Nate Campany

Nate Campany at Rockwood Music Hall

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I’ve wanted to see Nate Campany perform a set for a very long time now. When he listed a show at Rockwood Music Hall at 9pm (last night), I was excited, until I checked my calendar. I had 5.5 straight hours booked right next door at Stage 2. At 9pm, Kyle Patrick was up so I had to choose between them.

As much as I wanted to see Kyle Patrick (he was on my list as well!), I admit that it wasn’t that tough a choice for me (check the title, I went to see Nate!). Winking smile

I’ve only seen Nate perform a few songs. My desire to see him wasn’t because he blew me away during those songs. Rather, he is an extraordinary songwriter. Nearly every performer that I love has co-written at least one song with Nate, often one of my favorite songs by each artist.

Watching Nate on stage was like hanging out with a friend who happened to be standing up while I was sitting down. In other words, rather than listening to a performance, I felt like I was wrapped in the warmth of a circle of friends passing around a guitar (which just so happened to wind up in Nate’s hands every time). Smile

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After practically each song (including right after the first one), Nate paused and said “At this point in the set, are there any questions?”. Apparently (recall, I haven’t seen him perform a full set), he’s a real history buff, and it’s known that he encourages people to show up and ask questions about history, or Cleveland, or Rockwood, etc.

A quick aside for some context. Before seeing Nate, I attended two sets next door. The first was Karly Jurgensen (covered here), followed by Jesse Ruben (covered here). There were a few Swedes in the audience enjoying Karly’s set (while she hails from Nebraska, Karly is probably of Swedish descent). Two of them moved over to Rockwood 1 (like I did), to catch Nate’s set. That’s likely because Nate is a star in Sweden as well, co-writing a number of hits for stars over there.

Back to our story. When Nate asked questions, one of the Swedes said something and Nate broke out a number of phrases in Swedish, to the delight of the Swedes, and the amazement of the rest of us. During the last (and longest), he rubbed his beard. He looked at the rest of us and said “I’m not sure I said that correctly”. Before he got to translate, one of the Swedes called out:

Would you like to rub my beard?

Of course, everyone laughed. The mood remained as light the rest of the set and the banter with the Swedes continued for a bit, without ever feeling tiresome.

Twice, Nate called up Luke White, lead singer of the white-hot rock band Atomic Tom. He sang harmony with Nate.

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During one solo number, Nate lost the words. He told us that he was so caught up in the moment. I believe him, there were many such moments. What was interesting to me is that the woman to my right (which was really behind me since I turned toward the stage) was singing along with Nate, super quietly, but perfectly. It’s almost like she was trying to get him back on track, without anyone (including Nate!) knowing it (sending good thoughts). I might have been the only one close enough to know she was singing.

A little later in the set, Nate coaxed her to join him on the stage. It took a lot of coaxing, but she eventually went up.

Jennifer Dees (Jenn) is Nate’s wife (I didn’t know that until I looked it up). They sang together (beautifully) and of course, it made sense that she would know the words to every one of Nate’s songs.

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A bit later, during another opportunity to ask Nate a question, I leaned over to her and asked if she knew if he sang “Are You Listening” at home. She didn’t know but she encouraged me to ask, so I did.

Here was the ensuing dialog:

Me: Do you practice Are You Listening enough to play it?

Nate: I don’t know that song.

Me: You co-wrote it!

Nate: Really?

Me: With Alex Wong.

Nate: Ah, I don’t know it by that name.

Me: Right, you probably called it the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah song!

Nate: We did, until we found out that (he names a specific artist) has a song by that name.

Nate: Well, I can’t play it anyway.

It will be on Alex Wong’s upcoming solo CD, and I am completely obsessed with the song. Just another example of Nate’s magic sauce/touch when co-writing with others. In fact, we were sitting next to a singer/songwriter at Rockwood 2 during the earlier sets. When I told her that I was going to miss Kyle for Nate, she said “Nate co-wrote one of the songs on my CD”. Like I told you, he’s everywhere!

A number of times during the set, Nate told us that Kyle is one of his best friends and how strange it was that they were scheduled opposite each other. At one point, someone yelled out “Play a more upbeat song!”. Nate replied “You’re in the wrong place. If you want upbeat, go next door to hear Kyle Patrick’s set!”.

