Music

Jesse Terry and Marjory Lee at a House Concert

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We became aware of how many house concerts there are only a few years ago. There have been a few that we really wanted to attend, but scheduling or illness confounded every one, until last night.

Our friends (stay tuned for how we met them at the end) hosted a house concert featuring one of their favorite artists. We were thrilled that we were able to attend.

Jesse Terry is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter/guitar player. He was (until recently) based in Nashville. That might make you think he’s pure country. You’d be wrong. He crosses a number of genres, effortlessly. During one song, I could swear I was listening to James Taylor (the feel, not a clone). On another, Lois leaned over to me and whispered “Jackson Browne”. Oh yeah, he’s also a little bit country. 😉

JesseTerry

Lois described Jesse to me as “a painter and a poet”. Poet is obvious, but by painter, she meant that his lyrical imagery is vivid. She cried during two of his songs. Here are YouTube videos of each:

Not to overwhelm you with YouTube videos, but this one is worth watching as well (then I’ll leave you alone). Jesse met his fiancée on a cruise ship in the South Pacific (I’m sure the setting had nothing to do with their falling in love 😉 ). Back in the states, in the famous Bluebird Cafe, she was in the audience when he sang this song (which he wrote for her) and then proposed to her in front of the audience. She was at the house concert last night and is as lovely a person as you can imagine, so we completely understand their mutual attraction/admiration/love:

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Jesse was wonderful on every song (including the three covers he did), but he’s particularly masterful at love songs and deeply sad ones. He tended to finger-pick the slower ones, beautifully. His guitar play in general was very good. His voice is excellent with good range. Excellent personality (both on and off the stage).

While we attend shows in all types of venues (including the dreaded Madison Square Garden), we really prefer intimate shows. Well, last night redefined intimate (in the best possible way). I often mention that a performance was acoustic. That’s technically correct, but in most cases, while the instrument is acoustic, it’s still amplified.

Last night was 100% acoustic, and the vocals weren’t mic’ed either. We had front row seats, but I’ll bet that the one guy who insisted on standing in the back of the room (yes, he was offered a seat), could hear every note and every word as perfectly as I could. Perfect. No sound engineer to muck it up (don’t jump on me, most do a great job, but some screw it up so bad you wonder how they got the job).

I was nervous for a second, because Jesse plugged a cord into his guitar, so I thought he had a small amp tucked away somewhere. It turned out he was just plugging in to an auto-tuner pedal. Whew. 🙂

I’ll come back to the actual ending of the show after I cover the opening act.

Our hostess for the evening is an incredible woman (her husband is awesome too, but what I’m about to tell is all her, so I want to give credit where credit is due!). Years ago, she discovered Jesse Terry accidentally, on MySpace, clicking on his link from another artist’s page. She instantly fell in love with his music and reached out to contact Jesse. She has followed his career and become his friend ever since that fateful night.

While in Key West for the annual singer/songwriter festival, she discovered the woman who opened for Jesse last night. She befriended her as well and told both of them that they needed to meet and get to know each other. That eventually happened, and our hostess was indeed correct, they became friends. That they ended up playing a show together, in our heroine’s home, was beyond fitting!

Marjory Lee sang and played acoustic guitar (as above, 100% acoustic, with Marjory even tuning by hand, shudder 😉 ). Our friend warned us about Marjory’s voice and she was correct. It’s gorgeous! Power when she wants/needs it, subtlety when that’s called for, range and perhaps most interesting, an ability to change styles and gears effortlessly.

MarjoryLee

Marjory was equally at home singing softly in the upper registers as she was belting out a soulful rendition of The Dock of the Bay, adding a gritty gravelly voice, sung in the lower registers.

She accompanies herself very nicely on the guitar. Completing the package is her stage presence. For such a young woman, she has an easy rapport with the audience. As with Jesse, that’s true both on and off the stage.

MarjoryLeeTuning

Circling back to the end of the show. During both of their sets, a number of people called out for them to sing a duet. They each joked that they had planned to work up something together for quite a while, but never got around to it. That (apparently) didn’t let them off the hook.

When Jesse was wrapping up, people again called out for them to do something together. Marjory joined Jesse and they sang The Dock of the Bay (mentioned above) alternating verses, with Marjory occasionally venturing some harmony on top of Jesse (very well done!).

JesseTerryMarjoryLee

Then Marjory sang Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean with Jesse singing a few key parts. As with another cover that Marjory did during her own set, she successfully got most of the audience to sing the chorus with her. She/they did a great job bringing the evening to a wonderful close.

We purchased both Jesse and Marjory’s CDs.

Here’s Jesse’s Set List, not followed to a T:

SetList

Back to how we met our friends. We’ve been to 13 CMA Writers Series shows at Joe’s Pub. CMA = Country Music Association. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that our friends have seen more of them than we have. In all of our times at Joe’s Pub, we have always been seated at a table for two, or at a table for four, but with the other two people attending with us.

