Red Molly

Girlyman and Red Molly at City Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Red Molly at Turning Point Cafe

We love Red Molly. On Friday, I saw their Facebook update that they would be playing at The Turning Point Cafe in Piermont. In fact, they were playing two shows, at 4 and 7pm.

We had dinner plans with a couple that we see so rarely, that there was no way we were going to cancel. We invited them to join us, but they couldn’t, so we decided to go to the 4pm and be back in plenty of time for dinner.

Unfortunately, the 4pm was sold out, but the 7pm wasn’t. We called, and they told us to show up and they’d try to squeeze us in. We did, and they did. We stood for the entire show, near the bar, but the place is so tiny that the view and sound were still darn good.

Red Molly is three women, each with fantastic voices (in different registers) and each an accomplished string musician as well. Because their voices are distinct, their harmonies are extraordinary.


Appearing in their usual left-to-right order:

Abbie Gardner sings (she has the widest range of the three) and plays guitar and dobro. Abbie is a delight in every respect, full of life and mirth. She also performs solo and with others, but she’s definitely best known for her part in Red Molly. Most of the instrumental leads in Red Molly are taken by Abbie on the dobro.


Laurie MacAllister sings and plays guitar, banjo and bass. She has an excellent voice and handles the middle of the range in the three-part harmonies (for the most part).

LaurieMacAllister1 LaurieMacAllister2

Carolann Solebello sings and plays guitar and bass. She has an excellent voice as well and fills in the bottom on most of the songs. Her song Summertime is one of Lois’ favorites, and when Carol started introducing it, Lois flashed a mile-wide smile.


Individually, they are all incredibly talented. Combined, they are magic!

Joining them for two numbers was Abbie’s father, Herb Gardner, on the piano. He was excellent, in particular on the second number, where he took a very long ragtime-like solo. They call him Pops.


After briefly heading off stage (to a rousing ovation), they returned to do their signature cover of Susan Werner’s May I Suggest, always a tingle-inducing number. Including the encore, their set was about 95 minutes. Well worth standing for, since we were looking over people’s heads, rather than standing amongst a crowd.

Just in case you’re curious, dinner was fantastic as was our company, so we got to do it all yesterday. 🙂

Victoria Lavington Fundraiser at Christopher Street Coffeehouse

Almost two years ago, I discovered a duo named Sweet Bitters. Since then, we’ve seen them perform a number of times and have become friendly with both Sharon Goldman and Nina Schmir (also known as Nina Soka).

For many years (at least nine I believe), Sharon has been a member of a female songwriters group affectionately known as Chicks with Dip, more formally known as Maggie’s Music Salon. One of the members of that group is Victoria Lavington.

Victoria is currently undergoing a battle with breast cancer. The Chicks decided to put on a benefit concert for her, and when Sharon announced it on Facebook and Twitter, Lois and I decided to support Victoria and attend.

Sharon Goldman was MC for the night (she also performed a solo) and was marvelous throughout the evening.

SharonGoldman SharonGoldmanHadar

There were two featured performers announced in advance, Red Molly and Natalia Zukerman. One of the members of Red Molly, Carolann Solebello, is also a member of Chicks with Dip. We are huge Red Molly fans (Sharon told me I would love their music the first night I met her, and she was spot on!).

I had heard Natalia’s name a few times, but took particular note earlier this month when she headlined the same bill with The Paper Raincoat (one of our favorites!) up in Massachusetts.

The Christopher Street Coffeehouse is located in St. John’s Lutheran Church at 81 Christopher Street. They highlight singer songwriters on a regular basis, so it was the perfect choice (in so many ways) for this gathering.


Attendees were encouraged to purchase tickets in advance on Victoria’s site. While there was a suggested donation per ticket, we chose to pay more. I don’t say that to aggrandize ourselves but rather to encourage those of you who can help others to do so in whatever amount you can, not just the minimum that is socially acceptable.

There were excellent refreshments and lots of merchandise (notably many CDs, all of Red Molly’s, Natalia’s new one, Maggie’s Music Salon and Victoria’s). Everything purchased at the show was donated, so 100% of the proceeds went to Victoria’s cancer fighting effort!

Let’s repeat that, because it’s awesome! Not only did Red Molly and Natalia Zukerman donate their time and talent, causing attendance to be larger than it otherwise might have been, but they donated their merch (lots of it!). Further, they didn’t put a price on the merch. Donate what you want/can, and take what you want!

We bought the two Red Molly CDs that we didn’t own already (one was brand new). We bought Natalia’s new CD and Victoria’s as well. Red Molly and Natalia were kind enough to sign our CDs. 🙂

Natalia Zukerman totally captivated us. We’ve added her to the list of people that we will go out of our way to see perform. Simply wonderful. Her voice, music, musicianship, extraordinary spirit and her command of the audience.



Red Molly are nearly indescribable. In the cab on the way home I was thinking that the three of them control their voices perfectly, individually and blended together. The subtlety of their volume shifts and the tightness of their stops and starts are amazing. Just as I’m thinking this, Lois turns to me and says “Can you believe the discipline that Red Molly has in everything they do, in particular their voices?” 🙂



All of the Chicks were wonderful too. They performed Victoria Lavington songs. Victoria writes extremely complex songs, so my hat is off to the Chicks both for attempting these compositions and for pulling them off lovingly and beautifully!

