Matt Simons

Backscratch 13 at Rockwood Music Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AdamMinkoff

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

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

SierraNobleGuitarSierraNobleViolin

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

ChrisAndersonCraigMeyer

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

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

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

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

MartinRivas

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

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

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

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

ChrisAyer

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

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

BessRogersChrisKuffner

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

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

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

RebeccaHavilandPianoGregMayo

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

AlexaWilkinson

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

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

Matt Simons and Chris Ayer at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Last night, Matt Simons and his friends threw him(self) a birthday party at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. Rather than sit in the audience and have others perform for him, Matt chose to work on his birthday (midnight, this morning).

MattSimonsBirthdayBoy

Chris Ayer opened the show at 11pm on the dot (highly unusual for a Saturday night Rockwood 2 show to start on time!), but I’ll circle back to Chris after covering Matt.

Matt started at 11:28pm, so he serenaded us at two different ages. Winking smile

He played the keyboards (grand piano and electronic) extremely well and sang wonderfully. Matt opened the show with a brand new number, setting the mood immediately. Throughout his set, nearly every head in Rockwood was bobbing to the beat. It was hard to resist doing that (not that I tried!).

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Matt played a few covers (one of them a solo Beatles number) and what I think was an original that morphed into Sweet Home Alabama (where the band joined to sing as well). It was an eclectic selection that showed off Matt’s and the band’s talents well.

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Aside from his solo, Matt was supported by three band members (covered shortly). For a few numbers, he invited Chris Ayer up as well.

Morgan Holland joined for at least two numbers, one of which was her own Subway Love (a wonderful fantasy song, at least I hope it’s a fantasy Winking smile ) that she sang lead on and played ukulele, with everyone supporting her (Chris Ayer was on stage for that too).

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A few minutes before midnight, a fan passed a cake onto the stage, with Happy Birthday Matt written on it. It would have been impossible to pass that around (like the cookies sometimes make the rounds) so the poor band probably had to enjoy it after the show. Smile

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Of course, we all sang Happy Birthday to Matt!

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The band (which played with Chris Ayer and Matt Simons), left-to-right:

Stephen Chopek on drums. I just wrote about Stephen 12 days ago, when many of the same people from last night performed at Jammin’ Java in VA at a show we attended. Stephen impressed me then as he did again last night.

StephenChopek

Chris Anderson on electric bass and light vocals. 12 days ago, Chris played the upright bass. Four days ago, he played the electric bass in support of Ian Axel at an amazing show at the Studio at Webster Hall. Chris is masterful with the bass. On Wednesday night, he had Webster Hall shaking (literally). Last night, much of his electric bass play was as subtle (and beautiful) as his upright play the week before.

ChrisAnderson

In other words, Chris is not a one-trick pony, simply blasting the bass. He has a feel for the music and complements it perfectly. Even last night his bass play varied, as some of the numbers were very upbeat and others were extremely mellow (and still enhanced by the bass). I wondered why he selected the electric over the upright for last night and I suspect it may have to do with the addition of the next band member.

Greg Mayo played the electric guitar and light vocals. Greg was a surprise for us. When we committed to attending this show, we didn’t know who else would show up other than Matt and Chris Ayer, who were the only ones listed. I never get tired of documenting how great Greg is on the guitar, so this was more than just the proverbial icing on the cake (especially since there was actual icing on a cake last night, no proverbs need apply!).

GregMayoGuitar

Greg took a number of traditional leads (I’d guess roughly seven between Chris and Matt’s sets). They were all awesome, as they always are. But, I got to experience a new level of enjoyment of Greg’s play last night. Previous shows where Greg played the guitar tend to be heavily weighted toward Rock. That means that between leads, much of the guitar play is straight-forward rhythm.

The mellower sounds of last night’s sets meant substantially fancier play, even when the guitar wasn’t the highlight. Over and over, I kept noticing that there was a subtle beauty dancing around the vocals and other instruments. Inevitably, looking over toward Greg revealed the source.

GregMayoShadows

I suspect that Chris Anderson chose the electric over the upright because this time there was an electric guitar to play against. Greg’s play was so appropriate to the mood that I think Chris could have easily pulled off the upright had he chosen that instead.

Chris Ayer opened the show. Chris has made our list of must see musicians after just two shows. Deeply interesting lyrics (we discover something new on each listen) sung by a fantastic voice, accompanied by wonderful finger picking guitar (he can most definitely perform solo and completely hold our attention).

ChrisAyerSingingChrisAyerFingerPicking

I pointed out to Lois afterward that for the first time, she did not take a photo of the set list that Chris writes on his arm. She was not happy with me. I guess I should have remained silent…

Chris opened with Graduate and Awake, both great songs. The band took a break when he sang Relativity (a new song, available on iTunes) with Matt Simons and Morgan Holland supplying the amazing three-part harmony. The iTunes version has much more instrumentation (last night Chris’ guitar was the only instrument). Both versions are fantastic. Morgan sang harmony on a couple of other numbers.

Lois loves her Chris Ayer T-Shirt (which she wore to the show):

ChrisAyerTShirt

We don’t seek out late-starting shows. Having been out later than expected for Ian’s show on Wednesday, we ended up bailing on both Thursday and Friday, even though we were really looking forward to both nights out. Thankfully, we regained enough energy to make it last night.

Happy Birthday Matt (all day today!).

In order to raise our chances for good seats for Matt and Chris’ sets, we decided to come for the 10pm set as well. Our plan worked out fine in terms of grabbing the exact two seats we wanted.

Kendra Morris sang, supported by a full band. Kendra has a very good voice and all of the songs (originals plus a few covers) were good. Even though we listened like we would for anyone else, I couldn’t say that the songs left any lasting impressions.

