Here then, are just a few of the highlights from the last year and a half . . . we’d really like to hear from you in the comments. What memories do you have?
Strand of Oaks
So everyone’s prepared for Joe Pug because of all the videos but then I introduce Strand of Oaks which must be confusing. Tim comes out all trucker hat and quiet and simply kills everyone with that sound and that voice – all hushed urgency and dread with underlying hope. A friend comes up to me after the set and just stares at me for about three beats then says “Holy Shit”. Exactly, I say.
On a Tuesday night in April Joe Pug kicks off The Billsville House Concert series. Yeah, we hear “the new Bob Dylan” once a week but there are few who can draw close to that comparison – Joe’s one of them. He closes the show by asking me “Doug, is there something you want to hear?” The question jolts me out of the trance I’ve been in for the last 90 minutes induced by having one of my Top 5 performers of the last year playing music in our living room. I request “Call It What You Will” and Joe delivers an effortless, beautifully nuanced version that I’ll remember always.
Call it what you will, I’m heartbroken still, words are just words.
Dan Mangan is “Big in Canada” but relatively unknown here. He agrees to play a show on the day before he is booked at the Albany Tulip Festival ($!!) and proceeds to literally kill it in front of a crowd who has no idea who this supremely talented guy is. A rousing “Robot’s” ALMOST ends a set that brings us a batch of new songs off the record that quite a few critics will put in their top 10 releases of the year. We say ALMOST because Dan follows it up with an amazing rendition of Elliot Smith’s “Waltz #2” that Dan calls a “kind of a perfect song”. Dan’s final on stage words are, essentially, praise for house concerts and music fans as he quotes Margaret Mead “ Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We stay up until 3AM learning more about the intricacies of Canadian politics (while drinking copius amounts of red wine) than I might have thought possible. In the morning, Dan leaves with his very own robot made from cardboard and duct tape and plays in front of a hometown crowd of 12,000 people a week later.
What needs to be said about a perfect Berkshire night that ends like this? Other than it did not end until we sang a song by EVERY IRISH MALE SINGER until 3AM in the barn.
So David and Suz show up and the crowd gets the feeling they are going to take off. Which they do. They connect with the crowd immediately (the donkey jawbone sure doesn’t hurt) and lead everyone around the hallway and back into the living room for a crazy dance off. They’ll go on to play the main stage at the Newport Folk Festival in just a few weeks.
What needs to be said about Sarah Borges – at 8 1/2 months pregnant she can bring it like no one else. Sarah puts everyone in the room at ease with her self-deprecating humor and that rare ability to make you feel like you’ve known her for years in about 30 seconds.
Maryse Smith drove down from Burlington, VT after I harass her into performing. I’d only read about her and listened on her Bandcamp page. Lots of folks I respect up in Burlington are talking about her and I convince her to come and play for tips. Here’s a woman with a lot to say and she does so with such an offbeat delivery that you can’t help but pay attention. Sometimes Maryse shoves what should be too many syllables into a single line only to have them come out sounding fantastic on the other end. We’re excited to see where Maryse goes.
Anais Mitchell brought her voice, guitar and songs to a eager and loving crowd on a muggy July night. I’m not exaggerating when I say the audience was transfixed the entire night. Anais played songs from “Hadestown” – one of the records on my “Best of 2010” list as well as a few new amazing tunes from her new record tentatively set for a February release. We basked in music, lyrical poetry and good spirits for almost two full hours. The night ended as one of these special evenings often does, with a full participation sing along to “Goodnight Irene”.
I introduce Brown Bird to a house full of about 45 people, hear one song, and then leave. Caroline misses most of the show as well because of what we’ll call “kid logistics”. I return to hear the final two songs and Caroline makes it back for the dying applause on the last song. David and MorganEve then steal our hearts by playing a seven song min-set for us after everyone has gone home including letting Kai sing all the words he has learned to “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor” thanks to the Williamstown Theatre Festival‘s outdoor theater.
Brown Bird becomes out “Go To” band and has performed twice more in Williamstown to even larger crowds.
Ethan and a few of the Circus Smirkus kids jam with the band into the night.
Sarah Lee & Johnny
I confirm the gig with Johnny via a cell phone call in the parking lot of Stop & Shop. Fitting, for a show that is the closest to “local” that we’ve had. Sarah Lee & Johnny arrive humble, professional and then proceed to slay us with their close harmonies and dynamics.
