December 24, 2013

Old Friends

Friday night, I snuck up to Northampton to see Dar Williams and Lucy Wainwright Roche at the Iron Horse. I was not really planning to head up (my usual Modus Operandi) but a Facebook friend who happens to run merch for Dar posted a "Who am I going to see at the concert?" post and that prodded me out of my pre-weekend lethargy, and off I went. As I listened to Dar, I realized that this is the fourth time I've seen her play in the past year - last year's Middnight on Main in Middletown, the Iron Horse (right around this time, I forget exactly when), Falcon Ridge, and now this show.

Dar and I go way back. I ran across her back in '92, before The Honesty Room was released in fact, as she was tooling around New England with her guitar and a box of cassette tapes. Yes, I do own a copy of "All My Heroes are Dead" on cassette....

My first encounter was somewhat problematic. A friend (oh, OK, to be honest, my ex) was coming back east from Los Angeles, and was looking for a place to play, I approached graham, the owner of a slimy bar in Bristol called The Common Ground that ran a Sunday evening folk series and a Monday evening open mic. Graham, seeing the dollar signs of a homecoming concert, said sure and offered a date. What I did not know was that he had already booked that date to a musician named Dar Williams, who got bumped to opener.

My ex did well that night - filled the bar up with her family and friends. Graham did well, with a full bar on a Sunday night. And I'd like to think Dar did well - playing a short set to a full room (instead of the handful of folks she'd draw on other occasions at the bar), selling some merch, and picking up one very devoted fan (me).

I became a Dar Williams fan that night. That led me to see her at the Common Ground on other occasions (often to a smallish crowd that made me feel bad if I needed to leave at the break) and other New England coffeehouse venues. I particularly remember one gig at a little coffeehouse in East Hampton where she broke a guitar string and had no spares - thankfully another musician, John Scott, had a guitar in his car and lent it to Dar. For many years (until recently, in fact) Dar seemed to be quite a nervous guitar player on stage, I'd sit on the edge of my seat praying for a successful first few songs until she settled in. She was always the kid sister I was rooting for to do well.

I was there at Roaring Brook Nature Center for an Open Mic where Dar debuted "The Honesty Room" - she was the "featured performer"  (not quite a headliner) and she signed my copy "Thanks for listening....and for playing". Ironically, one of the songs I did that night was the Roches "Face Down at Folk City" (also, John Gorka's "The Gypsy Life")

And yes, I was at the WWUH Holiday benefit for which Dar wrote "Christians and the Pagans", the Nields wrote "Merry Christmas, Mr Jones" and my local faves High Blumenfeld and Margo Hennebach performed. 

I was active on the "Dar List" email list, visited (but did not camp with) the Dar Camp group at Falcon Ridge, was there for the first time the Falcon Ridge hillside lit up for "Iowa" (not cell phones, back in the day, but real lighters and flashlights)

Over the years, as Dar has grown into a mature and successful artist, I kind of stepped back. I still loved her music and bought it all, but she was playing larger and more expensive venues, and I kind of felt like she no longer needed me in the audience. So it's been lovely to reconnect with her and her music.

Now, Lucy Wainwright Roche. She was a Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist back in 2008 and returned as a Most Wanted artist in 2009. (to be honest, I was shocked it was that long ago). But I've been a fan of music by women named Roche (Suzzy is Lucy's mom) for 30+ years. It was 1980 or thereabouts when I stumbled across a review of The Roches first trio album in Rolling Stone - my musical tastes at the time ran along the Springsteen / Neil Young / Cars axis (although I was dabbling in Lou Reed and Jonathon Richman), so these three funky, folkie, NYC folk-punk women was a real change of pace. I was smitten by their cover photo, their harmonics, their humor. Been a huge fan ever since.

I've seen the Roches live a handful of time (most notably, front row center at the Tarrytown Town Hall). In the "music collection" department, in terms of how much of an artist's catalog I own, I'd have to rank Dar #1, Springsteen #2, and The Roches #2. So yeah, big Roches fan. And in the ensuing years, I've also picked up a fondness for Loudon Wainwright, Lucy's father. So yeah, Lucy is worth a trip, anytime!

Lucy and Dar were both in good voice and good humor. I particularly loved Lucy (having only caught her in short sets at Falcon Ridge in the past) and her "not quite as seasoned a perfomer as Dar" was charming and authentic. Dar's set and performace was not much different from last time I saw her at Iron Horse - she's such a mature and polished performer these days that it's hard to be quite so thrilled and smitten as when she was a bit more of a wild card. But still, wonderful to see her and hear her.

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