Kendra projects an image as you can see in photos of her outfit and tattoos. She also adds quite a bit of drama in her on-stage movements. Not exactly our thing, but the younger men behind us made sure Kendra knew how much they appreciated it. Smile

KendraMorrisOutfitKendraMorrisSinging

The band was extremely professional. Left-to-right on stage:

Tyler Cash on keyboards (grand piano and electronic). Very nice job. A bit more noticeable on the electronic keyboards than on the grand, but well done all around.

TylerCash

Jeremy Siegel on electric bass (sorry, couldn’t find a good individual link). I’m sorry I couldn’t find a good link, because I was extremely impressed with Jeremy’s play. Very understated in terms of affect, but very precise and tasty bass play on every number. He was playing harmonic lines to the melody.

JeremySiegel

Sam Merrick on drums. Sam grabbed my attention on the very first number. While his drumming remained good throughout, for me, the highlight was that first song.

SamMerrick

Jeremy Page on electric guitar (also no good individual link that I could find). Kendra credited Jeremy for being the creative force behind this project. He played the guitar really well, also very understated, like the other Jeremy in the band.

JeremyPage

On one number, Kendra brought up someone who’s name I thought was Godfrey. A quick search this morning looking for Jeremy Page gave me the real name: Godforbid. Nice. Smile

Godforbid

Godforbid held a mic in one hand a beer in the other. They sang 500 Miles by The Proclaimers. Their version was played at about 1/3 the speed of the original, with a melodramatic flair by each singer (they alternated leads and sang harmony with each other throughout). While it was nothing like the original, it was really good. If I closed my eyes to avoid the show, it would have been even better.

KendraMorrisGodforbid

Here’s how I found Godforbid. He, both Jeremys and Sam were/are in a band called That Handsome Devil. Considering that I really like every band member and that Godforbid has quite a good voice as well, if the band still plays I’d be interesting in checking them out sometime.

Martin Rivas and Greg Mayo Band at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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There was an all-star triple-header lineup at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. Robbie Gil at 9pm, Martin Rivas at 10pm and the Greg Mayo Band at 11pm. I was committed to seeing Martin and Greg, but I was really looking forward to catching Robbie’s set as well. The best laid plans… I’ll end the post with why/how I missed Robbie’s set (again).

Lois didn’t make the show (see why at the bottom). All complaints about photo quality go to me, but I was also further away, so there was little I could do. As you’ll see below, tons of people on stage, some were basically out of view for much of the show.

As is typical for a big lineup Saturday at Rockwood, three things could be counted on:

  • Capacity crowd (great on most levels, crappy on a few)
  • Sets starting late (due to setup time and fans insisting on longer sets than scheduled)
  • Awesome music

Martin Rivas had a full(er) band. He opened the show with seven people on stage, but after three (or four?) numbers, he brought out a horn section as well, bringing the number of people on stage to 10. That was a new record for the number of people on stage at the same time at Rockwood for a show that I was at. Later on, Martin had two separate guests join, setting the new record at 11.

MartinRivasChrisKuffnerMartinRivasBrassSection

This was a typical Martin Rivas show:

  • Incredible energy from every band member
  • Incredible energy from every audience member
  • Lots of Soul, Funk and Rock, sprinkled with other stuff
  • Generosity from Martin, giving solos to (nearly) every band member (no bass solo)
  • Freshly baked cookies passed around the audience (Lois, no worries, amazingly, the cookies never passed me, so I didn’t have to show any restraint!) Winking smile
  • Pins passed around the audience (Sam Teichman made sure I got one, but he did not make sure I got a cookie, or Lois secretly got to him and he made sure I didn’t!)
  • Spirits lifted

Given how many people played across these two sets, I’ll get right to it, left-to-right, front-to-back on the stage, supporting Martin:

Patrick Firth on electronic keyboards and vocals. They lifted the grand piano off the stage (one of the cool sights at Rockwood 2). Patrick was his usual excellent self, including a few great solos.

PatrickFirth

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and vocals. Another fantastic performance from an all-around star. I’ll have a couple more things to say about Chris when I get to the other guitarist, Greg Mayo.

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Ryan Vaughn on percussion. If you can bang it or shake it, Ryan was doing it.

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Craig Meyer on drums. Craig is always wonderful. We saw him a week ago supporting Rachel Platten. The difference in styles (including the drum kit itself) between that type of performance and last night is dramatic. Craig handles it all. He was such an integral part of the upbeat sound keeping everything hopping. (No photo, sorry!)

John Liotta on the baritone sax. Excellent. He was more prominent in the next set, but held his own in this one.

JohnLiotta

Wayne Tucker on trumpet. Wayne was terrific. He took a couple of solos, including one where he played a few notes staccato at very high speed for a few bars, very tasty, adding to the funk sounds beautifully.

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From my vantage point, it appeared to me that Wayne’s right cheek was bruised with a shiner the likes of which I hadn’t seen for a very long time. Every time he puffed his cheek to play, I winced on his behalf. You’ll have to stick around (or skip ahead) to the next set to find out how wrong I was. Smile

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Dan Voss on tenor sax. This was our first time seeing Dan play. He was excellent. One of the people I was standing with told me that he’s a real pro. I have no reason to doubt that from last night’s performance!

DanVoss

Brian Killeen on electric bass. Another extremely solid performance from Brian. Martin’s full band sound requires a very solid bottom to keep things going and Brian and Craig are well matched to deliver.

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Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. I can’t get enough of Greg’s guitar play and last night was no exception. Every time he stops his leads, I wait impatiently for the next one. He and Chris Kuffner trade off the leads, each with their own excellent style. On a few numbers (most notably the closer), they took independent simultaneous leads (very different from each other). It was mind-blowingly satisfying.

