March 01, 2014

Catie Curtis and Tall Heights at The Iron Horse

Catie Curtis, with Liz Barnez
April 17, 1993. That's the first time I saw and heard Catie Curtis, playing the beloved bookstore / cafe Reader's Feast, on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford. No, I do not possess a photographic memory*; I just know how to dig through the internets to find stuff, and some old folk music listserv postings contained the date. I picked up her CD From Years to Hours (1991) that night. In the ensuing years, I've added Truth from Lies (1995) and My Shirt Looks Good on You (2001) to my CD rack, and my iTunes collection includes Long Night Moon (2006), Sweet Life (2008), Hello, Stranger (2009), and A Catie Curtis Christmas (2012).

I'm somewhat surprised at how much of her music I've bought over the years; she's an artist who sneaks up on you as her music wraps itself around your head and your heart. It's hard to queue one of her albums up without encountering a "so familiar that you forget where you heard it" song.

The point is, Catie has been on my radar a long time. And while I am sure I've seen her at Falcon Ridge over the years and perhaps at other fests and venues, it's been a long, long time since I got a real concert in a small space, and it was delightful. Mad props to Amy Putnam (photographer, stained glass artist, and blogger over at Freelance Folkie) for coordinating a get-together of camp friends.

First off, to paraphrase Dar Williams, Catie is aging well. She remains youthful and vibrant; she could be resting on her laurels, playing a greatest-hits kind of show to an aging but appreciative crowd. But instead she brought forth a lot of songs from her new album, Flying Dream, most co-written with Kristen Hall which were delightful. Check Amy's Freelance Folkie blog for a set-list; I happen to know Amy fastidiously records set-lists from all of the many folk shows she attends.  Picked up a physical copy last night, and listening as I write, and it's as much a treat in the studio version as it was live.

Along for the ride last night was Liz Barnez, a singer songwriter with New Orleans roots. Liz was a great sidekick / foil for Catie, contributing wonderful harmonies, cajon percussion, and stepping up to play one of her own songs, If I Had a Gun, a thematic mash-up of the Dixie Chick's Goodbye Earl and Fred Eaglesmith's Time to Get a Gun which was a direct and dark line in the sand regarding domestic violence.  She's got a great voice and great stage presence. Hope she gets to open up for Catie now and then on tour; would have loved to have heard more from her.  Catie was loose and funny throughout the set, improvising various sing-along and whistle-along parts, and Liz kept right up with her, sometimes egging Catie on. 

Tall Heights - Paul Wright and Tim Harrington
Opening up for Catie was the duo Tall Heights, who played this past year's Falcon Ridge emerging artist showcase. I've been a bit obsessed with getting to see Falcon Ridge showcase artists in smaller venues (the fest is just a taste, and I'm mostly getting to listen from the doorway of the merch trailer) and so I was thrilled to see that they were opening up for Catie. They did not disappoint, beautiful songs, great harmonies, and that lovely cello that was bowed conventionally as well as played like a bass.

There are a lot of women doing group harmonies out there in the folk world, but the men are a little less common, and these two really shine in that department. Was thinking of youthful Simon & Garfunkle a little as they played, as well as to Dar William's first album, with the haunting cello playing by Gideon Freudmann.

Some years, I pick up as many of the Emerging Artist's most recent works pre-fest, and listen in the month before the fest - but did not get that done this past year. there were some pretty awesome groups in the showcase last year, so Tall Heights kind of slipped under the radar. Remedied that last night, picking up their entire catalog (special live show price of $20) and getting a good earful this morning. It's lovely, sweet, and warm.

I know I'm referencing Dar three times in this piece, but "...February was so long, that it lasted in to March..." is a pretty apt description of this cold and snowy winter - so an evening in the warmth of good music, good friends, and good food and drink was welcomed. Could not have asked for better!

* However, if you do wish to poke around the Reader's Feast ephemera and archives, they have found their way to the CCSU GLBTQ collections.

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