The one exception was one CMA show where we were seated at a table for four next to this couple that we instantly had a rapport with. The next time we attended a CMA show, Lois spotted them on line and called out for them to join us. We sat together while we ate, but ended up watching the show from different spots. Ever since then we’ve maintained an active email and Facebook friendship.

Last night was excellent, but I can’t say that I didn’t feel badly or guilty. We paid way too little for the value of the show, even after buying the CDs. But that’s not the bad part. Our hostess cooked for two (or three?) days. It was one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had. The meal alone was worth more than we paid for the show and the CDs, but of course, it was free. Guilty pleasure. All I can say is that I was not even slightly exaggerating when I told our friend that she should be a professional caterer. Awesome!

TheFood

There were a ton of desserts as well. I grabbed some (store bought, but also incredible) but we didn’t hang around. During the intermission our host asked me if we were driving back to the city after the show. He asked whether we could take Marjory (and her friend) back with us, which we were delighted to do. Another friend of theirs took the train out from Manhattan so we took her along with us.

Having another hour to get to know Marjory and her friend only cemented our feeling that she was a very special person (all three of our passengers are!) and it enhanced an already special evening all the more.

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In a not-so-small irony, we are already scheduled for our next house concert this Thursday (from zero to two in five days). This time, in a complete stranger’s home, so we’re branching out. I’ll report on that on Friday, as usual.

Derek James at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We first saw Derek James and The Lovely Fools at Flux Studios in July. We went to see Ian Axel and left as big fans of Derek James as well, an unexpected side-effect of chasing Ian wherever he plays. I wrote about that night in this post.

Derek has played a number of shows since then that we were unable to attend. Last night he was scheduled to play Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 (one of our favorite venues) at 10:30pm. While a little late for us old folk, it was better than his recent 11:30pm and midnight shows there. 🙂

Since we had come back early to see Delta Rae anyway, we were determined to see Derek last night. Unfortunately, after running around all morning in the heat, Lois wasn’t feeling well last night. Feeling a bit guilty (through no fault of Lois, who encouraged me to go), I decided to abandon her at 10pm and head down to Rockwood to see the show myself.

Here’s how I described Derek’s music in my last post:

It’s probably easy (for some) to describe Derek’s style, but I am having trouble finding the right words. It’s some kind of blend of up-tempo bluesy/rock, tinged with some cajun-infused country, all delivered with gusto. There’s a super-charged energy that had me swaying throughout the set, even though it was sleepy time for us.

I’d like to update and simplify that. Derek James’ music is fun, through and through! You would have thought I had restless leg syndrome if you saw might right leg bouncing up and down non-stop throughout their set!

Derek played the guitar, ukulele, kazoo and sang, all wonderfully. He even threw in a slide-whistle for 5 seconds at the end.

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I couldn’t help recalling the following when Derek picked up the ukulele (an instrument we really love). I follow a lot of musicians on Twitter. One of them is the awesome Matt Nathanson. Just a week ago, on August 27th, Matt tweeted the following:

i’m calling for a ukulele moratorium. please. god. #wegetityouarebookishandcute #killme

I’m sure it was all in good fun. The next day, he had a very cute exchange with the band Guster:

the moratorium started yesterday, so ur good. plus, u guys r sexy. #soitsdifferent RT @guster uh oh. #ukeeverywhereonthenewrecord #goddammit

Derek and Ian, keep the uke in the shows, please! 🙂

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There were two big differences last night from the show at Flux Studios. The Flux show was acoustic (except for the electric bass). Last night the lead guitar was electric and a full drum set was added to the mix. That didn’t change the quality of the experience, but it was quite different nonetheless.

Roy Gurel (again, no good individual link) is the lead guitarist and backup vocals as well. Last night was electric, Flux was acoustic. He’s an amazing guitarist, and I’d go out to see him without Derek as well. He seemed to have to work harder on the acoustic than he did last night, but both efforts were fantastic.

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Derek mentioned that they really wanted to get on the Rockwood calendar for last night because Roy is heading back to Israel for a while (hopefully not too long for us music fans’ sake!). This was really a sendoff for Roy, and it was a might fine one!

I’m going to miss Roy at future shows, but I bet that any number of top-notch guitar players would jump at the chance to play with Derek and Assie.

Assaf Spector (Assie) on the electric bass and backup vocals (and Kazoo on one number). He’s absolutely wonderful on the bass, his vocals are solid, and he’s simply fun to watch (like Chris Anderson at an Ian show, but totally different at the same time).

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Jamie Alegre on drums (no good individual link). He was a real treat as an addition to the Flux sound. In addition to being spot on throughout the set, he was highlighted during the last two numbers quite a bit, holding down a 1940’s style big band beat. It was a ton of fun to watch him (there’s that fun word again).

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I was so glad that I decided to go and just as sad that Lois missed it, since she’s just as big a Derek James fan as I am. It was very good that she didn’t push herself to go though. The person that was on before Derek continued to play well past Derek’s announced starting time. I don’t know if he started late, or if he just wanted to deliver more to his fans (they were screaming for him to keep playing). Either way, Rockwood didn’t stop him (which was unusual).

