Saturday, February 26, 2011

Festival So Far

From what I've seen so far, the energy of the Festival has very much inspired some tight and compelling performances. There was a lot to enjoy Wednesday night, starting with Domino's typically offbeat but wondrous performance. While there were moments where she sort of seemed to lose her way, there also were some sections where I couldn't believe the sounds she was making. She also did some cool dance moves. Amanda Nicole played a beautiful set with just herself and an electric guitar--dense and ethereal at the same time. Crazy and the Brains totally rocked the place. Everyone at Sidewalk was on their feet dancing most of the time. It was the best C&TB set I've seen. I caught the beginning of The Telethons with John standing up and playing drum. It was rocking along, but unfortunately the late hour caught up with me and I had to head out.

Thursday--Jon Berger gave a strong spoken word set which included some of the newer material he's been writing. His parents were there and I always wonder how they react to some of Jon's more...personal pieces. Jordan Levinson's material is very much influenced by traditional country music. She played some covers including one by Townes Van Zandt and another by Blind Willie McTell. Jordan's finger-picking was effective and her vocals were particularly strong, drawing at times on the sort of yodeling style that is woven into some country music. I'm not so familiar with a wide range of country artists, but I did fall in love at one point with this album by Iris Dement, and I often feel that Jordan's voice has a quality similar to hers. In any event, she sounded great. Comic Rob Shapiro appeared as a substitute for the originally announced Bernard King Presents. While I've seen Rob give rollickingly funny performances, his brash and confrontational style wasn't a good fit with the rest of that night's bill and he lost the audience as he soldiered on. Brook Pridemore sat for most if not his entire set, something I don't remember him doing before, but he still gave a very energetic performance. Brook stepped into the audience and then led us all out to the street for his finale. That was cool. When he finished his last song, Brook ran away up Avenue A.

One of the things about the Antifolk Festival is that it give you a chance to see some performers in a different frame. I sat close to the stage during Lenny Molotov's set and was getting into his guitar work in a way I hadn't before. I liked the song he finished with--Dick Will Rise--which I think he said he hadn't played in 12 years. It was about Richard Nixon. Emily Einhorn's set was stunning. What can I say? She has it all. Her songs are very rich and her singing is inventive and gorgeous. That was one of the best sets I've seen at Sidewalk in a while. She played "In the Office," which is a song I love--plus some new songs--"Hollow" and "Roses" (among others) which I am looking forward to becoming more familiar with. In the song Nonsense--mostly through the stylized way she sang the chorus sections--she found a fresh approach to looking at unfortunate relationships. Lach was back and played a warm, tight set. There was a good balance to the material he chose, including songs on both guitar and piano, and he was connecting with the audience. I can't imagine anyone not enjoying a set by Phoebe Kreutz. There's such a lightness and humor to her songs. She played a couple numbers with Gary Adler, with whom I believe she collaborates on musical theatre pieces--and the one about the character who marries her second cousin is hilarious. She also had other friends on stage as special guests including Toby Goodshank, Angela Carlucci, Yoko Kikuchi, and Matt Colborn. I caught the beginning of Isaac Gillespie's set. It turns out he asked a friend--a woman-to sing most of his songs--which gave them a different quality. I couldn't stay for the whole thing but I enjoyed what I saw at the beginning. Isaac was also projecting film footage during his set which gave it a surreal feel.

It's intense to be at Sidewalk night after night for hours at a time. For one, you need to have a lot of dollar bills with you. But I do think the shorter Festival schedule makes it manageable. We're heading into the home stretch. I will see you there.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Open Mic, Monday, February 21, 2011m, Festival, etc.

There was more than the usual vibration and energy at Sidewalk Monday as a cross-section of folks from past and present eras gathered in the spirit of promotion for the Antifolk Festival. There was also, I think, coincidental visitation from folks who have been away for a while. Among those I chatted with or just saw on site were Isaac Gillespie, Jordan Levinson, Jeffrey Lewis, Deborah T., Aaron Invisible. The Festival is shorter this time, just a week, which I think is a good thing. It had grown so elaborate in recent years that it became a challenge to navigate. Also, condensing the schedule should heighten the specialness of the week. Of course, there are lots of folks missing from this year's schedule (me included!), but it will be interesting to see if this approach results in a different feel.

