Spread Kindness, Not Germs

The beautiful poem below came to me in an email from Over the Rhine – an Ohio-based folk band helmed by the husband-and-wife team of pianist/guitarist/bassist Linford Detweiler and vocalist/guitarist Karin Bergquist.

Let’s all visit Spotify and give this duo some play or, better yet, buy some of their music.

The subject line was Love in The Time of Corona, which may, or may not, be its title.

Breathe.

Go on and live your unexpected
life.

Inhale love. Exhale surrender.
Trust: all that’s in between.

“Behold, all things are become new.”

Really?

There is fear,
there is shock,
there is separation and
there is sadness.

On earth, there always have been, 
and always will be—unless, until
a man of sorrows
rides down the dawn on a white horse
with the jukebox turned way up 
blasting an unexpected song,
hopefully Satchmo himself 
in charge of
blowing the horn,
his cheeks bulging,
his eyes wide,
his lungs healthy.

But don’t hold your breath.

Breathe.

Go on and live your unexpected 
life.

Behold, we don’t know what the future
holds.

We never did. We never will. 

How much oxygen is there
in exhaled air?

All the best priests, pastors, rabbis,
and all the best friends
learn to leave elbow room for mystery.
Never trust anyone who is afraid of saying,
As far as I know.

Breathe.

Go on and live your unexpected 
life.

Does your favorite coffee mug still feel good in
your hand? Did the tree swallows return
limpid in the air? They did here.

Are people you love still near?

Breathe deep into your lungs
while you still can. Even in the best of times
the expiration date remains
unknown.

Breathe.

Go on and live your unexpected
life.

Inhale love. Exhale surrender.
Trust: all that’s in between.

Linford Detweiler
March 20, 2020

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I Can’t Touch My Face When I’m With You (a PSA)

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March 5, 2020 · 9:25 pm

We Get Out: 3 local acts at 38North Studios

“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” I can relate to that song.

It’s not that I don’t love live music. I do! But I’ll admit – as I get older, it takes more to get me out of the house, especially when our National Soap Opera (Can anyone stop Carrot Caligula?) and hockey season (Go Caps!) provide easy, free, comfy-on-the-couch diversion.

But when I saw a posting on DisgraceBook about a Saturday night (February 15) triple bill of local acts playing at a new venue in Falls Church, a mere 20 minute drive from my home, it seemed a chance worth taking. And I’m glad I did.

Tucked in an unassuming suburban shopping strip which serves as an unofficial musician’s hang, with the CD Cellar, Cue Recording Studio and Action Music instrument store lined up in a row, and within shouting distance of The State Theatre, there’s a new kid in town, around the back, called 38 North. It’s another recording studio, designed from the ground up with style and care, that also promises to showcase local music on a regular basis.

I got there when the first act of the night, Kathryn Rheault, was already playing. Her choice of covers – Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough” and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” – showed where her personal songwriting ambitions live. She may not be at that level yet, but her lovely voice and casual style were a pleasing start to the night.

Kathryn Rheault (@kathyrnrheault) opened the night.

I used some of the early time to explore the joint. There are two floors, with a tiny balcony looking down into the the performance space, next to a kitchenette with free beer, wine and major fresh snackage. I’m not sure if that’s going to be a regular feature during live shows, or a bonus due to this being an Opening Night Party, but thanks for the goodies!

Next up was Caroline Weinroth, from veteran local band Cinema Hearts, in a solo set. I chatted with her afterward and she reminded me that I was a judge forever ago when the group competed in one of Jammin’ Java’s Band Battles. She has a better memory – and a brighter smile! – than I, but I bet I gave the band good marks back then. Caroline has an easy, breezy charm and a fun sense of humor in her poppy material (she admitted that she switched up the songs written on her set list) that was fun this night and, no doubt make for some wicked joy when the full band is playing.

There’s a nice little place to watch from a room behind the control room.

Before Caroline played, one of the managing partners of the studio, Sarah Klawitter Marks, took to the mic for a few shout-outs to the people who helped make the space happen, and offered her hopes to make the place a nurturing nest for area musicians and fans.

the team behind 38North says welcome and thanks

The last act of the night, The Meer, appears to have gone through some changes, if you check out the bandcamp and Facebook pages. There, you’ll see some long-haired thrashing pics that support a description of “Alternative Indie Post-Punk,” but the two acoustic guitarists who showed up Saturday had a quieter, slightly Celtic, folky vibe. I was taken enough to spring $20 for the Meers’ album, The Branches, on vinyl. (See it on my vinyl-centric Instagram.)