Toward the end of Nate’s set, his phone buzzed (it was sitting on the piano behind him). He answered it. It was Kyle Patrick calling from next door. Nate held the phone close enough to the microphone for us to basically hear what was going on. Each of the crowds shouted out to the other, which could easily be heard through the phones and mic’s.

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Then Kyle told Nate he was about to play Good as Gold, a big hit that Nate wrote (co-wrote? I don’t know). Nate looked at us and said “Hey, that’s going to be a lot better than whatever I would play over here. Let’s all go next door and check out Kyle! I’m serious!”

He walked off the stage and out the door, and most of our audience followed him. About 2/3’s of them made it in, but Rockwood 2 was near capacity and some from our side got turned away. I was against the far wall (furthest spot from the door), so I never got up.

Even though I didn’t get up, I had eyes and ears over at Rockwood 2. For the first time ever, Lois and I split up. She remained in Rockwood 2 all night, which included Kyle’s set, so she experienced the other side of the phone call, and the march of the Rockwood 1 folks into Rockwood 2. She caught a shot of Nate standing immediately behind her chair. Kyle apparently stood on the table in front of her, serenading Nate. She was right between them. Smile

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Eventually, Nate and the others returned. He got back on stage and said Goodnight. The crowd chanted for one more song. I honestly don’t remember if he gave it to them or not. I do remember that he was hysterical in noting that when he picked up the guitar, they stopped chanting, so he put it back down, causing the chanting to begin again. In the end, I think he did grace us with one final song.

Lois enjoyed Kyle’s set, so I know I missed a show I too would have enjoyed, but I made the right choice for me. Thanks Nate (and Jenn) for leaving me with no regrets!

Alex Wong and Guests at Rockwood Music Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Wong at Rockwood Music Hall

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Alex Wong played a solo set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. Usually, that means a lot of guests (and this show was similarly teased). But last night was nearly purely solo, with the exception of Alex Berger (visiting here from the UK) joining on two songs.

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If you were there, but didn’t know Alex, it’s remotely possible that you didn’t know who you were listening to. When he first introduced himself, he just said: “Hi, I’m Alex” (no mention of his last name). He quickly started playing on that. He said, “I’m Alex, with an extra two X’s at the end.” Followed by “Actually, it’s Alex with an ick and three X’s, as in AlickXXX”, which ended up being his nickname for the night.

We’ll take him with however many X’s he wants to tack on to his name. Winking smile

I saw Alex at Rockwood a month ago without Lois. Here’s what I had to say about that night. You’ll note the many guests that night. As importantly, you’ll note the mention of three new songs, each co-written with a different person. I was very sorry that Lois missed them that night and just as equally happy that she got to hear them last night!

She loved all three (instantly) as did the other five people at our table (their reaction to the songs was palpable!). It’s no surprise to those of us that love Alex. He’s an amazing songwriter (solo or co-writer). He’s one of our favorite producers as well. Aside from his musical talents, he’s flat out one of our favorite people.

In my previous post, I mentioned that Alex performed Motion Sickness and split the audience in half, with me in the “na na na” section. Last night, the split was right where I was sitting, so I could have legally chosen either part. To shake things up, I chose the “Oh, oh, oh oh oh” part this time. In retrospect, I made a wise choice, it challenged me more than the “Na na na” part. Winking smile

Alex teased us on his second number, playing the intro to Brooklyn Blurs. He then backed off, saying it was too much of a summer song, so he switched to a more wintry one.

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For his third song, he invited Alex Berger on stage. Alex played the grand piano and sang gorgeous harmony with AlickXXX (note how cleverly I avoided the confusing use of last names in that sentence!). Winking smile They played Don’t Be Afraid.

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When Alex played the song he co-wrote with Nate Campany (I don’t know the name, it’s the one with the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s) he noted that Nate was in the audience, but that he was unlikely to come up and sing. A few people in the audience were really vocal about encouraging Nate to come up, unsuccessfully.

Berger agreed to come back up, singing the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah part in harmony with Wong. Beautiful, the song and the harmony. I need a professionally produced version of this song, pronto. Get on it AlickXXX!