Apologies for the quality of a number of these photos. The lighting was just strange enough that the shots were mostly too dark or too washed out. At least you’ll get a sense of the evening…



Here are scans of the front and back of the program so you can see what was performed and by whom. Click on any photo in this post to see a larger version:

VictoriaLavingtonFundraiserProgramSide1 VictoriaLavingtonFundraiserProgramSide2

Susan Lavington (Victoria’s sister) flew up from Washington for the event. She was scheduled to be the opening speaker, but her flight was canceled. Thankfully, she caught another and was only a little late. She gave her wonderful speech right after intermission.


When the performance was over, Sharon introduced Victoria. Victoria gave one of the more moving speeches I’ve heard. Knowing that she was surrounded by friends and loved ones, and knowing that everyone was there to rally around her, with her and for her, she didn’t hold back anything in telling her story.


When she was done, she performed one of her songs for us. Apparently she hasn’t performed in public since roughly 2004. She had a chemotherapy session that day and apologized in advance that it would likely affect her vocal chords (it affects all the cells in your body!).


No apologies necessary! Sharon and others had described Victoria’s voice as angelic. Even on the day of a chemotherapy session, that was still true. She also picks the guitar well, making for a very moving performance. When she was done, she got a very long and well-deserved standing ovation.

To top the night off, all of the Chicks, plus Red Molly and Natalia, joined Victoria for an a capella version of another of Victoria’s numbers.


The entire evening was filmed and a DVD will be produced. They were available for pre-order last night for $10. I assume that when they’re ready, they will be available for purchase on Victoria’s site. Please visit there regularly and do yourself a favor and buy a copy of the DVD. Not only will you experience some amazing music, but you will capture Victoria’s speech for yourself, forever. Whenever you need a bit of inspiration, watch it again!

Some of you might avoid these kinds of events for fear that they are downers with a lot of milling about averting your eyes. This is our second such event (the last one was a Livestrong fundraiser for Shannon Black) that I covered in this post.

If you have a chance to attend/participate in the future, go! It’s a celebration. It’s a room full of love. It’s people showing their humanity, the fragility of it embodied in the person needing the help and the wonder of compassion and love in those who rally around them.

That this event happened to be held in a church made it all the more reverent, though the Livestrong fundraiser was in a bar, and I can tell you that it was a spectacular evening for all of the same reasons!

If you have some extra money laying around, and these days, who doesn’t?, 😉 please visit Victoria’s site and donate, even though you missed last night’s wonderful show!

Susan Werner at The First Unitarian Society of Westchester

We must have been living under a rock for a very long time, because Susan Werner is exactly the kind of singer/songwriter that we love, and Lois is particularly good at finding them.

On September 20th, 2009 we saw Red Molly at Joe’s Pub and they closed the show with an a cappella version of May I Suggest. We were blown away by the song and the performance. Lois looked it up when we got home and found that it was written by Susan Werner. Even since then, we have been looking for an opportunity to see Susan perform. The opportunity finally came, much closer to home than we expected.

The First Unitarian Society of Westchester holds a monthly music series called Common Ground Coffeehouse. Last night they featured Susan Werner. It’s about a 20-minute drive from our house. The show was sold out. I estimate there were roughly 150 people there, packed into a large rectangular room (like a super-sized living room), with no stage, just a carved out front area with a grand piano and two speakers mounted from the ceiling on either side of the room.

First, the mechanics. Susan Werner performed roughly 70% of the songs on an acoustic guitar (she switched between two different ones) and the other 30% on the grand piano. She’s an excellent guitarist and an even better piano player.

SusanWernerGuitar1 SusanWernerPiano1

She has a superb voice, terrific range and power. She even sang one verse of one song as Louis Armstrong, and she nailed his voice! 🙂

Susan has a commanding presence (I can’t say on stage because there was none). 😉 She is warm, engaging, funny, moving, in control. The audience was one of the best we’ve ever been a part of. You could have heard a pin drop (well, probably not, because the room was carpeted, but you get my point). 😉


I strongly suspect that they are this respectful for all artists, but Susan commanded and earned the respect, for sure. We’ll be attending other shows in their series, I’m sure, just for the enjoyment of being able to experience a live performance in total peace!

Now for the artistic side of the equation. May I Suggest is a stunning song. Thankfully, it’s but one of many brilliant songs that Susan has written. Susan was introduced by our host for the evening (I think his name was Carter, apologies if I am wrong). He explained that Common Ground hosts a wide variety of music: Folk, Jazz, Blues, Country, etc., and for the first time, we were likely to hear all of them on the same night.

He was right! Seriously! It would be a mistake to pigeonhole Susan into a particular genre. Lois described her (to me) as the Joan Baez of our generation. I don’t disagree, but her musical styles and lyrical subject matter are much more far ranging than Joan’s.

She opened the show with a series of songs she refers to as Agnostic Gospel. I suspect that all but the most fundamentalist religious people would find the songs respectful, even though they raise lots of questions. They’re certainly spiritual, and searching rather than dismissive.