So, with 20 minutes to set up after the stage was cleared, Derek didn’t start playing until 11:10pm (40 minutes late). That was the only hitch in an otherwise wonderful night out. I was home by 12:15am and my leg was still restless. 🙂

P.S. Lois normally takes all of the photos in this blog. She handed me her camera as I left yesterday, so any complaints about the quality of the photos is entirely my fault in this one!

Delta Rae at Arlene’s Grocery

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We weren’t supposed to be back in NYC until tomorrow (Thursday). Friends of ours from Thailand were in the states and are leaving tonight. We decided to come home early and have lunch with them today to see them off (that didn’t work out in the end!).

Once we committed to that, we left even earlier (yesterday morning), so that we could be back in NYC in time to catch Delta Rae at Arlene’s Grocery.

We’ve seen Delta Rae once before, at Rockwood Music Hall and I covered that evening in this post. I mentioned that I would love to hear them play with a band. Ask and ye shall receive. Delta Rae played at Rockwood again this past Saturday, another acoustic set, but at Arlene’s Grocery, the set was billed as full band.

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We picked a good day to come back early. As we pulled in front of our building, the thermometer in the car read 105 degrees:

105Degrees

Delta Rae performed an excellent set last night. It was extremely well-received by the audience (including us). Having a full band meant adding a drum set and electric bass. That was enough to make the difference I was interested in hearing, but they could also stand a good lead electric guitar, and possibly even a fiddle or mandolin on a few numbers.

The four members of Delta Rae have wonderful voices individually, that blend in magical ways collectively. Given the power and emotion that they produce while singing, it’s a very good thing that each can hold their own singing lead, as it gives a slight rest to the others when they pass the proverbial baton around from song to song.

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Mike McKee on drums (no good individual link for him, sorry). He was really good on every song, I thoroughly enjoyed his play! Photo isn’t good either.

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Mark McKee on electric bass. Very solid throughout. As much as I really liked the drums, the bass is what really created the bigger sound (big bottom) for Delta Rae, to differentiate from their acoustic set.

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While I liked the bigger sound, there’s always a tradeoff. They play a song (Morning Comes) where the ladies clap between lines in a way that adds a very nice touch to the song. They did it last night, but you couldn’t hear the clapping at all over the bass and drums. Of course, I could see them, and fill in the sound in my mind, but it wasn’t the same thing.

We still got a taste of the acoustic side with their Gospel number, Bottom of the River, delivered largely a cappella (the drummer did enhance their normal foot-stomping). They also did the Fleetwood Mac cover The Chain with Ian on acoustic guitar. That’s the only song where the McKee boys left the stage. Here’s a YouTube version of the song performed in Eric’s bathroom! 🙂

They closed the show with a song that they pitched to Kelly Clarkson. She liked it but it didn’t fit her current album so they’re free to use it themselves again. That said, when we left, Lois told me that Lady Antebellum would be nuts not to want to cut that song immediately. So, if you’re listening Hillary Scott, Lois thinks you would fall in love with this song. Grab it while you can, before Delta Rae scores with it directly!

We support the artists we like. We already have two copies of their EP (get it!) so Lois bought a Delta Rae T-Shirt after the show.

Thanks for coming back to NYC a second time in one week (they played in MD in between!), and bringing along the McKee brothers to let me experience the full band sound so quickly.

Already looking forward to our next Delta Rae encounter!

We chatted briefly with Eric and Ian before the show and I noticed Ian was carrying around a tired-looking set list. Here’s a photo of it, though it was from a previous show and they tweaked the set last night from this one:

SetList

ElizabethHopkinsIanHolljesBrittanyHolljes EricHolljes

Vienna Teng, Alex Wong and Joey Ryan at Highline Ballroom

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Last night was very special on many levels. At the top of the list was seeing Vienna Teng perform in NYC (at the Highline Ballroom) for the last time in a while (she’s off to grad school later this month!).

Even though Vienna tours the US and Europe regularly, we have come to rely on the fact that NYC was her (temporary) adopted home and we had so many opportunities to see her here over the last year. (We also saw her perform in Atlanta, Birmingham and Norfolk.)

We’re thankful that we made the time to do it, without taking for granted that we could see her whenever we wanted. Her shows will be few and far between over the next three years, but they will happen, and anyone who gets the chance to catch one better do it!

Vienna’s voice and piano playing are magical and last night was no exception. She can soothe the savage beast or impassion the near lifeless.

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In addition to a few typical songs that Vienna invites the crowd to join in on (more on that later), she added Antebellum to the list, inviting us to join her or Alex in their respective parts. I could swear that the majority of the crowd selected Alex’s part (perhaps because it’s easier, or perhaps because Alex admonished us to “Choose Wisely”). 🙂

While Vienna often introduces songs, last night felt different. She knew she wouldn’t have many more opportunities to connect with the very large crowd so she introduced nearly every song and shared stories with great warmth. (Highline seats roughly 450 people, and there were very few empty seats. It was the first show we’ve been at where people were sitting in the Highline balcony as well!)

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One story that she shared was going to a Karaoke night with a group of non-musician friends. She and her friend sang A Whole New World from Aladdin. She described the inevitable Karaoke Key Nightmare, where the music is simultaneously too high and too low for your vocal range.