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Another highlight of the evening was Alex (back to Wong now) playing In the Creases, one of our favorite songs. I couldn’t stop thinking that an entire set of the various versions of In the Creases that we’ve see live would make for an awesome show.

First up, Alex playing In the Creases (ITC) solo. Then ambeR Rubarth doing it solo. Then the two of them (they could even do it three times in a row, once with each playing the guitar alone and once with both playing the guitar at the same time).

Next would be Alex playing it with Melissa Tong and David Fallo on the strings. Then bring ambeR back up to play it with the strings as well.

Finally, the crescendo, bring Vienna Teng up (keeping the strings) and add Katie Scheele on oboe and recreate the most perfect version of ITC we’ve ever heard live with Vienna on the grand piano and adding three-part harmony to the mix. Ahhhhhhhh, just remembering it brings me peace and joy!

Yes, we have indeed seen every combination of the above versions of ITC and loved them all!

Another wonderful set, thanks AlickXXX.

We got there 10 minutes before Alex’s set. I stood outside (brrr) and caught up on some comms on my Droid. Lois went in and heard the last song of the set before Alex, Dorie Colangelo. Lois was extremely impressed by Dorie.

When I walked in, she was telling Dorie how wonderful her voice was. She asked if Dorie had any CDs/EPs and Dorie handed her one (she didn’t want money for it). Lois insisted. She asked me for money. Since I wasn’t privy to the conversation, I handed her a $5, thinking it was the standard fee for most EPs. When I loaded it up this morning, I saw that it was an 11-song CD. I’ll slip Dorie some more money the next time we see her. Given Lois’ reaction, I’m sure there will be a next time. Smile

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After the show, I made my way to the room on the other side of the bar. In all the times that we’ve been at Rockwood, I’ve never been in that room (used as the green room, but it’s open to the public, so not quite a real green room, just a staging area). I bumped into Tony Maceli there and got to tell him in person how amazing he was the night before, playing as part of Greg Holden’s band.

Only two shows (that I know we’re going to) before we hit a month-long dry spell. The first will be on Sunday, 1:30pm, seeing Artemis Chamber Ensemble (at Holy Family Church in Larchmont, NY). They are amazing. Then on Monday night, we’ll be at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, 10pm, to see Alex Berger perform. Can’t wait! Smile

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Greg Holden at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We’ve seen Greg Holden perform three full sets over the past year and sing as a guest at a few other shows. He’s grown on me each time I’ve seen him. Last night was his last show of 2010, at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. It was scheduled for 10:30pm so we were shaky about making it out that late. In the end, Lois was too tired to go out. So was I, but a scalding shower and the outside air gave me the necessary second wind.

I was particularly interested in seeing the show because Greg just finished recording a new CD (Titled: I Don’t Believe You, likely out in the Spring). He was going to debut a few new songs from the CD. I was also under the impression that there were new arrangements for some existing songs and I was curious to hear those as well.

Greg came on stage at 10:45pm. That was way better than I expected, given that there was a private party at Rockwood from 6-10pm.

The first number he performed was solo, Following Footsteps. It was very slow, very quiet, very well done. The vast majority of the people at Rockwood were quiet and totally focused on Greg. One jerk at the bar could be heard (louder than Greg). Unfortunately, that jerk became a focal point throughout the set. It made for some laughs along the way, but ultimately, people like that need to be shown the door.

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When the song was over, Greg was joined by a full, all-star band (another reason why I pushed myself to go out). I’ll cover each of the band members shortly (as I always do).

That second number, Hell and Back, was very upbeat. It got the crowd going (and overwhelmed the jerk). After the song, Greg joked that he should have opened with that number.

Greg only played one other song solo (I think: I Don’t Believe You), another slow soulful number, beautifully finger-picked. The band left the stage for that one, but otherwise accompanied him on the rest of the set. Greg joked that he was playing some depressing songs (e.g., American Dream, inspired by a homeless couple he sat next to on the subway). He added that if you wanted happy songs, you should have gone to see Ian the night before.

