We Get Out: Mavis Staples, Amy Helm at the Lincoln Theatre, October 19

In the past 18 months of pandemic living, many hours that might otherwise have been spent at live shows have gone instead to revisiting the home archives, culling through piles of CDs and LPs, magazines and videos to simply entertain and also to “prune the bonsai” that is my collection of 40+ some years (others might call it Swedish Death Cleaning).

         One of the revelations this pursuit has brought me is just how fickle the music business is, not just for a scribe like me, who no longer makes a living in music journalism, but for those on the actual front lines – writing, playing, putting their souls out there for consumption by an ADHD public. So many of those who enjoy cover stories and exclamation points (Hot New Name!) one day are reduced to tiny print and question marks (Who is That?) soon after.

Mavis Staples, a legend, a true star.

         So when I share a reference to Mavis Staples as “one of America’s national musical treasures,” you best believe that I believe the lady has earned it. Among my family’s other isolation activities, we watched Questlove’s terrific “Summer of Soul” documentary. There was 18 y.o. Mavis, alongside her Staples Singers family, belting out gospel-inspired, soulful tunes with an emphasis on social justice. And in the over half-century since, Mavis Staples has only grown more soulful and socially relevant, still adding her literal voice to just causes while expanding her repertoire in collaborations with Jeff Tweedy, Norah Jones, Run The Jewels, and many more.

            When a publicist asked if I’d like to cover the great lady’s concert appearance at a benefit for JusticeAid2021 (more on that later), you bet I jumped. Which meant hubby and I had our first DC concert date night in nearly two years to visit the beautifully restored Lincoln Theatre. After some initial panic (darling forgot his proof-of-vaccination card and had to scramble to find an adequate substitute on his cell phone), we settled into the well-buffered seating (the worthy show was far from sold-out) for a night that lived up to our own high expectations.

         The good/great news is that Mavis Staples’s soulful growl is as strong as ever, as is her indomitable spirit, even when singing songs of overcoming hardship, like “Change,” or “Why Am I Treated So Bad?” (announced with some memories of Staples’ association with Martin Luther King). Her cover choices ran from Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That” to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” and a transcendent “Slippery People,” which had much of the crowd up from their seats to enjoy the infectious groove, propelled by a trio of players and two singers who provided a bedrock of masterful R&B. Guitarist Rick Holmstrom was particularly impressive on a few solos, and his playful interactions with Staples appeared rooted in a long and fruitful affiliation.

My good camera crapped out before the headline set, so these shots are a bit dicey. That’s showbiz!

         And now for the bad news. Staples coughed frequently between songs and downed at least three servings of something (hot tea?) delivered to the stage by a concerned aide. An exhilarating mid-set version of “Respect Yourself” ended surprisingly quickly which, in these distressed days, was particularly unsettling. Staples joked about looking for a “doctor in the house” and reassured the audience that she was simply fighting a cold, so I will take her at her word, while still asking the gods of all that is holy to protect this living legend. As I mentioned up top, such icons are truly few. By the evening’s finale, a rousing, no holds-barred, call-and-response singalong of “I’ll Take You There,” we felt a little less worried.

Opening the show was singer/songwriter/mandolin player Amy Helm and, if the name seems familiar, it’s because her dad, Levon, was the much-loved drummer and often singer of Americana legends The Band. Amy was born in 1970, (the same year Stage Fright arrived) and she grew up in the Woodstock, N.Y. home that had its own recording studio, known as The Barn.

Amy Helm lives up to her name.

Amy started singing as a teen, and was a full-on professional in her 20s, playing in various groups (the folkish Ollabelle was one) and on her dad’s post-Band solo albums (her contributions to Dirt Farmer earned her a 2007 Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album). As befits a musician who grew up among some of the best players of the times, Amy had a crackerjack four-piece band playing with her, providing a solid foundation for each tune, lovely harmonies, and the occasional sparkling solo.

Helm spoke of her father lovingly before a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” explaining that it was one of the songs she’d perform with him during the ongoing series of “Midnight Ramble” concerts he held at the Barn and on tour. The poignant “Cotton and the Cane,” a co-write with Mary Gauthier, from Amy’s third album, What the Flood Leaves Behind,” released earlier this year, was introduced with a sobering tone, since it addresses the dark side of the unconventional, highly creative environment that was her youth – watching talented, troubled people struggle with addiction.