Many songs later (I think it was during 1BR / 1BA, but don’t quote me), 2/3’s of the way through the song, she and Alex broke into a full-on rendition of A Whole New World! Their harmony was fantastic and the entire bit was both wonderful and funny at the same time. Of course, after the song, Alex complained that Vienna chose his Karaoke key. Actually, to quote him more accurately, he said she chose his coming into puberty range. 🙂

Alex Wong (the Alex in the above paragraph) joined her as he has for nearly all of the performances we’ve been to. In addition to being Vienna’s touring partner, co-writer on a few of her songs and producer of her amazing CD Inland Territory, Alex is also 1/2 of The Paper Raincoat.

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On the set list, which I reproduce below for Vienna’s many fans, there is an entry labeled (Alex). Vienna lamented that she would really miss seeing The Paper Raincoat and asked Alex to pick one of their songs to play. People shouted out many songs. Probably the one most loudly requested was In the Creases. Technically, not a Paper Raincoat song, but co-written by Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth (who are The Paper Raincoat), so it qualifies.

Alex chose to do Don’t Be Afraid. He too introduced the song with a short, but meaningful anecdote. Vienna sang perfect harmony with Alex.

Toward the end of the show Vienna said that she wanted to deviate from the set list and get Alex to play another song. Once again, lots of requests from the audience. Alex chose a song of his that he performed with his original group, The Animators, Help is on the Way. We’ll all need it for the withdrawal we’ll be feeling from Vienna’s absence. 🙁

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Ward Williams joined them for the entire show (as he does on most of their tours). Ward sang beautifully with Vienna on a few numbers and played cello or electric guitar on all the numbers. As I’ve said before, Ward is a top-notch musician who always enhances any show he’s a part of!

WardWilliamsGuitar WardWilliamsCello

Update: Lois asked me to say how funny (and quick) Ward is, so here goes. For one song, Vienna asked us to take our keys out. She directed us when to jingle our keys and when to stop (like wind chimes). Alex used his Harry Potter Wand (aka: Waterphone bow) to direct people to make whooshing sounds like the wind itself.

Vienna joked that Ward was left out of the directing. Without missing a beat, he offered that when he put his right arm over his head (in a ballet-like pose), the audience should let out a blood-curdling scream! After testing us once before the song, he sprung the actual arm movement late in the song, and the audience did indeed scream on cue (good paying attention folks!). Vienna definitely got a kick out of it, as did the rest of us. 🙂

I’ve never seen a weak Vienna performance, so raving about last night shouldn’t be taken to imply that other shows weren’t incredible (they all have been!). That said, perhaps it was the poignancy of knowing that it would be a while, making me listen even more acutely, Vienna was in perfect voice last night. The clarity and power were mesmerizing.

As promised, here is the set list:

SetList

As you can see, she ended the set (a long and satisfying one) with Grandmother song. She asked the entire audience to stand for it and we turned the song into a 400+ person party! When they left the stage, we all remained standing until she came back out, this time solo.

Vienna dedicated the song, 1000 Oceans by Tori Amos, to us. We were both choked up. I am still speechless this many hours later, but thankfully, I can still type! 😉

All I can say in return/response is that the amount of joy and personal/spiritual growth that Vienna and the too-many-to-mention other Indie artists that we have come to know and love have given us, fuels us daily! Thank you Vienna, and all of you (you know who you are!).

After 1000 Oceans, both Alex and Ward returned to the stage and they performed two more numbers. The last one was Soon Love Soon, sung by the entire audience in three-part harmony! Here is Vienna directing the right side of the audience:

ViennaTengDirectingAudienceWardWilliams

Including the encore, they were on stage for 100 minutes. As vivid as the memory is at the moment, I miss it already.

When we bought the tickets (many moons ago, when the show was first announced) there was no opening act listed. What a phenomenal surprise to found out it was another of our favorites.

Joey Ryan performed solo, singing and playing acoustic guitar. In addition to always nailing his sets (with and without accompaniment) he was even funnier (and more self-deprecating) than he usually is (and he’s always funny!). He had everyone in the crowd laughing and chuckling, within seconds of stepping on the stage.

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Personally, I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to come out to an un-warmed-up crowd who is eating, drinking and conversing loudly. To do that solo, acoustically and not be the headliner, even more so.

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Yet, like I noted above, within seconds, Joey had the place whisper quiet, with everyone hanging on his every word. He owned not only the stage, but the entire place. I’m humbled by that ability, and enjoy being a part of it each time I experience it.

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Lois asked me if I’d call out for Broken Headlights. I didn’t need to. Joey invited Vienna and Alex on stage to sing it with him. Gorgeous, both the song (always) and their arrangement and harmonies.

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The Highline Ballroom is a wonderful venue. Doors open two hours before show time and they have excellent food (and drinks). Because of that, we wanted to celebrate with friends and share the great music. We bought seven tickets and squeezed all of us in to a table for six.