While it’s true that the subject matter of some of Greg’s songs was dark (depressing?), whenever the full band was playing, there were more rock overtones to the songs making them feel less sorrowful. Speaking of the band, from left-to-right on stage:

Ian Axel on grand piano and vocals. The first time we ever saw Ian was when he sat in as a guest on a few numbers for Greg Holden’s set at Rockwood 1 (that was also the first time we saw Greg). Their interaction has clearly grown since then. Ian sang significantly more harmony with Greg last night than he did last year. I really enjoyed their blend, with Ian taking the high notes and Greg the baritone. Of course, Ian always sounds great on the piano, nothing needs to be added on that subject.

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Tony Maceli on electric bass. I’ve said dozens of times what a solid musician Tony is. I was shocked that it took Greg Holden’s music (something I don’t, or rather hadn’t associated with rock) to open up Tony’s bass playing considerably. On the first song that the band joined Greg (Hell and Back), Tony wailed on the bass, playing faster riffs than I’ve ever seen him do. He remained energized and tasty throughout, handling the mellower numbers with his usual skill.

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Adam Christgau on drums and vocals. The night before (in my post about Ian’s show) I mentioned that my count-down clock to see Adam had started again. I’m so happy that I got to reset that clock a little over 24 hours later! Adam is a joy to listen to. I even got to see a bit more of him than usual at a Rockwood 2 show, because Tony kept moving toward the piano, giving us a slightly better glimpse of the drum set tucked in the corner. Adam also did a nice job on the vocals (a bit more on that later).

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Chris Kuffner on lead electric guitar and vocals. One night after finally getting to see Chris open it up on the bass, I got to see his best performance (in my opinion) on the electric guitar. That’s saying something, because he’s impressed me a number of times in the past! Just like with Tony on the bass, Hell and Back had Chris going wild with incredible leads. To repeat, not something I expected from past Greg Holden shows! Chris continued this kind of play, including one fabulous number mostly played with a slide. Bravo!

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Back to the show. One of my favorite Greg Holden songs is one he co-wrote with Joey Ryan. The only versions I’ve heard (live and on YouTube) are acoustic, very mellow. Lois titled the song Nothing But a Memory (when it was still untitled). Greg and Joey finally named it As Far as I Can. It will be on the new CD and Joey recorded it with him. Here’s their debut of the song on YouTube (have patience if they show an ad first!):

Greg Holden and Joey Ryan performing As Far as I Can

Last night, with a full band, and Ian singing Joey’s part (well!), the song was dramatically different. More rock-n-roll than folk. I liked it and it was performed well, but I much prefer the original version. When the song was over, I turned to my friend and noted that. She likes the original version too, but was much happier than I was with the new one. I’ll be curious to see which version Greg puts on the new CD.

To close out the show, Greg played one of his signature songs, Bar on A (co-written with Nate Campany). Greg invited anyone who wanted to sing it with him up on the stage. Nine people (mostly professional musicians) came up and formed a Rockette-like chorus line behind Greg. The ones I’m sure of, left-to-right were Katie Costello, Lauren Zettler, Bess Rogers, Allison Weiss, Sam Teichman, Nate Campany and standing behind them Seth Faulk. There was someone standing to Katie’s right (our left) who I couldn’t see (and don’t know). Between Allison and Sam was a comedian (Sam told me his name after the set, but I’ve forgotten it).

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Greg did a generous and cool thing with this song. When the song started, he turned to Ian and nodded. Ian sang lead on the first verse. Then Greg looked back to Adam, who stood and sang the next few lines. Greg then followed that with Tony singing a few and Chris doing some as well. A very nice way for him to highlight the amazing band that played with him!

A fun night out. I’m glad I shook off the exhaustion! Smile

Before the show, Greg and Adam going over the set list (on an iPhone!). Technology marches on! Smile

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P.S. Since Lois didn’t attend, any complaints about the photos go directly to me…

Alex Wong and Jesse Ruben at Rockwood Music Hall

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I haven’t been to Rockwood Music Hall (the original, Stage 1) in quite a while. In fact, I had to look it up (I knew there was a reason that I bother to blog!). It was 7/29/2010 to see Delta Rae. I’ve been to Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 a bunch of times since then, so Rockwood is still getting the majority of my NYC music business. Winking smile

Alex Wong is reason enough to show up wherever he is. He’s an extraordinarily talented individual (note, I didn’t just say musician). He’s a singer/songwriter, songwriting collaborator, multi-instrument musician, amazing producer and all around nice guy.