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Chrissi Poland joined Martin to sing lead and harmony vocals. Chrissi has such a wonderful and powerful voice and is so well-suited to soul music. Their duets are a real crowd favorite. When she was on stage, there were 11 performers. Since the record is for shows I attend, I am the sole arbiter (and counter) of who holds the record. Martin actually looked at me and asked if this was the record. Indeed it was. Smile

ChrissiPolandBrassSection

Rebecca Haviland joined Martin to sing lead and harmony vocals. Like Chrissi, Rebecca has a very big voice, also suited to soul (among many other genres). She was great (as she always is). The record stood at 11, since Chrissi and Rebecca were not on stage at the same time.

MartinRivasRebeccaHavilandMartinRivasChrisKuffnerRebeccaHaviland

Martin had a number of family members in the audience, including his sister and aunt. His aunt might be his biggest fan. She kept flying out of her seat, singing, clapping over her head, screaming and dancing. You’d think she was a teen with the energy she displayed.

When the set was over it was difficult to stand in place. People were coming and going, pushing and shoving (not in a mean way, it was necessary simply to get through the crowd). The person I was standing with spotted two people leaving their seats 1/2 way across the club. She headed there to see if it was just temporary. Amazingly, when she got there, the seats were still available. It took me a while to work my way through (rather around) the crowd, but she held the seat for me. To quote her: “It’s nice to sit!”. Amen! Smile

The Greg Mayo Band is a relatively recent discovery for us, but they made our favorites list instantly, so we were really looking forward to this set. To remove any mystery, they remain high on our favorites list.

The core band consists of eight members. Last night, Greg had a few special guests, one of whom played on every song making the minimum number of people on stage nine.

The similarities with the prior set are the basic style of music (Greg’s band concentrates on Funk and Soul, with some good old fashioned Rock as well). The differences aren’t huge, but they’re noticeable and material. Martin’s sets are very guitar heavy (three of them on the stage at all times) and Greg’s set is very piano centric (they brought the grand piano back down for Greg to play and he played electronic keyboards as well).

The other difference is that Martin rarely has a horn section and Greg always does. The horns were a wonderful addition to Martin’s set, but they are extremely integral to Greg’s sound, much more highlighted with more and longer solos. Finally, Greg has a full-time female voice to sing harmony with, while Martin’s regular vocalists are male.

This show was billed as a Valentine’s Day extravaganza, which will become important in a minute.

Let’s cover the band, again left-to-right, front-to-back.

Rebecca Haviland on vocals. I have a single complaint about Rebecca’s role in the Greg May Band: give us more Rebecca! She does sing some lead, but not enough. She and Greg sing so beautifully together, but there too she takes a back seat and doesn’t sing as much harmony with Greg as I’d like.

RebeccaHavilandSinging

The above is meant to compliment Rebecca. Greg has a wonderful voice and I can listen to him sing alone all night. Together is better, it’s that simple. Smile

Erik White on tambourine (and mic-less vocals!). Erik was a special guest. He was the original guitarist in the Greg May Band. He projected energy on stage throughout the show, singing with Greg even though he didn’t have a mic (except for one song when the brass section walked off the stage and Rebecca shared her mic with Erik). He played some seriously good tambourine. He wasn’t just a prop.

ErikWhite

John Liotta on baritone sax. Highlighted a bit more in Greg’s set, John did a wonderful job.

Wayne Tucker on trumpet. Another excellent job. Since we moved to seats that were behind the piano, I had a very different vantage point on what I had thought was a terrible shiner on Wayne’s right cheek. It turns out it was a large red heart (looked like it was drawn in red lipstick). Made sense with the Valentine’s Day theme, but I missed it during Martin’s set. I was glad Wayne wasn’t injured after all. Winking smile

WayneTuckerHeart

Matt Simons on tenor sax. Matt is another incredible musician. We just saw him perform a few days earlier in VA, playing electronic keyboards and singing. Last night, he was master of the sax (I love his play!). Come to Rockwood 2 this Saturday night (2/19/2011) at 11pm for a 90-minute set which Matt is headlining (with guest, Chris Ayer). It’s a longer set than usual, so that we can all celebrate Matt’s birthday at midnight. Smile

MattSimons

Kenny Shaw on drums. Kenny keeps up perfectly with the upbeat tempos of the Greg Mayo Band. Well suited to this style of music.

KennyShaw

Chris Anderson on electric bass (and probably some vocals, but I only caught a few glimpses of Chris). Chris is one of our favorite bassists. He too played in the same VA show that Matt did a few days ago, but that night he played upright bass. We’ll see him again this Wednesday when he plays with Ian Axel for his CD Release Show. Another performance that is perfectly suited to this band and coupled tightly with Kenny Shaw’s drumming. (Horrible photo, sorry!)

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Paul Maddison on electric guitar and vocals. Paul did a very nice job, taking a well-known lead on one of the covers. He also sang well. The Greg Mayo band doesn’t highlight the guitar that much so I look forward to catching Paul in one of his other projects (most notably Julius C).

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The above was the core band last night. Greg brought up another special guest very early in the show.

Matt Abatelli on tenor sax. Matt was a founding member of the band but doesn’t appear to play with them regularly any longer. Matt Simons stepped off the stage to make way for Matt Abatelli (apparently, you have to be named Matt in order to qualify to play the tenor sax in this band!). Winking smile (No photo, sorry!)

Given his stature with the band, Greg chose a song to highlight Matt right from the get-go. Matt (Abitelli) didn’t disappoint. He wailed on the sax and I look forward to catching him again in a longer set.

Greg’s birthday was 6 weeks ago. You can only imagine his surprise when Rebecca announced that the band bought him a special gift, albeit a little late. She asked us all to sing Happy Birthday to Greg (which we did) and asked Greg to open the gift and show it to us. It was a bag of custom guitar picks. On one side, it said “Greg Mayo”. On the other, “How you doin’ y’all?”. Perfect! Smile

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After a very satisfying set, Greg announced that if we made enough noise after his next (and last) number, they would do an encore to give a proper sendoff to two of the musicians who played the earlier set. You shouldn’t have to ask whether there was enough cheering to keep them on stage.