We had an excellent meal, including way too many desserts (that Lois forced on us, and of course didn’t partake in). Here is a photo of a very small portion of the desserts we all shared:

PartialDessertDisplay

In what had to be the universe speaking to us (though I didn’t find this out until this morning!), I ordered a glass of Shiraz. Then someone else in our party ordered the same thing. The waitress asked if we wanted a bottle instead and I said yes. Then she said that they had a special on a different bottle of Shiraz, one that wasn’t available by the glass. I ordered that. It was really good!

This morning, when I looked at the bill, I saw the name of the wine:

Flying Piano

A totally fitting thing to be drinking during a Vienna Teng show, no doubt! 😉

We all hung around after the show to tell Vienna, Alex, Ward and Joey how amazing they were and what a special night it was. The same group (including Joey) will be performing tonight in Fairfield, CT, tomorrow at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and Saturday in Silver Spring, MD. Do yourself a favor and go to one of these shows, time is running out…

ViennaTengChadVaccarinoIanAxelWardWilliamsAlexWong JoeyRyanHadar

ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy at 55 Bar

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ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy are doing a residency at 55 Bar, performing there at 7pm every Wednesday in August. Of their four appearances, the only one that we could attend was last night, and we are both very glad we got to see them (the rest of you still have two more shots to soak in the fun!).

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We’d never been to 55 Bar before. It’s quite small. As long as we get seats up front, we’re of the opinion that the smaller the better, so this place was great!

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We showed up 15 minutes early, and the place was practically empty, so we got the two seats right near the stage (it’s not raised, just the area where ambeR and Adam would be playing). In fact, ambeR was running late and wasn’t there yet. We got to chat a bit with Adam as he was setting up.

Adam told us that he’s recording a new CD in September, and he’s attempting to fund it like many other artists are nowadays, through Kickstarter. If you’re a fan of Adam, or want to support this kind of music in general, please donate to his effort. Here’s the direct link to Adam’s Kickstarter Page.

A minute later ambeR showed up, and a few minutes after that a crowd showed up (perhaps ambeR shared a clown-cab with a few dozen people). 😉

We’ve seen ambeR in many different types of venues, from the small (Tin Angel and Rockwood Music Hall) to the large (Highline Ballroom), with each show having a very different character. This was probably the smallest room, and we were a few feet from her with no raised stage, so it felt like she was serenading us alone, in our living room. We loved every second of it.

In addition to a few of our favorites, ambeR played two new songs that we’d never heard. Both were wonderful (as Lois enthusiastically proclaimed after each).

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ambeR and Adam mostly traded off two-songs at a time, with Adam playing guitar on most of ambeR’s numbers. I requested Washing Day (which they co-wrote) and it was one of a few songs that they sang together (trading verses and singing harmony).

Adam Levy is a master guitar player, who also writes wonderful songs and sings them with a soulful gravelly voice. We’ve seen him a number of times and enjoyed each show, but last night was the best of them, largely due to the intimacy.

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Without a band (which we experienced once before at Jammin’ Java), he is free to play softly and not feel like he’s hogging the spotlight with his guitar leads. It’s easy to get carried away by him (and with him).

In addition to a couple of Cole Porter covers, and one by NRBQ, Adam also played one of my favorites of his, No Dancing (which he’s hoping/expecting to include on the new CD). ambeR sang harmony with him on that.

Including a short intermission, they were on for just under two hours. The audience was wonderful. There wasn’t a peep during the songs, even though this is a bar. These were music lovers first and foremost.

Wicked Still Rules

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Having previously seen Wicked eight times, it generally takes an external event to get us to go again. Of course, we are constantly on the lookout for such events, so it’s not hard to get us to go. 🙂

A few weeks ago, friends of ours mentioned that seeing Wicked was high on their list. Our lookout sensors kicked into gear and we picked a mutually agreed date, which turned out to be yesterday’s matinee.

My only criteria for pre-show excitement level is the quality of the two leads, Elphaba and Glinda. We’ve seen awesome ones (in both roles), and horrible ones (more so some of the Elphabas than the Glindas).

I hadn’t seen either of the current leads. I read a short review in the NY Times. I also watched a YouTube video of each doing one signature number. The voices sounded good, the acting wasn’t as good.

I am happy to say that they’ve either gotten way better as actresses, or the videos were somehow wildly unrepresentative of their abilities.

Katie Rose Clarke played Glinda. Her voice is magnificent. I could quibble that she’s a little over-the-top in her comedic acting, but it all worked, so I’m contradicting myself. The only (extremely minor) letdown in her performance was a relatively flat (not off key, but rather affect) in the song For Good. Not in my top three Glindas (this was, after all, our ninth time), but she’s spectacular.

Mandy Gonzalez played Elphaba. Her voice is also magnificent. Her acting was weaker than Katie and other Elphabas, but not bad in the least. A few too many smiles in scenes where smiles didn’t feel called for.

Both women hit the high notes crisply, cleanly and with power. Lovely!

The rest of the cast was very good, including the Wizard, who was either a stand-in, or so new to the cast that he wasn’t printed in the Playbill yet.