Still, the majority of Helm’s set was upbeat, as she gushed her joy in sharing a bill with Staples, a woman who’s clearly an influence, alongside Aretha, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and Helm’s own mom Libby Titus, a highly regarded performer, whose other romantic/musical partners included Dr. John and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen. Helm’s heritage is strong, and she’s serving it well.

A side note: My pal and former editor, Jeff Tamarkin, wrote a great article for Relix.com about Amy Helm (cribbed from for this story!) so check it out.

And while you’re clicking, check out more about Justice Aid2021, for whom the show was organized. This year, following the murder of George Floyd, the DC-based group is focusing on” police accountability and community empowerment by reimagining public safety.”  The Neighborhood Defender Service’s Police Accountability/Community Empowerment (PACE) Program will receive 100% of proceeds from the concert. And donations are welcome anytime.  

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I’m Just Wild About Harry

The title above is a reference to a very old song that very few of the 20,000 fans in Capital One Arena for the Harry Styles concert (September 18) would recognize. The crowd was, I’d guess, 95% female (shout out to the guys wearing “Watermelon Sugar” t-shirts; perchance suggesting they’d go where DJ Kahled fears to tread?), and they were mostly 30-something or under, with the addition of very willing moms there to share the joy with their daughters.

We had great seats (not scalped!) in the third row of the highlighted section.

I, too, was there with my younger girl, Grace (31 y.o.), and oh, such joy it was! I consider a good concert a near-spiritual experience, being in a room with a big group of people who share a passion for music, finding a sense of community in dancing and/or singing along. Harry’s fans are truly passionate, so we rarely sat down and loved sharing vocals, starting with a massive spontaneous crowd rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” during the pre-show music, after a well-received opening set by Jenny Lewis, one of many wonderful women whom Harry has asked to tour with him. (Last tour, we were introduced to Kacey Musgraves, who’ll headline Cap One herself next year.)

Our seats gave us a perfect view for “Falling,” one of my favorites songs from Fine Line.

Harry’s motto, often displayed on merch like T-shirts, totes, and hair-ties, is “Treat People With Kindness,” and his fans have taken the message to heart. The smiles, the polite lines, the constant “‘scuse me”‘s were more than I can ever recall at such a large event. Everyone was masked (required, as were vaccinations or negative tests) and many had dressed up in rainbows, glitter, and boas for the occasion, echoing Harry’s status as a fashionista and LGBTQ+ ally. Speaking of kindness, during “TPWK,” I watched a stagehand hand a small-size crew T-shirt to the mother of a young (12ish) Down syndrome girl sitting in front of us. Not a moment to show off or be displayed on the Jumbotron screens. Just a nice person, doing something nice for someone else. That’s the kind of affirming night it was

Care for a free “prom photo” momento of the night out with your besties?

This concert was an adventure two years in the making. The tickets were purchased in the summer of 2019 as a Christmas present for that year, and the show, originally set for June 2020, was scrapped when the world stopped. Having had a marvelous bonding experience at Harry’s last DC date, in June 2018, Gracie and I were looking forward to this event for a very long time with a giddy, girlish glee. When her job wouldn’t let her telecommute, she had to drive down from Canada on Thursday night and leave on Sunday to make the Saturday night show. It was exhausting she’ll tell you – but SO worth it.

My fellow Harry fangirl.

I just read Close Personal Friend’s report on seeing @Harry_Styles in DC. Pics, too!

P.S. just for fun, some other shots from the show…

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Everything is Present

A young musician friend told me once that he envied the fact that I grew up as the Beatles were making their music, and was able to track and appreciate their brilliant development in a way that he, who heard all the albums at the same time, never could. It’s yet another issue that comes with living in this modern world were Everything is Present. I was reminded of this when I saw this recent posting by a guy who spoke to Brian Eno (always a big thinker) about how the ability to stream music from all eras at once affects – even skews – our shared experience of it.

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NOW I Can Breathe Again

Oh, happy day! Too busy celebrating and enjoying this feeling I hardly remember…hope? to write.
So, instead, I’ll share this fun little meme…

Brilliant use of photoshop from the manager of the band Pup.

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Sneak Peek at the new CPF!

I may not have posted much in these Pandemic Days, but music is an extremely important part of my life. Honestly, I don’t know how I would make it through these crazy times without it.
What I been doing is working with my talented designer daughter to redesign the Close Personal Friend web site to better reflect my musical interests – Instagramming cool vinyl, curating my best concert photos, sharing set lists, and more.
If you want to see what we’ve been up to, here’s the secret link.
Your comments and suggestions are most welcome.
We will meet again at a show. Until then, stay safe and strong. Spread kindness, not germs!