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While Alex was reason enough to come out, he had a number of guests announced (not all played) and I have long wanted to see the person who was on at 9pm before Alex.

First the bottom line, then some color commentary. Last night’s set was fantastic.

Alex played 2/3’s of the set solo, mostly on the acoustic guitar. He played two songs at the grand piano. He opened solo with The Same Old Things.

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Melissa Tong on the violin joined Alex for the next number, one of my favorites, Brooklyn Blurs, which they knocked out of the park. I’ve said it so many times, Melissa is an incredible musician, we can’t get enough of her. I look forward to seeing her play with a symphony, her specialty.

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David Fallo on the viola joined both Alex and Melissa. David is a star (as are all of the musicians who play with Alex). In addition to sitting in on these types of shows, David is currently part of the orchestra in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. That’s no shabby gig!

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The three of them played a fun and energetic version of Motion Sickness. Alex divided the audience in half. I was in the Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na section (yes, those were the exact number of Na’s we sang at a clip, over and over). Smile

Martin Rivas on acoustic guitar and harmony joined Alex for another favorite of mine, A Girl Like You, from Alex’s previous group, The Animators. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. Martin is an excellent guitar player who always defers to his plethora of guest star guitar players in his own sets. When playing with Alex, he’s the guest and therefore featured on the guitar. Such a wonderful thing to hear. Do more of it in your sets too Martin!

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Alex finished the show by playing three consecutive new songs, all co-written with other wonderful singer/songwriters. If you weren’t there last night, you wouldn’t know that I just lied to you. Alex announced on Facebook that he would play three new songs in a row, but he actually threw in an existing song after the first new one, before completing the new trilogy.

The first new song was a Christmas song co-written with Rachel Platten. Alex told a long story about the derivation of the song. It was his first Christmas in NYC (2004), which wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas in NYC. The story was incredible, funny and touching. Alex doesn’t usually talk this much on stage. I vote that he talk more, it was a very nice addition to the set.

The second new song was played on the piano. It was co-written with Paul Freeman. Alex is producing Paul’s new CD. A very moving song.

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Finally, also on the piano, Alex played a song he co-wrote with Nate Campany. Nate was supposed to be there to sing harmony with Alex, but he didn’t show up (I saw him tweet today, so there’s no reason for concern). Excellent song. I told Alex after the show that when he produces it, he needs to have a full choir singing the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” part. I heard it as clear as a bell in my head even though Alex was singing alone.

Alex offered that I produce it instead. I told him I’ll happily produce those three words, he can work his usual magic on the rest. Winking smile

Jesse Ruben played the set before Alex. I have wanted to see Jesse for a long time. He tours with some other people that I like and I like his MySpace stuff (linked to his name). Not only didn’t Jesse disappoint me, he surprised me in a number of positive ways.

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Jesse is a very good songwriter (wide range of topics). He sings extremely well. He plays the acoustic guitar solidly, mostly rhythm, but beautiful finger picking on a song I’ll cover in a minute.

The biggest surprise was Jesse’s general stage presence, in particular his wit. There was a ton of laughter throughout the set. It came both from his stories and from his very quick responses to things that audience members shouted out.

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Jesse introduced practically every song with a story. It was extremely well delivered and enhanced my enjoyment of each song.

Kyle Patrick joined Jesse for two songs. We’ve seen Kyle once before at the Livestrong fundraiser. I thoroughly enjoyed his 2-song set that night and I have tried hard to arrange my schedule to catch Kyle again, unsuccessfully. He sang lead on one of the songs last night harmony on another. There was a good bit of na-na-na-na on the song that Kyle sang lead, with much of the audience joining in.

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Karly Jurgensen toured with Kyle and Jesse all summer. Jesse invited her up to perform one of her songs, accompanied by Jesse and Kyle. Karly has a wonderful voice and plays the piano solidly. The song was beautiful, a slower bluesy number. Jesse and Kyle harmonized during the chorus. Very nicely done.