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I loved every minute of the performance, even the quibbles mentioned above (they’re more notes for my own recollection than critiques).

At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’ll hit double digits. It was roughly 11 months since the last time we saw Wicked, so it might not be right around the corner, but it’s coming, I can feel it. 🙂

Angel Band at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Prior to last night, we’ve seen Angel Band perform three times. The last one was over two years ago and was a CD Release Party at Joe’s Pub, covered in this post. Last night was also a CD Release party for their new album, Bless My Sole, this time at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.

A lot has changed in the past two years, but the core experience is the same, excellent!

Angel Band is three fantastic female vocalists singing three part harmony. One of the things that’s somewhat different about Angel Band vs other three part harmony groups that we love is the sheer power that all three project (individually and simultaneously), without ever sounding too loud or overbearing. They can do subtle too, quite well, but they really shine when they crank it up.

We are also major fans of most things Bluegrass. While you certainly can’t characterize Angel Band as a mostly Bluegrass band, their instrumentation and many of their songs do fit the description and that suits us just fine. They have a fiddle, mandolin, flat-picking guitar player, etc.

So, what’s changed? First, one of the three Angels has changed. Jen Schonwald is no longer with the band, replaced by Aly Paige. Second, in previous shows the band backing up the Angels was always The David Bromberg Band. Last night was their own band, now formally highlighted on their site as well.

The heart of Angel Band is Nancy Josephson. She writes or co-writes most of their original songs (they do some incredible covers as well) and has a wonderful voice. My friend asked me to take a picture of what appeared to be a very cool hand-made tambourine:

NancyJosephsonTambourine NancyJosephson

Kathleen Weber also has an incredible voice and sings lead and harmony with equal effect.

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Aly Paige sings beautifully, both harmony and lead. It took her one lead effort to warm up and put a little more power into her solo singing.

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

Christie Lenee on acoustic and electric guitar. Wow! She was filling the shoes of David Bromberg in the role of guitar-player for Angel Band. Not easy shoes to fill. While their styles are quite different, I was very impressed with Christie on both acoustic and electric, she’s a great match for Angel Band’s style, but I’m sure she’s great independent of them as well.

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Marc Moss on mandolin, electric and acoustic guitar and drums! A man of many talents, he excelled on all four instruments. He also co-wrote a number of the songs that they performed last night. Well done!

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Bob Taylor on electric bass. Bob has played bass with David Bromberg for years and has toured with Angel Band for years as well. He’s extremely solid but not highlighted in their repertoire.

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Nate Grower on fiddle. Nate is listed on the front page of Angel Band’s site, but he doesn’t have a video intro of himself like the others do, at least not linked on the same The Band page. Nancy joked that she’s had a headache for longer than Nate’s been alive. She also correctly points out that that doesn’t stop him from being an amazing fiddler, which he is.

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David Bromberg joined them as a special guest for three songs (for those who don’t know, he’s Nancy’s husband). He played both acoustic and electric guitar. During the 70’s, I attended as many David Bromberg shows as I could. He was one of my favorite live performers and he still thrills all these years later. We only discovered Angel Band because they were opening for David Bromberg at BB King in 2006 when I went to see David for the first time in many years.

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Joining Angel Band as another special guest for the last song and the one-song encore was Matt Parker on Saxophone. (I actually didn’t catch the first name, so I apologize if I linked to the wrong sax player!)

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So, we would have gone just to see Angel Band, no matter who was opening, or even if there wasn’t an opening act. But, much to my delight, the opening act was reason enough to show up, no matter who the headliner was. That’s my kind of show!

Martin Rivas played a six-number set on two different acoustic guitars. I keep saying that I need to see more of Martin, and last night continued the trend of getting a bit more of him (it was the longest set we’ve seen so far), but still not long enough.

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Martin played a number of songs from his new EP (The Convalescence EP). One of those songs was Raise Me Again. It’s a gorgeous song, very deep, that describes the pain that many children feel but likely can’t (or don’t) express as movingly as Martin does. His introduction made the song all the more meaningful.

Chrissi Poland joined Martin for one song where she sang a verse on her own and sang harmony with Martin as well. We’re going to have to keep an eye out for her, she has a fabulous voice, well paired with Martin’s.

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OK Martin, next time better be at least eight songs! 😉

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We got to introduce three people to Angel Band, and two of them discovered Martin for the first time as well. All in all a wonderful evening out.

Time for a rant, so tune out if all you want is peace and love. 🙂

I rarely have a harsh word for Rockwood Music Hall. In general, both venues are fantastic in all respects, in particular to the musicians. Last night was a first at Rockwood in my experience. We showed up early (we always do) because there is limited seating, first-come, first-served. The center table was empty, but we were told it was reserved by Angel Band.

What? This kind of nonsense plays at BB King and Joe’s Pub, and is annoying there as well (but at least there are many other tables there), but we came to believe that it wouldn’t happen at Rockwood. I hope it’s not a trend.

Why is it so bad for the band to reserve a table (in a club that has so few!)? Because in our experience, almost never do the people show up for that table. On the rare occasion that they do, fewer people show up than the number of reserved seats, and they never (as in never) show up for the opening act. These aren’t music lovers, they are perk seekers (IMHO).