Both Patrick Firth and Ryan Vaughn are leaving shortly for an extended tour to Russia, supporting John Forte. Greg wanted to give them a proper sendoff.

He called both of them on the stage. Ryan took control of the full drum set. Kenny Shaw moved over to play percussion (exactly what Ryan did the set before). Patrick just took to a microphone to sing (lead and harmony). If that was it, that would have just tied the record for 11 people on stage at the same time.

PatrickFirthVocals

Records are meant to be broken, even if they were set just an hour earlier. Greg also called up Martin Rivas to sing and Matt Abatelli on the sax (this time, Matt Simons stayed on stage!). Uh oh, that smashed Martin’s record with 13 people on stage! Well, technically, there were only 12 people on stage, because Paul Maddison played the entire song standing on his amp! Yes, it was that jam packed on the stage and he’s that much of a rock star. Winking smile

Martin looked over to me and said “Oh well, at least I held the record for a bit…”. Indeed, he ousted Alex Berger before being ousted himself.

Earlier, Sam Teichman told me that during the second Soul Revue Benefit (which we missed because we were out of town), they had either 13 or 14 people on stage at the same time (he’s going to send me a video to prove it). I don’t doubt him, but this record doesn’t count if I’m not there, so, nice try Sam! Smile

Here is Greg’s set list:

GregMayoSetList

Circling back to why I missed Robbie Gil, again…

Four of us had an absolutely incredible meal at The Green Table in the Chelsea Market. Organic food that was delectable, served by people who we enjoyed interacting with.

OrganicBeefOrganicRoastChickenCrabCakes

Lois wasn’t feeling too well even before dinner, but it was early enough for her to push herself. After the meal, she grabbed a cab home. Two of us got into a car and headed east to Rockwood. Cross-town traffic was slow so it took a bit longer to get there than expected. Then we circled a few times looking for a non-existent spot. Eventually, the driver forced me out of the car so I could get in line for Martin’s show (Robbie’s was a distant memory).

I waited outside for over 30 minutes (yes, it was very cold). Robbie’s set was packed to the gills (no pun intended) and it appeared from the outside that they were tearing the house down. I am determined to catch his set one of these days, sooner rather than later.

When the show was over, a little after 1am, there were a dozen people looking for a cab, with none available. I eventually walked over a mile and while waiting for the bus (for quite a while) finally caught a cab the rest of the way home. I walked in the apartment at 2:10am. Yippee. I loved the entire evening/night (with the exception of the 30 minutes waiting in the cold), but I’m too old to be acting like a kid.

Chris Ayer, Barnaby Bright, John Schmitt and Morgan Holland at Jammin Java

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It’s great to see a show you know you’re going to like because you like a number of the artists. It’s even better for that to come true and have very pleasant discoveries/surprises thrown in for good measure.

Jammin’ Java had the show listed as Chris Ayer headlining, supported by Barnaby Bright and John Schmitt. This would be our third time seeing Chris, so there was little risk there. We just recently saw John perform one song at the Soul Revue Benefit in NYC and were very interested in hearing more of him. We didn’t know who Barnaby Bright was and I admit to thinking it was a person born in 18th century England, who somehow was still touring around. Winking smile

Since I follow a lot of musicians on Twitter, I found out earlier that day that Morgan Holland and Matt Simons would be there as well. When we got there, we saw two more surprise guests, Chris Anderson, who we will see at least three times in the next week in NYC (with three different bands!) and Stephen Chopek. So, even before the show began, our anticipation was elevated.

I normally describe the evening backwards, headliner to opener. I will do that in this post as well, but since I mostly write for my own memory, I will need to disturb that flow a drop, to note my reaction to certain things, which obviously occurred in forward order. Hopefully, I won’t confuse you too much (or myself when I revisit this years from now).

Chris opened his set solo. Considering how good his voice is and how well he plays the guitar, he could easily perform entire sets solo and deliver satisfaction to the audience. But, given the three-car caravan that came down from NYC yesterday, it was no surprise to any of us when he invited the full band on the stage. I’ll cover the band at the end, because they played with three of the four acts.

ChrisAyerGuitar

Chris performed a fantastic set (as with the last show we saw, here’s his set list, our perspective, then his):

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

On many songs, if I close my eyes, I could swear that James Taylor is performing a Chris Ayer song on stage, that’s how uncannily close Chris sounds to James (at times). But, Chris has quite a large repertoire of songs in various styles, including a number of ballad-style Rock numbers.

ChrisAyerSinging

Lois and I often agree/overlap in our opinion of the artists, but we don’t always get there at the same speed. Lois loved Chris from the first song he performed at Parkside Lounge. I was very impressed, but it took a second look (linked above) for me to catch up to Lois. Before the show started, Lois bought two CD’s and a T-Shirt from Chris. We own both the CD’s but neither of us could remember whether our copies are signed (one of our things) so now we have two CD’s to give as gifts and two that are definitely signed! Smile

Chris played two songs that he just released this week on iTunes, Relativity and Stranded. Both were wonderful, so I bought those this morning as well. Excellent. Except, last night, Morgan Holland joined Chris to sing harmony on Stranded. It was gorgeous. The download is also gorgeous, but no female harmony to make it even better (score another one for a live experience!).

Chris played a number of favorites, including Evaporate, which he sang in three-part harmony with Morgan and Matt Simons. Beautiful! He accompanied himself on the guitar, and Chris Anderson and Stephen Chopek chilled out behind them.

Chris closed the show with The Noise. He called up Morgan Holland, John Schmitt and Barnaby Bright (all of the acts before him) to sing harmony with him (and us) on this. He invited the crowd to sing the refrain (ah, ah, ah ah ah) with them. Normally, I can tell when the crowd joins in. I admit that last night I could only make out my own voice, but I’ll also admit I was awesome! Winking smile

ChrisAyerFinale

You can listen to a live version of that song (linked above) where you can make out that the audience is joining in, and then buy it right there as well!