We poach Kingsley Flood for an afternoon show before their late night appearance in Pittsfield. First show with the local Taco Truck in attendance and on a beautiful summer day we get the rollicking vibe and good time fun that only happens in these settings. Hey, Magic Hat is selling #9 in cans! And it’s good!
Some of the Mommyheads were skeptical about this performance, this “barn show”. They aren’t anymore.
Jenny Owen Youngs
Jenny sent us Gorilla coffee from Brooklyn after the show – which is a HUGE WIN FOR ME. From time to time we log into StageIt to watch Jenny perform a few songs from her living room and she always has something charming to say to the kids.
Swear and Shake
Swear and Shake filled the house to the brim and delivered a sweet set of indie folk tunes that ended with some charming piano songs. I forced Kari to play “Do Right Woman” – to all of you who heard it, you’re welcome.
Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps
We thought we’d do this show and then take a little break from the house concert thing. When Caroline stood on the table and delivered a walloping version of “Drown In My Own Tears” I could of ended the whole thing forever on an up note. Thankfully, I got an email the next day from . . .
Sonya Kitchell // Elizabeth and the Catapult
So much talent in our little house. So much. Elizabeth played “Thank You For Nothing” as the first song of the night. I think the whole room held their breath the entire song and we were all stunned at what we had just witnessed. Sonya was hypnotizing and her voice, her voice! Holy everything.
Later Kai shot Elizabeth in the eye with a nerf gun and scratched her cornea. This is what memories are made of.
Spirit Family Reunion
In the middle of this show we thanked our contractor for shoring up the floor joists in the basement. The crowd sat in their chairs for all of 30 seconds and we danced the rest of the evening in a joyful sweaty mess.
It’s hard to miss Liz’s songwriting talent as she delivers lyrical wonders song after song. We got a special version of “Unraveling” on the Steinway to end the evening.
We knew we liked Joe going in, we liked him more as the night progressed. Lyrical, sardonic and witty – Joe captivated us all that evening.
We convinced Jonah to stop by on his way to another gig and we’re glad we did. Here’s a kid whose talent is hidden behind polite humility. When he stands up to sing . . .
Ethan puts up a web cam and pulls the sound from the mixer. Techy!
Ellis Paul / Peyton Totchterman
Ellis Paul at our house? With his career? How lucky were we? Radoslav Lorkovic turns our $50 piano into a million dollar machine.
Spirit Family Reunion // Hurray for the Riff Raff // Broken Wing Routine
Was this the show of shows? 175 people in a beautiful barn – this is what a night of music should be all about.
Joe warms up for his richly deserved debut at the Newport Folk Festival
- Post title from the lyric’s to Joe Pug’s “Hymn 101”
Yeah I’ve come to know the wish list of my father
I’ve come to know the shipwrecks where he wished
I’ve come to wish aloud among the over dressed crowd
Come to witness now the sinking of the ship
Throwing pennies from the sea top next to it
And I’ve come to roam the forest past the village
With a dozen lazy horses in my cart
I’ve come here to get high,
To do more than just get by.
I’ve come to test the timbre of my heart
Oh, I’ve come to test the timbre of my heart
And I’ve come to be untroubled in my seeking
And I’ve come to see that nothing is for naught
I’ve come to reach out blind
to reach forward and behind
For the more I seek the more I’m sought
Yeah, the more I seek the more I’m sought.
And I’ve come to meet the sheriff and his posse
To offer him the broadside of my jaw
I’ve come here to get broke
Then maybe bum a smoke
We’ll go drinking two towns over after all
Oh, we’ll go drinking two towns over after all.
And I’ve come to meet the legendary takers
I’ve only come to ask them for a lot
Oh they say I come with less
than I should rightfully posses
I say the more I buy the more I’m bought
And the more I’m bought the less I cost
And I’ve come to take their servants and their surplus
And I’ve come to take their raincoats and their speed
I’ve come to get my fill
To ransack and spill
I’ve come to take the harvest for the seed
I’ve come to take the harvest for the seed
And I’ve come to know the manger that you sleep in
I’ve come to be the stranger that you keep
I’ve come from down the road
And my footsteps never slowed
Before we met, I knew we’d meet
Before we met, I knew we’d meet
And I’ve come here to ignore your cries and heartaches
I’ve come to closely listen to you sing
I’ve come here to insist
That I leave here with a kiss
I‘ve come to say exactly what I mean
and I mean so many things.
And you’ve come to know me stubborn as a butcher
and you’ve come to know me thankless as a guest
but will you recognize my face when gods awful grace
strips me of my jacket and my vest
and reveals all the treasure in my chest