She then switched to the piano and took us in an entirely different direction, Show tunes! She led with Chicago Anyday, an ode to Chicago. After that one song, she returned to the guitar so I assumed the Show tunes part was over. I was wrong. She did an exceptional job of playing two more Show tune style songs on the guitar (I told you, she’s excellent on the guitar).

SusanWernerPiano2 SusanWernerGuitar2

There was a 20-minute intermission, and then Susan returned for another amazing set. The second set had a few more piano numbers, including May I Suggest. Lois cried, as did the woman to my right. A friend of hers turned to her and said “I knew that song would get to you!”, so it apparently was the first time she’d heard the song.


She also sang Barbed Wire Boys that made Lois cry. Susan’s songs are hardly one-dimensional in the lyrics (I hope I’ve already conveyed that the music is highly varied as well). She can tell a story, an anthem, convey a concept, share an emotion, etc. Some are serious enough to make you cry, others are hysterical, and the crowd laughed heartily (simultaneously) quite a number of times (during songs as well as some of Susan’s between-song banter).


She closed the show with three brand-new songs. All were incredible, and we look forward to getting recorded versions of them ASAP.

SusanWernerGuitar3 SusanWernerGuitar4

When she was done, the audience gave her an extended standing ovation. She wasn’t going to be able to get out of the building without coming back for an encore, so she did the smart thing. She sang a cover of Wouldn’t It Be Lovely. If you didn’t know the lyrics (is there anyone who doesn’t?), you would never recognize that it was the same song. It was beautiful, but Susan made it her own!

She left to another standing ovation. We headed to the merch table and bought two CDs. Lois was second on line to get them signed. The woman ahead of Lois went to get a Sharpie for Susan, and it took her a while to find one, so Lois got to chat with Susan for an extended period, without being a hog, since Susan couldn’t sign yet. When the woman returned, Susan signed her CD first, then both of ours, and we headed home, floating from a perfect evening.

Red Molly and The Nields at Joe’s Pub

Last night I finally got to scratch an itch that I’ve had since April 5th, 2008! That’s the night that we first saw Sweet Bitters live. I covered that show in this post, but as you can see, in the comments, Sharon suggested that I check out Red Molly. The minute I heard their stuff (you can hit the Play button on the top right of their site) I knew I would love their show.

We had a failed attempt to see them that month (as I noted in the comments), and since then, I’ve actively searched for opportunities, but scheduling kept conspiring against us. Until last night, finally!

As a bonus, another group that I’m pretty sure I heard about through Sweet Bitters (but I wouldn’t swear to it), The Nields, were opening for Red Molly.

Red Molly were awesome, in every respect. They opened the show with an a capella number, showing off their amazing voices, individually, and collectively (in glorious harmonies). They also closed the show with an a cappella encore, again, sending shivers down our spines.

Red Molly consists of three very talented ladies. Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Abbie Gardner sings, plays dobro and acoustic guitar. She sings like an angel, usually taking the highest part in the harmonies, but she sang quite a bit of lead as well. She’s an excellent dobro player (no one is in Jerry Douglas’ league, so don’t ask!). She plays the guitar well too. She also wrote at least one of the songs they played last night (Red Molly does more covers than originals), and it was excellent. Abbie was also very funny and engaging on the stage.

Abbie Gardner

Abbie Gardner

Laurie MacAllister sang, played the banjo, acoustic guitar, and acoustic bass. Laurie has an incredible voice, plays the banjo, guitar and bass well. I’d never seen this style of acoustic bass before. It looks exactly like a normal guitar, but it only has four strings, and sounds like an upright bass.

Laurie MacAllister

Laurie MacAllister

Carolann Solebello sang, played the acoustic guitar and acoustic bass. Carol also has an incredible voice, carrying the lower range for the group. She’s also a talented guitar player, and handled the bass with aplomb as well. Of the three, Carolann is probably a little more animated on stage, but all three are extremely warm.

Carolann Solebello

Carolann Solebello

They played for roughly 50 minutes, including the encore, and every note was a joy. After the show, we bought one of their CDs, and Lois got Abbie to sign it. 🙂

Red Molly

Red Molly

The Nields are two sisters, Nerissa and Katryna. Nerissa sings and plays the acoustic guitar. Katryna sings. Both have lovely voices, and they sing beautifully together. Nerissa plays the guitar well, and accompaniment and arrangements are traditional folk style (like Peter, Paul and Mary, etc.), which is one of my all-time favorite genres.

Katryna Nields

Katryna Nields

Nerissa Nields

Nerissa Nields

They are both very warm and engaging with the audience. Katryna told a very long story (very well), and Nerissa took over at the end to make some corrections (remember, they’re sisters!) 😉 and it was funny and worth the break from the music (not that any break would be necessary when these two are on stage!).

We bought their CD too after the show, and Lois got both of them to sign it. I’m in the process of loading both the Red Molly and The Nields CDs onto my iPod as I type this, and we look forward to many listens in the months to come.

Thanks to both Red Molly and The Nields for exceeding our very big expectations after such a long wait to finally get to see them perform live!