On to the biggest surprise for me of the night. Barnaby Bright is not in fact a 300+ year old troubadour. It’s a husband and wife duo.

Nathan and Becky Bliss. This is where I have to disturb the backward flow for a minute. Each of them joined John Schmitt, the act before them, separately. Nathan played the sax with John on one number (just the two of them on the stage), and then again with the full band. Becky sang harmony with John on one number where only they were on stage.

So, I thought I had a sense of them. Nathan would come out and play the sax and Becky would sing soft (but stunning) harmonies with Nathan. Hahahaha, not even close. Back to the correct reverse order of things.

Becky took center stage with a small folding table in front of her. On the first number, she played the harmonium and sang. Wait, let me try that again, trying to impart to you what I experienced.

Becky Bliss sang. Hmmm, that doesn’t do it justice either. Let me embarrass myself by sharing with you how I fumbled for words when I spoke to Becky after the show. Instead of saying something coherent, I said: “Your voice is frighteningly beautiful!”. Huh? Come on Hadar, you weren’t frightened even for a second, you were completely enveloped and mesmerized. Yeah, that’s what I should have said…

BeckyBlissHarmonium

OK, that was no fluke. On each and every song, Becky amazed me. In addition to her voice and the harmonium, she played some rhythm acoustic guitar, ukulele and a tiny electronic keyboard that she laid on top of the harmonium for one number. She also wrote some of the songs they performed last night, though I recall her giving Nathan credit for the majority of them.

BeckyBlissHadar

Nathan didn’t play the sax even once during their set. Instead, he was fantastic on the acoustic guitar (a few of them in fact). Many styles, including the finger-tapping style of people like Kaki King (just one example).

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In addition he too played the ukulele on one number and the mridangam (or something very close to that).

NathanBlissMridangam

That’s not all. When they were playing, I could swear I heard a kick drum, but no one was on stage with them and all four of their hands were busy. Then I noticed that Nathan was tapping with his foot on something that looked like a closed up scissor jack for a car. I asked Becky about it after the show. It’s called a porch board. Cool! Nathan did a very nice job of keeping the beat and adding a fullness to their sound while continuing to impress on the guitar.

Nathan sang too, a bit of lead (a song he wrote about his father’s passing) and a lot of harmony. Their harmonies are beautiful, many times with a very ethereal quality (most notably on the CD, which I’ll get to in a sec). If I had one complaint, it’s that Nathan isn’t very forceful with his voice when singing with Becky. I don’t know if he’s intimidated by singing with that voice (I know I would be), but I doubt it. So, next time, Nathan, kick it up a notch, just for me. Smile

They nervously performed a song they had just finished in the car on the way down (or so they said). They nailed it, no reason to have been nervous.

Speaking of the CD. After their set, Lois ran up to buy a copy. I listened to it today and I like it a lot. But, it’s nothing like the show I saw last night (even though they performed much of it). Becky’s voice is gorgeous on the CD, but very mellow. Last night was phenomenal power (there was a bite to it). The ethereal quality I mentioned above comes across throughout the CD.

Score one for the old man (oops, I mean married couple!). We both can’t wait to see Barnaby Bright perform again.

John Schmitt is someone I’ve heard about from a number of our friends. He performed most of his set solo with a guitar. I mentioned that Nathan joined him on the sax for one number (John gave Nathan two nice sax solos in that one). The song Becky joined him on was Ave Regina. Wow, great song, beautiful harmony.

NathanBlissSaxophone

John is an excellent guitarist, so like Chris Ayer, no problem holding my attention when it’s just him and the guitar. But, it’s not really about the guitar. John writes wonderful songs (lyrics) and has a major voice. He had a horrible cold, which he said was causing him to sing more deeply than his normal range. I felt bad for him, but even a slightly gruffer, slightly deeper voice came across marvelously last night.

JohnSchmittGuitar

He has a very natural rapport with the audience and I look forward to seeing if there is a difference when he’s feeling better, though I don’t have anything but praise to heap on John for last night’s performance.

JohnSchmittSinging

He closed his set with the full band on stage with Nathan joining on the sax. They played Ophelia, the title track from his recently released CD. Lois was blown away and as with Barnaby Bright, ran up right after the set was over to buy a copy from John.

On Friday night we saw another show in VA. The headliner that night was Caleb Hawley and you can read about how great we thought Caleb was. When we found out that Caleb produced John’s CD, we knew it would be a winner even before we listened to it. Yup, it’s a winner (I say with confidence, now that we’ve enjoyed it).

Speaking of colds, I failed to mention that Chris Ayer was battling a cold as well. It didn’t seem to affect his performance either (well, it affected John’s, but not negatively).

Morgan Holland opened the show with the full band plus Chris Ayer. I really like her EP (Old New) and encourage you to check it out and buy it too (you can stream the whole thing first to make sure you agree with me).

MorganHollandSinging

Morgan played songs from the EP plus one Billy Joel cover, She’s Always a Woman. She played acoustic guitar and ukulele and also sang with no instruments, with the full band backing her. Chris Ayer or Matt Simons sang harmony on most numbers, occasionally all three together. Beautiful.

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Finally (but certainly not least!), the band. Sitting left-to-right on the stage:

Matt Simons on electronic keyboards and harmony. Matt is a singer/songwriter in his own right. We own his current EP and like it a lot. If you’re in NYC on Sat Feb 19th, you can join us for Matt’s own show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 at 11pm. It will be his birthday at midnight. Last night he was purely a side man, supporting the others, extremely well.