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Back to the song that Jesse finger picked. If you know me, or read this blog regularly, then you know that Lois and I are obsessed with Wicked and The Wizard of Oz in general. Not that this is too small-worldish (given how huge Wicked and The Wizard of Oz are), but we always get signs from one or the other that connect us more deeply to things we already like.

Out of the blue, without even announcing a cover song, Jesse played If I Only Had a Heart. Absolutely gorgeous rendition. The only thing missing was not having Lois there to look at knowingly and hold hands with. That Jesse also chose that song to show off a bit of his guitar skills is the kind of thing I was talking about in the paragraph above. Smile

Rockwood was packed for Jesse’s set, dominated by people who were obviously huge Jesse Ruben fans. That always makes the sets more fun even though Jesse was new to me.

One of the people in the audience was Sam Teichman. Sam, Jesse and a bunch of other people in the audience are running in the NYC Marathon this Sunday, raising money for cancer care. Last Thursday, Sam was involved in putting together a charity concert at The Bitter End, called the “Born to Run” show, featuring Bruce Springsteen covers.

I would have loved to attend that show and a number of my friends did. I was already committed to a house concert featuring ambeR Rubarth and I too had an amazing evening.

Jesse mentioned that Sam was still raising money for the cause and that he was offering a DVD filled with music from 22 different artists that participated in the Born to Run show. Donations greater than $1 would get you the DVD. I was sitting across the table from Sam (whom I have met once before at a Rockwood 2 show) and I donated in exchange for the DVD right after Jesse’s set.

After Alex Wong’s set, I made a quick tour of Rockwood to say hi/bye to a number of friends. We’ve been away for a long time and it was really good to see everyone (performers and audience members alike). I wish Lois could have been with me, but she’s been sick ever since we returned. Today is day 12. Let’s hope it’s one of the last. This isn’t the type of streak anyone is proud of.

Given that Lois wasn’t in attendance, any complaints about photo quality land squarely on my shoulders.

Ian Axel at Joe’s Pub

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We’ve seen Ian Axel perform three full sets before, plus a few songs at the New York Sings for Haiti benefit and some guest appearances. Still, we were looking forward to last night with great anticipation.

Joe’s Pub is our favorite NYC spot to see a show, and Ian is one of our few current obsessions, so having the chance to see him headline at our favorite place was a real treat.

The show was sold out (no surprise). Ian put out a new CD, This is the New Year, on January 5th. The title track video has become a music-lover’s destination on YouTube, with over 61,000 hits at the time I’m writing this.

I’m sure there were a few guests in the audience who hadn’t heard Ian’s music before, but from the roar and claps three notes into most songs, clearly the overwhelming majority were quite familiar with his material.

Ian is an exceptional pianist with an electrifying voice, who happens to write great songs. As great as his music is in our iPod, his performances are better for the energy that emanates from Ian, through his every pore.

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He opened the show with Waltz [Intro] (a solo classical piece for piano) with the band in the shadows standing quietly watching like the rest of us. Just like on the album, [Intro] flows directly into Waltz, where the band comes alive and everybody starts to tingle.

He played all but two or three of the songs on This is the New Year. He also played Say Something on the ukulele. That song isn’t on his CD or EP, but we’ve seen him perform it before, and I know a few people who tear up each time they hear it! (You know who you are!)

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Toward the end of the set, Chad Vaccarino stepped onto the stage. It’s hard to describe how much noise (and joy) can be generated by the roughly 200 people that were stuffed into Joe’s Pub. Obviously, there was no secret as to what the next song was going to be. Chad was rightfully overwhelmed.

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Chad is Ian’s manager. He sings lead in one verse and harmony on the others with Ian on This is the New Year. He’s our hero because he’s the one who convinced Ian to start singing. Before that, Ian was just a piano player.

Chad is self-deprecating about his singing style (he sings wonderfully and expressively!), but the most interesting part is that he’s perfectly matched in his energy with Ian, and it all comes across in This is the New Year!

ChadVaccarinoSinging

Two of Ian’s core band members were on hand with two additions.