And so, in the space of just under three hours, I was well fed and sweetly serenaded, met some cool new people in the DMV creative community, scored new vinyl, and still got home in time to see the last two periods of the Caps game from Denver. That’s what I call a fine Saturday night!

Well, the Caps lost, but you can’t have everything.

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RIYL Good Music –Saintseneca

There was a time when being a music journalist (“critic” is too harsh) meant trying to turn people on to new music by explaining and describing it in a way that would convince readers to seek it out. And in Ye Olden Days, that usually meant tracking sound down and buying it on some kind of physical media.  Now that there’s a firehose of free content coming at us 24/7 from all sides, I feel my “job” (even when there’s no paycheck?) is to talk about stuff I enjoy and point people to links they can use to hear for themselves.

The “Recommended If You Like…” or FFO (“For Fans Of…”) tag is easy shorthand to help introduce a new band. In the case of Ohio’s indie-rock/folk/psych musical collective Saintseneca, led by songwriter/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Zac Little, I could refer to the likes of The Decemberists, maybe a little Mumfordism, even a touch of early Led Zep “bustle in your hedgerow” fairytale-telling, but it’s hard to pin the band down. American Songwriter once wrote, “It’s as if Conor Oberst was fronting Arcade Fire” and that’s a good one.

When it comes to acts that aren’t radio favorites, I’m always fascinated to hear how people first heard/heard of them. My Saintseneca origin story dates to April, 2015 when my Dr. Daughter, the unicorn (so dubbed for getting a real world paying job that directly relates to her Liberal Arts PhD), and I went to DC’s legendary 9:30 Club, to see her former high-schoolmate, Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down. Saintseneca was one of two opening acts and we were mightily impressed by the band’s engaging music and stage presence. We bought some vinyl that night and have followed the Little & Co. ever since.

After three EPs and three full albums – Last (2011), Dark Arc (2014) and Such Things (2015), Saintseneca’s released its fourth full-length album, Pillar of Na, last fall. At the time, I wrote about Little’s fun unboxing video that exposes new dangers in the simple act of opening a carton of albums. Dr. Daughter and I saw the band at the Black Cat Backstage (alas, that cozy venue is now closed) in September and had a great time. Here’s a few pics from that set.

Because Saintseneca utilizes a wide range of instruments – violin, mandolin, dulcimer, Turkish Baglama, floor percussion – along with synthesizers and electric guitars, the sound is both rustic and contemporary. Many of the players, including Little, originally hail from rural Appalachia, which feeds the organic quality of their music, while the band’s beginnings, playing with punk bands at DIY house shows, instilled an ability to move from intricate acoustic picking to wild electric jams. For a taste of the band’s live chops,  this one-take live version of Pillar of Na’s title track, recorded at Ohio’s Musicol Studios, shows ‘em off.

Saintseneca took to the road again last month, opening a new tour here in DC, at Comet Ping Pong, and DD and I were there again. Here are some pics:

The band has just released a new one-off song, “In A Van,” and yes, it was inspired by Chris Farley’s motivational speaker character Matt Foley, after Little spent some time revisiting the comic’s Best Of videos. As the singer tells, it, “This collection was a fixture of goofy-ness growing up, but it felt like a revelation that night.

It was a strangely emotional experience. The gauzy 90’s TV sheen, the feathery haircuts, a couple cringe-y jokes that didn’t age well. But, I saw his talent and craft shine through, in a way I had never quite noticed before. It was amazing, funny, and a little sad – knowing the end while witnessing the best all at once.

What a weird nostalgia trip to fall into some 25 years later- all tangled up with life and memory- the same old thing, accumulating new meaning with time.”

After covering the east coast in September, Saintsenca is heading for the middle of the country and the West Coast this month. Here are the dates and ticket info.

For more Saintseneca music, check out the band’s YouTube channel and Spotify playlist, which includes new stuff, old stuff, friends and influences.

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My li’l Sphere of Influence

This here newsletter/blog/what-have-you has been launching at friends and music-biz acquaintances for many, many years now and, while my bylines in major publications ebb and flow, I’m eternally grateful that musicians and publicists still reach out to me with offers to share music and concert access, as if my words here have some ability to shine light on worthy acts. When you reach out to Close Personal Friend, I listen and so, in the midst of the firehose of online media content, I humble suggest a few droplets of pleasure in the manner of two upcoming DC-area shows:

The Turbos at Seasons & Sessions, September 26

I got an email from Cameron Reck, bassist from this Columbus, Ohio-based rock band offering me an interview in advance of next week’s show. I declined that last bit but said sure to hearing some music. A CD arrived in the mail, labeled 2018 Singles Collection, that contained 13 tracks.