That was the case last night too, as the two seats that Lois and I tried to sit in were unoccupied for the entire show! 🙁

Here’s a tweet from one of our guests (unprompted by me!) that sums it up more succinctly than I did above:

Wuz up with this BS of Reserved tables at Rockwood now? Me no likey! No likey at all!!

100% agreed. Let’s nip this practice in the bud now!

Rant #2, and one I’ve only had to call this out once before (Colin Hay in regard to The Paper Raincoat). Nancy Josephson never once thanked or mentioned Martin Rivas for opening. Another classless act that matches the reserving a table for people who don’t show up motif… Martin mentioned Angel Band (and thanked them) at least 1/2 a dozen times, totally classy!

Update: Please read the comments below for an apology directly from Nancy Josephson! Class has completely been restored! Whew.

The Persuasions at BB King

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Lois and I love a cappella. We love harmony in all forms and it doesn’t get purer than a cappella. When we each saw that The Persuasions were performing at BB King (we both get the weekly email newsletter) we were interested in going (we’ve never seen them).

A friend of ours was vacationing up the East Coast, and told us that he would likely have some time to hang with us when he spent a couple of days in NYC. He called Wednesday night and we asked him whether he would be interested in seeing The Persuasions. Indeed he was.

The group was formed in 1962 and released their first studio album in 1970. Two of the original members are still performing with the group! One of them is Jimmy Hayes, who sings the deep bass parts. He’s absolutely amazing. Both Lois and I couldn’t wait to praise him to each other when we hit the street.

When all five of them sing together, the sound is incredibly rich, whether they are singing the words together (normal harmony), or whether some or all of them are mimicking instruments or doo wop sounds.

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Going for the music alone would be worth it. Fortunately, that’s not the only reason to go, though we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

I would guess that the majority of the audience were giant The Persuasions fans, having seen them perform before (likely many times for a good proportion of the crowd). Aside from being adoring fans (in the best sense), they knew the individual performers, and the group knew many audience members as well.

The Persuasions don’t just perform, they entertain! On at least a third of the numbers one of the members of the group ventures into the audience (usually the other original member, “Sweet” Joe Russell, but both Raymond Sanders and Jayotis Washington did as well). The song becomes highly interactive at that point, with great unpredictability.

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Dave Revels sang slightly more leads than the rest and did a wonderful job throughout the set.

At times, Joe (or the others) will simply sing to a member of the audience (often acting out the lyrics). Just as often, they will hand the microphone to someone and get them to sing (often the lead!). No one was bad, but a few were pretty darn good, with two people singing like real professionals!

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In one awkward moment (awkward for me, because I’m a complete geek!), Joe was singing to a woman. They each had an arm around the other. The woman was in heaven, and she handed her iPhone to her husband and asked him to take a photo. Even though Joe held the pose while he sang to the woman for nearly two minutes (that’s an eternity folks!), the husband couldn’t figure out how to snap a photo on the iPhone. He was aiming the LCD screen at them, and was nearly as frustrated as his wife. He did not get the photo. 🙁

The Persuasions perform a wide variety of music. Hearing oldies from my childhood brought rushes of wonderful memories back in an instant. Seeing the beaming faces of the other audience members (all ages!) turned those memories into a shared experience, making it more special than simply tuning into an oldies radio station.

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Here’s the set list, so you can get a sense of the breadth and see how many of your old favorites are there:

SetList

The one song you won’t see on there is what they performed during the encore (yes, they were forced to come back out for an encore), In the Still of the Night. Saying that they performed it is a bit of a misnomer. They actually participated in the performance, which was dominated by the audience.

They invited anyone in the audience who wanted to sing it with them on stage to come on up. Amazingly, roughly 20 people went up.

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Jayotis Washington came into the crowd and asked people whether they knew the song (the intro was already being doo wop’ed on stage), and I was one of the people he stopped in front of!

I said no (even though I knew it well), because I had no intention of singing into the microphone. The guy at the table next to me (a huge fan and friend of the band) accepted, and sang the lead for a good part of the song. He was incredible (one of the two I mentioned above). The entire song was quite a spectacle (in the best sense of the word).

After it was over, Lois went on stage to get the set list. When I looked up, she was hugging each member of The Persuasions. I looked away for a second, then looked back. The stage was empty. Lois disappeared behind the stage with them. I told our friend that I would likely be forced to wait 24 hours before calling her in as a missing person. 😉

She came back out without the set list itself, but with the photo (shown above), and some more memories. 🙂

On to the food. BB King is comfort food and it’s always really good. Last March (2009) we were there for a Jerry Jeff Walker show, and our god-son-in-law ordered the Mac & Cheese. It’s so rich he couldn’t finish it and the rest of us all dug in and were blown away. Last night I ordered it for myself for the first time. Just as good. Thanks Chris, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know what I was missing! 🙂

When we were watching the coming attractions our friend told us that we shouldn’t miss The Toasters, who will be at BB King on October 29th. Here’s hoping he can make it back to NYC to join us for that show as well!

