him on every song (usually twice). She would throw it to him by saying “Sing it Jimbo”. Singing it, in this case, meant make the guitar sing, baby! He did! Smile

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We got to City winery 75 minutes before Kristy went on. We and a friend of ours enjoyed a wonderful meal, good conversation, and most importantly, an amazing carafe of City Winery’s own Zinfandel. Incredibly delicious (the wine, that is).

Girlyman and Red Molly at City Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Rivas, Vienna Teng and ambeR Rubarth at City Winery

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

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

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

Covering the acts in the order they appeared:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RyanScott

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

AmongTheOakAndAsh

JoshJoplin

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

ClaudiaChopek

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

WardWhite

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

ATOAA-Drummer

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

JohnWesleyHarding

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

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

JohnWesleyHarding-Pianist JohnWesleyHarding-Guitarist JohnWesleyHarding-Bassist

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

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

MarthaViennaTeng WardWhiteClaudiaChopek

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

New York Sings for Haiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hadar,

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

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

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

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

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

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

AdamChristgauChrisKuffnerKevinRice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MartinRivas1 MartinRivas2

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

TheBongos

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

TheWellspring

Nate Campany (supported by many of the other performers)

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

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Will Knox

WillKnox

Ed Romanoff

EdRomanoff

Sara Jean Kelly

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

Tula

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

WesHutchinsonReelByReel

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

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Threeds

Ian Axel (ahhhhhhhhhhhh, supported by Chad Vaccarino)

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

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Joey Ryan (supported by Vienna Teng and Dave Eggar)

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

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Harper Blynn

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

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

TheSpringStandards

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

AriHestAndBand

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

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

ThePaperRaincoatRewind

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

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

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

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

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at City Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brief recap of their respective strengths:

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

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

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

ViennaTengPiano

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

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

AlexWongWaterphone AlexWongDrums AlexWongGlockenspielDrums AlexWongGuitar

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

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

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

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

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

ViennaTengAlexWong

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

ViennaTengMelodica

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

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

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

ViennaTengGrandmotherSong

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

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

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

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

GlenPhillips

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

LukeBulla

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

SeanWatkins

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

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

SebastianSteinberg JerryRoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

JeffDaniels1

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

JeffDaniels2

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

JeffDanielsLois

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

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

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

GrantLeePhillipsSettingUp GrantLeePhillips

JamieEdwards

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

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

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

CityWineryOutside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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