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MattSimons

Stephen Chopek on the drums. We’ve only seen Stephen once before, during the Morgan Holland EP Release show at Rockwood. I enjoyed his play a lot, but this is all I wrote about him after that show:

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

Not effusive, but still accurate, he was very good. I have a much better sense after last night, given that he played throughout Morgan’s set, then for one number with John Schmitt, followed by most of Chris Ayer’s set. The songs were much more varied so Stephen displayed more styles.

StephenChopek

Morgan’s set called for sophisticated but understated drumming. Stephen excelled at that. Many of Chris’ numbers called for dramatically more drum fills. The very first number that the full band joined Chris on was Graduate (a song I really like but can’t find anywhere to purchase!). The drums are integral. I wish I knew the technical term for that style of drumming, because it’s among my favorite. If you know the movie 1941, you’ll know the drumming style I’m describing as it runs throughout the movie.

Update: A friend who read this post emailed me a link to a live version of Graduate. You can stream it free, or download and name your price. It’s gorgeous (I knew that already), but it’s solo, so you won’t hear the drum pattern I’m talking about above.

StephenChopekHadar

Chris Anderson played the upright bass, both plucking (mostly) and with a bow (on a few numbers). Chris is one of our favorite bass players and we are fortunate that he plays with quite a number of the bands that we like. We first discovered Chris when we first heard Ian Axel and we’ll see Chris next Wednesday playing with Ian Axel for his CD release show at the Studio at Webster Hall in NYC.

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We can’t wait for that show, but we’ll see Chris (or at least I assume so) this coming Saturday, playing with the Greg Mayo band. Can’t wait for that either. Smile

A great night of music (nearly three hours). If you factor out the mega shows (which we too enjoy!), this kind of night out is still one of the most enjoyable and value-packed things you can do. If you see a show like this at a place like Jammin’ Java, where the food is excellent and reasonably priced, the value is increased. That’s exactly what we did, along with three of our friends, who hadn’t seen any of these artists before last night.

Soul Revue Benefit at The Bitter End

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I’m rarely at a loss for words. Unluckily for those who intend to make it to the bottom of this post, this won’t be one of those rare times either. But, it’s still unusual, because simply following my normal structure of mentioning every single performer won’t do justice to what happened last night. So, I’ll take a slightly different tack today.

First and foremost, I need to bow to Sam Teichman (@samteichman on Twitter) as deeply and humbly as I can. Sam is a perfect example of one person, single-mindedly focused on getting something done and achieving that goal (actually, exceeding it). On November 4th, 2010, Sam sat next to me at Rockwood Music Hall as we enjoyed sets by Jesse Ruben and Alex Wong. Even on that night, Sam was doing for others, as I noted across three paragraphs toward the end of my post about that show.

SamTeichman

More importantly, that night, a mere 2.5 months ago, Sam told me to stay tuned for a benefit concert he was starting to put together. Sam is not a rich guy. Sam is not a powerful guy. Sam is not Oprah Winfrey, who merely has to mention the word benefit and superstars around the globe will claw to be a part of it.

Sam is just a guy with a huge heart, a love of people, a love of music, a talent for video production, perseverance and a tireless work ethic. Because of those loves and talents, Sam has amassed an incredible number of real friends™ many of whom happen to be amazing musicians. That allows Sam to pull off these miracles. It’s inspirational. We should all aspire to be like Sam.

Free Arts NYC was the beneficiary of last night’s fundraiser. Emilia Vincent, Director of Special Events for Free Arts NYC, came up on stage to thank Sam (and all of us). A number of other staffers were in attendance as well. Every donation taken at the door (minimum donation requested $10) and every CD and DVD sold (also name-your-price donations) went entirely to Free Arts NYC. All the performers (dozens) donated their time and talent.

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The event was held at The Bitter End. A very nice club (very storied) who’s stage is just large enough to accommodate the often 15 people who performed simultaneously. Most of the night was an ensemble (more of an amalgamation) of people who don’t typically play together in a regular group (though subsets of them do play together). The one exception was the opening act.

Live Society opened the show (they also have a MySpace page). A couple of friends told me that I would really enjoy their performance. That turned out to be a huge understatement. What a total blast. Brian Collazo sings most of the leads and played acoustic guitar on two numbers. Jason Vargas sang lead on at least one number and incredible harmony on the rest. Kevin Collazo (Brian’s brother) sang harmony beautifully. The three of them could easily be an a capella group if they wanted to be.

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But, why would/should they be? Their guitarist, John Kaiteris, was awesome. In addition to being great on the electric guitar on every song, he wrote a number of them as well. Extremely talented! Erik Perez on the drums was very impressive. Superb feel for the rhythm of soul. Anthony Candullo on bass complements them. No weak link in this group.

But wait, there’s more. Making a guest appearance for Live Society’s entire set was Patrick Firth (I’ve written about him a number of times). He played the grand piano and electronic keyboards. He’s a master and both fit in with and was highlighted by Live Society.

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Brian called up another special guest to sing with them on one song, the always incredible Martin Rivas.

They’re working on a CD. I look forward to the release. Check out their music on the above links, you’ll love it.

After a 10-minute break, a cast of thousands piled on to the stage (OK, it only looked and sounded like a cast of thousands). At the most, there were 15 people performing at the same time. At the least, three. For the majority of the numbers, it was 14. What a huge sound (even when there were only three people on stage!).

The musicians didn’t stress about stage placement or sound checks as they shuffled on and off the stage in rapid succession. There was a core house band that played on most numbers, but that shifted as well. The transitions were smoother than I ever could have imagined.

The amazing brass section consisted of: John Liotta (alto/baritone sax), Ian Schaefer (trumpet) and Matt Simons (sax). They were on stage for roughly half the numbers.

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Mike Tuccillo and Jeff Litman alternated on the electric bass (really well).

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Oscar Bautista and (Sergio) Serge Ortega shared the electric guitar duties (extremely well).