Chris Anderson played bass and a bit of harmony. We like a lot of bass players, Chris included. But, as with Chad, Chris is perfectly matched with Ian. He has an emotive, energetic style on stage, and he’s fast enough to keep up with some of Ian’s more challenging riffs. Chris is always a joy to watch and listen to.

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Adam Christgau on drums and a bit of harmony. We missed Adam the night before at Highline Ballroom (covered in this post, where I specifically mention that). I’ve noted many times that Adam always matches his drumming to the artist and song, but that much of Ian’s music allows Adam to let out his wild child a bit. He was as tight and good as always last night!

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(No, I wasn’t drunk or high, just a little cold. We bumped into Adam before the show while we were on line.) 😉

Adam Tressler was a new addition (for us) playing electric guitar and a bit of harmony. I didn’t hear quite enough to have a strong opinion, but the little I heard was quite nice. Ian’s music doesn’t tend to highlight solo guitars (which is fine) but Adam supported the rest well enough.

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Dave Eggar played the cello on most of the songs. I covered him extensively in yesterday’s post (linked three paragraphs above), so I won’t get too repetitious here. This is the first time we’ve seen Dave sit in with Ian, so the comments I made about how well he blended with ambeR on such short notice probably apply here.

After the show, I accidentally crossed paths with Dave Eggar as he was leaving. I got to say the following to him (100% heartfelt!): “You are perhaps the greatest musician I’ve seen live, on any instrument!”. The fact that his instrument is a cello astounds even me, and I said it! Obviously, that’s a wildly subjective statement, but I’ll let it stand.

Given how active Dave is on stage, and how dark Joe’s Pub is, there wasn’t a single photo of Dave that was worth sharing from last night. 🙁

Ian closed the show with a song that the audience sang along on the chorus. As the song went on, the band left the stage and Ian started playing the piano softer and softer, until the audience was singing with no accompaniment. At that point, Ian slipped off the stage too. The audience was supposed to keep singing (I suppose), but instead erupted in whoops and claps until Ian came out again.

For his encore, he performed Home which also isn’t on the CD or EP (YouTube video of Home) accompanied only by Dave Eggar. A very emotional way to end a spectacular night.

One of the more amazing things is watching the band when they play with Ian. It’s obvious (to me at least) that they are huge fans and aren’t just there to pick up a paycheck (though what indie musician doesn’t desperately need one of those?). They are as happy as we are to be a part of the evening, though their part is just a tad more integral and difficult than ours is.

In case you doubt me when I say how much energy they put into the show, I’ll try and prove that assertion. Ian broke a piano string during the performance. A few minutes later, Adam cracked a drumstick.

I can’t name names, but someone was kind enough to make sure that we got both the piano string and the drumstick as mementos. We’re grateful for that, and we’re willing to share our booty/bounty with the rest of you (at least through these pictures):

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Greg Holden opened for Ian. We’ve seen Greg a number of times before, and his music continues to grow on me. He started the set a bit more mellow than usual but it had a nice feel. He got more energetic throughout the set.

GregHolden

Ian joined him for one number (just piano, no harmony). Nate Campany joined Greg for one number as well, also just piano. Greg said that he co-wrote that song with Nate.

Dave Eggar joined Greg for two numbers. No such thing as “too much Dave”!

Greg also joined Ian on Say Something. Greg sat at the piano, but didn’t play it (during the song), singing very soft harmony. Before the song started, Greg tickled the keys a bit, threatening to start a couple of Ian songs (including This is the New Year), and Ian retaliated by starting a Greg song on the ukulele. The crowd was in stitches.

Apparently, Ian is giving Greg piano lessons. Even though he only played a few notes, I bet he’ll master it in the not-too-distant future.

After the show, Lois bought a few more T-Shirts (we already had two) and posters. If you’ve watched the video (if you haven’t, shame on you) then you might recognize that Lois had one of the women in the video model the poster for us (and now you):

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You have two chances to catch Ian on the East Coast before he heads out west. In Philadelphia at Tin Angel this Sunday, then on March 12th at Nightcat in Easton, MD. If you can, do it, you won’t regret it!