It turns out that the Turbos are a solid alternative rock quartet with two lead voices, “the powerful sultry” (their words) Alex D and “the gritty wailing” Lucas Esterline. It’s not a groundbreaking sound that’ll have you racing to your media player, but this is clearly a band that can get a crowd rocking in a club setting. The Turbos are about to embark on a three-month trek that takes their “dual-vocal rock” through Pennsylvania, all along the north- and south-east coasts, and even into Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and West Virginia, so if you’re out there somewhere (tour dates here), pop in and tell them I sent you. It’ll freak them – and me – out.

The Way Down Wanderers at Jammin Java, September 25

You can’t get much more “heartland” than Illinois, so it’s not surprising that bluegrass is the foundation of this Peoria-based quintet’s sound, but it also offers accents from the players’ varied backgrounds in rock, jazz and classical to create something a bit different in the crowded nu-grass field.

On the band’s latest album, Illusions, the track “All My Words,” for example, shuffles to a reggae/island beat, then adds a mid-song rap and ends with breakneck banjo. The song’s video is unlike any roots/rock clip you’ve seen, with modern dance and sign language integrated within.

not your typical bluegrass video
If further name dropping helps to seal the deal, Illusions was produced by Grammy-winner David Schiffman, whose impressively eclectic credits include Johnny Cash, HAIM, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine. Much of the electric guitar and keyboard flourish in the studio comes courtesy of guest Roger Manning, a cult legend from his time in Jellyfish and Imperial Drag.
 
I wish this show wasn’t happening the same night that my favorite local cinema, Alamo Drafthouse Loudon, is planning a screening of Quadrophenia so I have to make a tough choice. Life in the DMV can be an embarrassment of riches. Hooray for First World Problems!
Finally, a teaser: heading out tonight to see Saintseneca so there will be photos and a review coming soon.        

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We Get Out: Ben Platt at The Anthem, 5.11.19

Last week, I was at what is D.C.’s arguably most beautiful venue, The Anthem, for the Ben Platt show. I am not a “Dear Evan Hansen” fanatic (not knocking it, just haven’t seen it) but when Platt performed “Somewhere” (from “West Side Story”) on the 2018 Grammy’s, accompanied by just a guitarist and a cellist, his stunning rendition of the song nearly broke my heart, so I was curious to see him live.

The Anthem is a gorgeous space, even more so when the audience shines its lights
(here, for the song “Grow As We Go”)

I had no takers when I floated buying tickets, and pondered going solo. But then I saw that HeadCount.org, the national bi-partisan group dedicated to signing up new voters at special events, was offering free admission to volunteers who would stand with a clipboard, addressing the audience as it arrived to find new electoral blood. So, I had a mission, very nice people to hang with, and free entry to the show. Win-win, yes?

As one would expect from a Broadway veteran,
Ben Platt had a classy set and strong support players.

Though our little team of four had limited success finding new voters (as our leader noted, D.C. is a government town, so most people are registered), I’d say that 90% of the people I addressed were psyched to see us, many saying “thanks for being here,” or expressing how much they wanted to vote – for change! – as soon as possible. This was an unusually mixed crowd for The Anthem, as you might expect for a concert by an openly gay Broadway veteran touring on a solo album of big-hearted ballads – same-sex couples, white-haired matinee ladies, and high school theatre nerds (I was one!). In short, a place for sequins, not MAGA hats.

But there’s always a few bummers, not downright rude, but folks who look at you like you have three heads when you simply ask, “Are you registered to vote?” And teenagers who don’t know how to talk to anyone not in high school! I asked one girl how old she was (you can preregister at 16 in D.C. and Maryland, 17 in Virginia). She stared at me and mumbled, “I don’t know.” Probably best that you don’t vote, honey.

Doing my civic duty meant that I missed the two opening acts, but I was done with just enough time to grab a bite and find a great seat about 30 rows back from the stage to enjoy the show. (No SLR tonight; just iPhone.)

Ben Platt is a mensch – and I don’t think he’d mind me saying that. He’s a good Jewish boy who talks lovingly about his parents, writes and dedicates songs to them, graciously shares the spotlight with his band, and repeatedly thanks his audience, radiating genuine joy about being back where “Dear Evan Hansen” was born and raised before moving to NYC.