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Seth Falk, Robbie LaFalce, Josh Dion and Craig Meyer all shared percussion duties (drums, djembe, tambourine) often with two on stage at the same time. Each and every one of them was wonderful. More on Josh Dion momentarily.

SethFaulkRobbieLaFalceCraigMeyer

For most numbers, there were three or four backup singers on stage. All but one sang lead as well, so I’ll mention them in a second. The only backup singer who didn’t sing lead on at least one song was Valerie Mize. She did a wonderful job. I’m sure if there was more time, she too would have taken a turn at the center mic and wow’ed us.

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Megan Cox played the violin, wonderfully.

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Abby Payne and Rebecca Haviland shared the grand piano and electronic keyboards duties (for those songs where there were keyboards, I’ll guesstimate that Abby played 1/3 and Rebecca 2/3’s of them). Both ladies were incredible.

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This brings me to the one unimaginably sad note of the evening. Greg Mayo suffered the untimely passing of his brother Christopher in a car accident earlier that day. Our hearts and prayers go out to Greg and the entire Mayo family over this unspeakable loss. A number of people on stage mentioned this tragedy.

On to the people who sang at the mic at center stage, raising our blood pressure (in the good way) and making us shout “Yeah” and “Hell Yeah” (among other grunts and words), literally.

Jesse Ruben led off, great start.

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Rebecca Haviland has an extraordinary voice and stage presence. I wrote about her briefly when I covered the Greg Mayo Band, of which she is a part. Last night her voice roared above the other 13 people on stage. Totally captivating. I already mentioned how amazing she was on the keyboards as well.

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Luke Wesley has a very powerful and distinctive voice. It was our first time seeing him. Thoroughly enjoyed his number!

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Bri Arden (also on Reverb Nation). A quick aside before telling you about Bri’s performance. Bri was a member of the backup singers for much of the night. When she took the lead, she changed her dress into something substantially more eye catching. Before she got to sing, someone else on stage asked her where the other half of her dress was. Winking smile

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Bri sang Proud Mary, starting off slow and building to a heart-pounding final few verses (just like Tina Turner’s signature version). Someone in the crowd mentioned how difficult it is to emulate Tina. Bri pulled it off! When she next appeared as a backup singer, she was back in her other dress. Smile

John Schmitt was up next. A number of my friends have told me that I have to see John Schmitt perform. Having heard his voice and style last night, I understand why. He’s now on my list.

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Abby Payne did a very nice job (yes, the same Abby who nailed the piano parts!). The only issue is that it took Abby a bit to crank up the volume on her voice, which was necessary because she (and all of them) were competing with tons of instruments and other vocalists. Abby had an all-male backup singing contingent.

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Karly Jurgensen was also a regular member of the backup singers before taking center stage. Karly has been a recent discovery of ours and I’ve written (briefly) about her twice. She is high on our list to see a full set and we got on her mailing list after the show to ensure we don’t miss out!

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Up until now, each of the aforementioned singers performed one number.

Martin Rivas took the stage in a minimalist way. He was accompanied by Chrissi Poland on vocals and Craig Meyer on drums. Martin played the acoustic guitar. Rather than sing one song, or 10, Martin played a long (and absolutely amazing) medley of 7-10 numbers over a nearly 10-minute appearance.

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He and Chrissi were both great (more on her shortly) and they really got the crowd to sing along, multiple times. It’s Martin who also got the crowd (yes, the placed was packed!) to groan, as I mentioned above.

Brian Collazo (of Live Society) joined them for two numbers. A few others came and went (Rebecca Haviland, Valerie Mize, Josh Dion, the brass section). A great mini-set.

Chrissi Poland stayed on stage for the rest of the show. She alternated singing with whomever had the center stage mic, and taking the center stage mic herself. All told, she probably sang the most leads of the night, even including Martin’s numbers. She was awesome. We’ve only seen her once before, singing a few numbers with Martin at Rockwood 2. We were impressed then, and continue to be now. We want/need more Chrissi, now!

ChrissiPoland

Josh Dion was already mentioned above as one of the drummers. It took me a second to notice that after Martin left the stage, someone was singing, but no one was standing at the mic at center stage. That’s because Josh Dion was singing his heart out, while playing the drums (which were center stage, but against the back wall). He was incredible!

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Jay Stolar (lead singer for Julius C) was up next, and he shared the stage with Chrissi Poland. He was also incredible. What a voice and what passion and energy on stage (very theatrical, in the best sense). I shouldn’t be surprised. For the past month, every time I ask a question of a friend in an audience (like: “Who’s that guitar player”?), the answer often comes back: “Oh, he’s in Julius C, you really need to check them out!”. Indeed, I do!

JayStolar

It was inevitable that this post would get to this length, even with the abbreviated mentions of many of the amazing musicians. Even at that, I haven’t done justice to what was obviously an epic night at The Bitter End.

Thanks again to Sam Teichman and everyone mentioned above (and anyone I missed) for putting on such a great show for such a great cause.

Just to make this post even longer, I will reproduce Sam’s entire thank you stream from Twitter, for those who didn’t click on his link above, or for those reading this long after it has scrolled off of his Twitter page:

Wow! Thanks to @jesseruben, @rebeccahaviland, @lukewesleymusic, @BriArden @johnschmitt, @abbypaynemusic, @KarlyJurgensen, @martinrivas….

…. @joshdion, jay stolar of @juliusc, @chrissipoland for singing your hearts out tonight on lead vocals.

And thanks to Oscar Bautista and @Serge_Ortega for brilliant guitar work, @jefflitman and @its5knobmike on the bass…

.. Robbie LaFalce of @PhilthHarmonic, @sethfaulk and Josh Dion on the drums and percussion. Valerie Mize on the backing vocals…

@matt_simons, Ian Schaefer and John Liotta on the brilliant horn work, and Megan Cox on the violin. You all amaze me. Words are not enough.