The second week of my renewed Sidewalk Talk Show Monday featured an interview with Emily Einhorn who is playing during the Festival this Friday. I remember finally clicking into Emily's stuff when I saw a Festival show of hers--maybe last year at this time. What stood out most strongly to me is that Emily's songs often depict a cast of characters that seem very different from her. So many songs that pour from the stage at Sidewalk are these autobiographical expressions of frustrated love that it was refreshing to encounter someone taking a different approach. On top of that she has a unique style as a performer.

Anyway, I was looking forward to talking with Emily about her work and about songwriting in general, and I think that we did touch on some intriguing points. Emily revealed, for example, that she only began writing songs at age 18--I don't know her current age but I gather that wasn't too long ago--and that prior to her efforts as a songwriter she was intensely devoted to Irish dance! Seriously.

I am continuing to refine my approach to this onstage talk show and am glad I have the opportunity to shape it from week to week. The main challenge is how to have a conversation of substance in a very condensed time frame. My tendency is to want to ask many questions on wide-ranging topics. But I'm beginning to learn that perhaps narrowing the focus extremely would allow for a more relaxed and ultimately more expansive feel. I'm still trying to figure out how to get these interviews posted here will happen.

I am planning on attending several of the Festival shows starting tonight. Don't miss Domino at 7pm. Hope to see you there.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Open Mic, Monday, Feb 14, and Sidewalk Talk Show

Last Monday marked the reintroduction of the Sidewalk Talk show, my little interview program held on the Sidewalk stage during the open mic. Ray Brown was the first guest of this new wave of the endeavor. Ray hung out and performed at the Chameleon, one of the spots where Lach's open mic scene developed before moving eventually around the corner to Sidewalk Cafe. After things wrapped up at the Chameleon, Ray stayed away from his guitar for something like 20 years before returning to Sidewalk about a year and a half ago. During out interview Ray talked a little bit about the scene at the Chameleon, including recollections of artists like Paleface, Jason Trachtenburg, and Beck. Ray also talked a bit about his own songs, including the change in his songwriting style from the days of the Chameleon until now. The Sidewalk Talk show returns tonight, featuring an interview with an amazing artist who is performing on the Antifolk Festival bill this week.

Last week's open mic on Valentine's Day included "I Hate You" an opportunity for participants to play songs they hate--in contrast to the more frequent "I Heart You" sessions which feature covers of more appreciated tunes by other artists on the scene. There weren't too many I Hate You selections featured, although Ben Krieger played Hallelujah, Keith Hammond played Steve Earle's Guitar Town, and JJ Hayes did Seasons in the Sun.

Other folks who gave it a stab last week included Ryan Martin, The Fools, Sima Cunningham (who sang Dolly Parton's Jolene), Josh Blanco, and Blueberry Season.

See you tonight with more Sidewalk Talk Show and the launch of the winter Antifolk Fest.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Debe's Hand

As many of you know, Debe Dalton severely injured her right middle finger when trying to stop herself from falling after slipping on a patch of ice Saturday. Her finger was cut deeply and required surgery by a hand specialist. With the help of Dan and Rachel Debe was taken right away to the Bellevue emergency room and underwent a six-hour operation. She is now recovering in the hospital and seems in relatively good spirits. Her hand is kept immobile on a nest of inflatable pillows filled with warm air. Debe was also proud to explain (and show) that part of her treatment involves the use of leeches. Yes, actual leeches to help with the bleeding.

Despite the trauma of the accident, Debe seems confident that her recovery will go well. Maybe it was the pain killers talking but in general I was glad to see how optimistic she is. I'm sure it helps that many of her friends have been visiting.

It's still pretty treacherous out there with the ice, so be careful everyone. Every time I go outside I'm afraid of wiping out.

And send good thoughts to Debe. We want her back soon. As of now, Debe expects to be in the hospital through Sunday.