As best as I could tell (again, I don’t know the show), Platt didn’t perform anything from the musical that made him famous (I would have thought maybe as an encore, but no), concentrating on his debut album, “Sing to Me Instead,” and a few cool covers. There is no set list posted from the D.C. show, but this one from Chicago seems to be the same as our show, although I would have sworn “Honky Cat” was the Elton John tune.

Platt’s voice was as good as I could have hoped, his between-song stories were immenschly (I made a word!) sweet, and, considering I barely knew his original material, the songs made a good first impression with their strong melodies and lyrical emotion. I moved closer to the stage to take a few more photos and found another comfy seat in the second row.


Final bows.

Sometimes it feels like the world is on fire and there’s no good news to be had. Spending time in a big room full of people with a like-minded appreciation of musical talent and love (is love is love!) is one way to find hope again. A great way to spend a rainy Saturday night.

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We Get Out: Matt Nathanson, 2.19.19

So, after a bit of a winter drought, it was time again for live music.

Doctor Daughter (Emma with the PhD) and I bought tix last year for Matt Nathanson‘s recently launched solo acoustic tour, when our favorite singer/songwriter/funny guy first announced he’d be going on the road to support his excellent 2018 album, Sings His Sad Heart. I rarely buy concert tickets far in advance but my girl and I have attended Matt’s shows, together or separately, about a dozen times each, and we knew this date would sell out pronto, so we jumped.

With two other Nathansonians in tow (Carrie, another 10+ show attendee, and Elizabeth, a bit of a newbie at only 4 shows), we got to The Birchmere in time to find a sweet spot to the right of the stage, with good sight lines. (That’s why all the pics have the same angle.) The venue’s flex stage is a smaller space than Nathanson has played in some time. He’s sold out the 9:30 Club for double-date runs, and tix for this date disappeared in a day, so it’s safe to say that the place was packed with genuine fans. Why, then, would I call this the worst audience I’ve ever shared a Matt show with?

Because a few boneheads mistook the intimacy of the space as an invitation for random chatter with the man on stage. And while much of the joy of his shows is the spontaneous way Matt goes off on tangents between songs (he’s got the speedy wit of a great improv comic) he’s there for a concert, not a conversation, people! Matt tease-scolded the interrupters in his usual easy-going way but the message didn’t land. Except for the funny way a Snow Day announcement rippled through the crowd, leaving Matt confused (“Are you all students? Teachers?” It actually mean that government offices and many ancillary workers get a holiday), the unwanted give-and-take was wearying to both the player and his listeners.

Maybe it’s the presence of the giant wheel, which Matt spins to add an element of surprise to the set list (about two-thirds planned; the remainder selected by chance), but general unruliness seems to be an ongoing problem on the current tour. Matt often tweets the day after a show, full of enthusiasm for the night before. No such message appeared after the DC show, and his Twitter feed a few nights later mentioned another show – or was it two? – ruined by “a few obnoxious humans” (RT from 2.24) and “entitled, drunk audience members” (Matt’s own Tweet, from 2.25). This from paying patrons who no doubt consider themselves “fans.” One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl, but a few can tarnish an otherwise sterling night. Sorry, Matt. You deserve better.

But you’ll never leave a Matt Nathanson show without a smile on your face, and last Tuesday was no exception. We heard a great selection of tunes old (my personal favorite, “Answering Machine,” showed up in a spin) and new (“Used to Be” is a great one from the new LP), a few cool covers (The Smiths’ “Girlfriend in a Coma” – oh yeah) and even a brand new ditty we’ll call “8-Track Tape” that he made up on the spot while ruminating about outdated technology. You can see the full list of songs at setlist.fm.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen Matt Nathanson play. The first was February, 2004, so this Birchmere night was “our” 15th year together (I’ll call it the Vinyl Anniversary). And I was lucky to have my camera at some past shows, so if you want More Matt, here are a few links to pics and text memories:

9:30 Club, 2011

Sixth and I Synagogue, 2008

Tysons Corner Plaza (free show), 2018

And Matt was kind enough to respond to a request for a contribution for my set list site, sending a great souvenir from a Houston, TX show in 2006.

It’s been an exhausting day, watching the Cohen testimony, worrying about the decline of our democracy, and waiting for a return to true American greatness (ITMFA), so I’m calling this post, however ragged and much delayed, done! As ever, thanks for stopping by. And here’s one more shot from the Birchmere, as a ‘post-credits’ treat…

It’s like he’s looking right at us.

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