Thanks more so to every single one of you who came to support the cause, and the artists, tonight. You all reaffirmed my faith in music.

Special thanks to @CMorelliNYC for taking pictures, and @achance42, Matt Golub, Alex Depew and Doug Cion for filming the show.

I can not imagine a more perfect opening band for a night of soul than @collazo and the Live Society crew, and you guys crushed it tonight.

And a huge thanks to @hadarvc, @tinajbowen, @ArtSceneNYC, @thejujuqueen and all the others who retweeted and publicized the show so well.

Mostly, tonight reaffirmed my belief that people can make things happen, things of consequence, big or small. Believe in the arts…..

…. believe in charity. Believe in the ability to make a difference one dollar at a time, one song at a time, one life at a time.

The only goal in life should be to create, to smile, to give, and to love. The rest is just details. Thank you all. We’ll do it again soon.

Well said Sam.

Greg Mayo Band at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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

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

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

Perfect, just rolls off the tongue. Winking smile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MattSimons

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

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

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

Wayne Tucker

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Maddison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ChrisAyer

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

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

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

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

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

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

MattSimonsGrandPianoMattSimonsKeyboardsStanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ChrisAyerUkuleleMorganHollandGuitar

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

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

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

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

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

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

MichaelBellarPlusBassistTheAsIsEnsembleDrummers

Vienna Teng at Parkside Lounge

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Ignorance is bliss, at least it was last night. 🙂

On March 14th, our friend @HappyBee3 tweeted the following:

Wow nice line up! RT @chrisayer: Added NYC show March 23 w/ @viennateng & Rachael Sage at Parkside Lounge!

I had never heard of Parkside Lounge before, but I made a mental note to see the show for three reasons:

  1. Vienna Teng (OK, I didn’t really need any more reasons) 😉
  2. Rachael Sage (we saw her at Joe’s Pub and I enjoyed her show)
  3. Chris Ayer (@HappyBee3 saw him at Canal Room and tweeted her love for the show, so I was really looking forward to catching Chris, as @HappyBee3 has very good taste in music!)

The show was listed on Parkside’s calendar as: “Stanford University Alumni Showcase”. Tickets were not available for purchase, so it seemed like a free show, with a likely drink minimum. I knew Vienna graduated from Stanford, and I assumed so did Rachael and Chris, and this was a bit of fun to bill their show as such.

That was the ignorance part. We showed up and it turns out it was run by Stanford in Entertainment, with the audience all being Stanford Alums, as were all of the performers. Oops!

The ladies who put on the event were so nice to us and let us in. We made a donation to their “Raise Money for Haiti” drive (we would have anyway) and bought a few drinks (which had to help out Parkside, etc.). It’s possible that we were the only two non-Stanford alums in the very crowded audience.

Vienna closed the show, but since I nearly always cover performers in reverse order, and since we mostly showed up for her, I’ll stay with my tradition.

We’ve seen Vienna perform seven times before (hence, reason #1 above). This was the first time she performed every number solo. It’s also the first time we’ve seen her on an electronic keyboard (I’ve seen her play one on YouTube videos, but live, it’s always been a grand piano until last night). It’s not that the sound of the electronic keyboards is different, it’s the visual aspect of the performance.

ViennaTeng

When Vienna plays on a grand, you have a profile view of her at best. For many, she’s nearly completely obscured. When she plays the electronic keyboards, she’s center stage, facing the audience. Vienna is an emotive singer, so the full-on view is very welcome.

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She’s always very warm and engaging with the audience, but this was a special audience, with many shared experiences and memories. There were inside jokes (that everyone but us got). Vienna gave longer introductions to a few songs, something we love to hear, so that too was a treat.

She chose a very fitting set list for both the audience and the venue (in our opinion). She was a bit worried that she wouldn’t pull off the magic in The Last Snowfall, since her looping machine was on a stool, much lower than normal. She needn’t have worried, it was perfect!

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I know a number of her fans really want a set list from each show. I’m probably missing one or two, but here’s what I recall (not necessarily in order!):

Whatever You Want, Blue Caravan, 1 Br / 1 Ba, Soon Love Soon, The Last Snowfall, Grandmother Song

ViennaTengGrandmotherSong

Amazingly, as much we love every one of those, there are many of our favorites that she didn’t play, hence my remark about her tailoring the set list to the specific crowd/venue.

Next up was Rachael Sage. When we saw her at Joe’s Pub, she had a full band, which included the mind-bogglingly brilliant Dave Eggar. It was a holiday show, and she played significantly more upbeat numbers that night.

RachaelSage

Last night she was solo, on Vienna’s keyboards. She has an excellent voice, and plays the piano wonderfully. She cracks me up to no end (very quick, witty, inventive). Unfortunately, she too crafted her set list specifically for last night’s show, and the choice didn’t sit as well with us. Her songs were darker, a bit less melodic. I still got a kick out of seeing her, and laughing a bunch, but for my taste, the show at Joe’s was substantially more to my liking.

Chris opened the show. He’s a superb guitarist. He’s a lefty, but I won’t hold that against him. 😉 He has a wonderful voice, and writes very interesting songs. Excellent stage presence.

ChrisAyer

For 2/3’s of his numbers he had Matt Simons join him. Matt played electronic keyboards and sang a lot of harmony. Their voices blended beautifully!

MattSimons

Chris played a few solo numbers in the middle of the set. For the last two songs he was also joined by Morgan Holland (sorry, couldn’t find a good link for her). Here’s a YouTube video of her singing with Chris at Capital Ale House (a lot of background noise…).

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Stanford Alums, sorry we crashed your party, but thanks for being so warm and thanks to Vienna, Rachael, Chris, Matt and Morgan for making the evening so enjoyable!

Parkside Lounge is a very nice venue. We’ll be happy to return there whenever we get the chance!