New York Sings for Haiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hadar,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nate Campany (supported by many of the other performers)

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

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Will Knox

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Ed Romanoff

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Sara Jean Kelly

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

Tula

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

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

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Threeds

Ian Axel (ahhhhhhhhhhhh, supported by Chad Vaccarino)

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

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Joey Ryan (supported by Vienna Teng and Dave Eggar)

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

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Harper Blynn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Rivard and Alex Berger at Waltz Astoria

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We attend a lot of live music. Just this week, we saw Red Molly and The Nields at Joe’s Pub on Sunday. On Monday we attended a Livestrong Fundraiser. On Wednesday we saw Wicked (for the 8th time!). Last night was supposed to be downtime, to recharge the batteries for an even more packed series of shows, some of which involve reasonably long drives to attend.

The best laid plans… On Monday, at the Fundraiser, we saw 11 performers (covered in this post). They were all terrific, but two of the standouts were Amy Rivard and Alex Berger. Alex is about to return to the UK for a number of months, so we thought that would be our last opportunity to see him for a while. The next day, Alex let me know that Amy and he had arranged for an impromptu show at a cafe in Astoria (Queens) called Waltz-Astoria.

One more opportunity to catch Alex before he left was reason enough to go, but if you read my previous post, then you know that we were both mesmerized by Amy’s performance on Monday, so the thought of not attending was ridiculous.

The show was scheduled for 8pm, and we got there at 7:30. That gave us some quality time to chat with Alex and Amy before the show started.

Alex Berger and Amy Rivard

Alex Berger and Amy Rivard

We had an extremely pleasant surprise when Shannon and Jason walked in as well (the Livestrong Fundraiser was organized by them!). We didn’t get a chance to meet them on Monday, so it was a treat to chat with them in a relaxed atmosphere last night.

Amy sang a number of classics last night, including Dream a Little Dream, Ain’t Misbehaving, etc. She also did Taylor the Latte Boy, which is what captivated us on Monday.

Amy Rivard

Amy Rivard

Lois and I have no doubt that we (and many of you!) will be seeing Amy on Broadway in the not-too-distant future. She’s a star, in every respect. It’s just a matter of time until someone who casts for Broadway will be thanking their lucky stars that they crossed paths with Amy! You heard it here folks!

After every few songs by Amy, all accompanied deliciously on a grand piano by Alex, Amy stepped aside and gave the stage over to Alex, who sang two songs solo at a time, before Amy returned.

Alex Berger

Alex Berger

Alex was incredible, including debuting a song he recently completed co-writing with Nate Campany (who was not there last night). The song was fantastic. You should definitely click on Nate’s name above, because the song that starts playing is excellent, and the video is incredibly creative (pay attention to the fades, in and out). 🙂

Now, we have to start following Nate as well. Our burden just grows every single day. Boo hoo for us… 😉

The show was terrific, start to finish. But, the evening was delightful beyond the wonderful music. Most of the shows we attend are structured, with little interaction between strangers in the audience, or any kind of quality time to chat with the performers.

Last night, with Waltz-Astoria being a normal cafe, that happens to spotlight musicians and comedians regularly at night, the atmosphere was completely different.

We stayed roughly one hour after the show ended, talking with Shannon, Jason (her husband), Alex, Amy, a friend of Amy’s (Liz), but mostly, we got know another Jason (Whitfield), also a friend of Amy’s. Really great guy, and we look forward to meeting his fiancée soon (not just because she’s a Rockette!). 😉

Jason Whitfield and Amy Rivard

Jason Whitfield and Amy Rivard

We had a lot of laughs, learned a bunch of interesting things from and about a number of interesting people, and got to hear two amazing performers. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course, it was a little bit better than I described though. Here’s the link to the Waltz-Astoria Menu. You don’t need to click through, I’ll copy the description of their Carrot Cake:

One slice of our famous carrot is enough to share with a friend, or.. not. The cream cheese frosting is to die for!

An extremely accurate description. It was more than enough to share, and even though I offered some to Liz, she politely declined, so I got to experience the “or.. not” part. I gained a couple of pounds (seriously), but it was worth it! 🙂

We were back up at the house by 11:15pm, still talking about what a great night out it was. Missing out on a chance to just relax, turned out just fine! Thanks everyone for making it such a special evening!