HadarChris

The Paper Raincoat at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Q: What word describes the following situation? You’re old and exhausted and one of your favorite bands schedules a show at 6pm!

A: Perfect! 🙂

That’s exactly what happened last night. The Paper Raincoat played a show at 6pm at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. The only worry in our minds (possibly in theirs too) was whether people would show up that early. No need to worry folks, the place was packed to the teeth with people spilling out the door. Of course, we got there very early and snagged the two seats at center stage.

I know that most of the people who read this blog know about The Paper Raincoat (TPR) already, but for the Google robot out there, it’s a duo comprised of ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong, each tremendous talents in their own right, that prove (yet again) that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts!

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Alex joked a number of times that they were playing the Happy Hour show. As Ken Rockwood himself joked back: “Every hour is Happy Hour at Rockwood!”. 😉

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They played a nine-song set (not including the encore). If you’re a fan, you’ll know how good a selection it was. Either way, let me assure you that it was extremely well received by the audience.

SetList

To give you a sense of how unusual the scene was, ambeR lost her place in Sympathetic Vibrations for a second. She always nails that one (though I won’t be able to say always any longer) 😉 and she explained that seeing so many people jammed into Rockwood that early distracted her. I don’t doubt that!

When they started Sympathetic Vibrations, Alex turned to the crowd and said: “You know your part.” We did. We (everyone, not just Lois and me) clapped our part perfectly, loudly, in unison. ambeR recovered from her momentary lapse by joking that at least we knew our part. 😉

When Alex introduced January, he explained that it should be thought about from the perspective of an older drunk guy. To ensure that we really understood that, three members of the band (I’ll cover each individually shortly) switched places, ensuring that they were no longer superstars on their respective instruments. It was fresh and fun. ambeR played the drums. She’s tweeted that she’s practicing but I didn’t expect to see the result so soon.

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On Right Angles both Alex and ambeR played on the grand piano at the same time:

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On It All Depends, they ended with their signature drumming extravaganza. First, they warmed it up by getting the audience to clap in a fast and steady beat. Then Alex joined Kevin with the two of them drumming together, with the audience never missing a beat. Then ambeR joined them with all three drumming on the same drum set (well, to be honest, Alex had a snare a little off to Kevin’s left). It was as awesome as it always is, perhaps a drop more.

Both Alex and ambeR play a number of instruments. At times, Alex plays multiple ones simultaneously:

AlexWongMultiInstrumentalist

Closing the show (not the encore) with Rewind, ambeR, Alex and Kevin were awesome. The only thing that differentiates some previous TPR shows is that when Adam Christgau does Rewind, he also sings, making it three-part harmony at some points. Kevin doesn’t sing, but the three of them still make live magic every time they perform this song.

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ambeR and Alex returned to thunderous applause for an encore without the band. They played In the Creases, a song they co-wrote before TPR existed. We love the song. Lois felt it was the best rendition she had heard. I loved it, but I doubt I’ll ever experience it like I did at Joe’s Pub for ambeR’s CD release party, when Vienna Teng sang three-part harmony with them, and Katie Scheele played the oboe, and a full band supported them (including Vienna on the grand piano).

On to the wonderful band:

Kevin Rice on drums. Kevin was the original drummer for TPR, though for the first few shows that we saw them, Adam Christgau was their drummer. Kevin is awesome (as is Adam!) and many of the TPR songs allow great drummers to stretch a bit. The beat is such an integral part of the songs and Kevin never disappoints. For January, Kevin switched to the electric bass. He did a very nice job.

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Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony was great all night (as he always is). He’s a lot more understated than a number of the bassists we’ve seen recently, but that’s one of the things that makes him a great match for a lot of groups, his bottom is there for them, without Tony (or his riffs) becoming a distraction to their music. For January, Tony took ambeR’s place. He played the electric keyboards with his left hand, and the trumpet with his right! Bravo Tony!

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Melissa Tong on violin. Melissa always delights us and last night was no exception. Many groups add strings to their CD’s without ever using them live. TPR (and ambeR and Alex individually) often have strings on stage, creating the same huge, rich sound that they deliver in studio. While Melissa (and David, up next) were excellent throughout, they were really brought to the forefront in the opening of Right Angles, which is mostly strings for the first 45 seconds. Gorgeous!

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David Fallo on viola. David is wonderful on the viola. In addition to playing on all the numbers that Melissa played on, David also played on one that Melissa sat out. Everything that I said above about Melissa, in particular about Right Angles, applies equally to David!

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I already mentioned that we grabbed the two seats front and center. Joining us at our table were three very interesting people that we hadn’t met before, but had shared a number of shows together. Getting to know them before the show started made the time fly (another advantage of getting there early) and we look forward to seeing them at many shows in the future!

Here’s hoping that when we get even older, and NYC kicks us out and forces us to move to Florida, that TPR will show up and play a 3pm show for us while we grab our early-bird dinner special. 😉

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.

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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

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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. 🙂

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

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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.

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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:

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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. 🙂

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