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Quarantunes.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve worked at home for years, so my daily routine hasn’t changed much. My husband retired almost two years ago, then took a 6-month consulting job that allows him to telecommute, so we haven’t lost a lot of income (tho’ I can’t bear to look at the 401K that was supposed to be our safety net). We have a roomy house with a courtyard and a back deck that looks out onto trees with visiting birds – and once, an owl! Our two grown daughters are safely ensconced with significant others, so no one has been stranded where they don’t want to be. And we live in a blue state with a Governor who has a medical degree and takes the science of fighting this thing seriously. So, I realize that everything I write comes from a place of privilege, along with a sense of worry and wonder for those who are fighting much tougher battles.

And yet, with all this comfort, I still have pandemic anxiety. The first hour of the day is the worst, when I lay (lie? never could get that straight) in bed and ask myself ‘what’s the point?’ in getting up. I try to ignore my negativity, grab a cup of coffee, allow myself to drift, and the cloud generally lifts by lunchtime, making afternoon the time of day I can be somewhat productive.

The thing I miss most is live music. I’m not a religious person, but I believe I’m a spiritual one. There’s something about a crowd of like-minded people, enjoying a band whose music has meaning for me, that echoes the sense of community and uplift that other people get from going to church.

Now I seek solace in the scenes of humanity and kindness that are taking place in the midst of this madness. Twitter is a trash fire to many, but I must be following the right Tweeters, as I see sweet, short clips every day of people offering love and help to others. And cute animals. And lots of threads about Harry Styles. (Follow me @mariannemeyer if you’re on the social, and I’ll follow you back.)

When I started writing this, I was watching the Global Citizen One World Together At Home Concert. The heavily-promoted Prime Time show started Saturday at 8pm, but the streaming event began 2pm on my Roku-enabled TV (a phrase I didn’t even know until my brother guided me through the purchase process at Christmas). It ran all day long and gave me something to think about other than how much I long to hug my kids.

So I sat comfortably in my TV chair as a steady array of musicians played live from their homes and the clever folks at the charity organization offered inspiring clips of the brave health care workers and the common folk honoring them. It reminded me of the day I skipped the wedding of a couple of not-very-close friends to visit my in-laws in Westchester, back in the days when MTV was available in limited areas, to watch another all-star charity concert called Live Aid.

Sigh. Remember when concerts were attended by thousands of swaying, arm-waving, GFs-up-on-BFs-shoulders fans? Some medical experts are saying that we won’t be able to have actual audience-allowed live concerts again until fall of 2021. But I still won’t sell off the nice seats I bought for my daughter and me to see Harry Styles in June. Stub Hub tells me I could get 6 times what I paid for them on the resell market, but the money means less to me than the ridiculously joyful time Grace and I had together at Harry’s 2018 show. Like holding a lottery ticket in the days before the numbers are announced, I enjoy the lingering if foolish hope that something magical will happen, we will beat the odds, and our tickets will be winners.

The afternoon concert stream had a lot of fun moments, like Jack Black leading silly exercise routines, shamelessly flaunting his big belly, and his snazzy home. Part of the fun in Zooming With the Stars is peeking into the homes of celebrities. Some offer pristine spaces that show the input of stylists and interior designers; Charlie Puth didn’t even bother to make his bed.

I liked Finneas’ solo, Adam Lambert revisiting “Mad World,” Annie Lennox dueting with her daughter, the impressive way a group of many classical players were stitched together in a Zoom serenade, Milky Chance’s cute accents and the often sweetly awkward English of multiple foreign-language artists. And, to add to my ongoing obsession with boy bands, SuperM was adorable in a new song.

I’m guessing that, dear reader, you’re a music fan that watched the A-list evening show, so I won’t go much into that except to say that the husband and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Usually, when there’s an awards show or tribute concert or some such Major Musical TV Event, I sign onto the social network and partake in the snarky comments of who looks silly or sounds bad, but not this night. No cynicism, please. Not now.

Of course, some jerk at the NY Post ran a review calling it “insufferable” and “lousy,” complaining that it didn’t have half the energy of Live Aid, bemoaning that it didn’t feature any moments like Freddie Mercury’s legendary performance with Queen. He did understand that playing in your living room is a different gig than strutting in front of 50k or so screaming fans, didn’t he? Good thing he didn’t see Charlie Puth’s unmade bed!

More anon. Stay safe and strong. Spread kindness, not germs. And remember…

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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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