January 29, 2015

Jay Mankita and Jean Rohe at Unity House Concerts

I trekked north to Springfield a few weeks back for a concert at a new (to me) venue - Unity House Concerts at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield. Long time favorite Jay Mankita shared the bill with FRFF Emerging Artist Jean Rohe, who brought along sideman Liam Robinson.

The concert series is both old and new - a longtime uNi Coffeehouse Series run at the church by Ed Brown ceased operation in June after a 29 year (!) run, and Joshua Farber, a longtime fixture / friend from Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, blogger at Cover Lay Down, and house concert promoter has taken up the reins. This was the second Unity House Concert promoted show at the UUS of Greater Springfield.  

The venue is lovely and seems healthy - long time volunteers in attendance, a big crowd that skewed somewhat older, a high-ceiling'd rectangular space with lots of modernish stained glass, and a good selection of beverages and home-made baked goods. Talking with Josh before the show, he indicated that the uNi Coffee House, albeit successful with a local crowd, had not embraced the younger singer-songwriter and folk artists and audiences, and had not really marketed much outside of the local area (I'm good evidence of that, 20+ years as a regular and somewhat adventurous folk fan, and I've never been to the series nor even been aware of it). Josh is seeking to maintain connection to the veterans (performers and audiences) while introducing new artists. This double-bill was a good example of that. 

First Jay Mankita. I was introduced to Jay and his music close to 20 years ago at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. If I recall correctly, he and Nancy Tucker were a one-two punch of humor that year, I adored his whimsy, his conscientious songs. He was a bit of an overgrown kid with baseball cap askew and a guitar slung over his shoulder. I particularly loved "From a Dog's Stance", a parody of Julie Gold's "From a Distance"

Jay has aged a bit since then (haven't we all) - but retains his boyish energy and charm. He had some technical issues (a buzz in the PA system and/or his guitar, and a sprained thumb later in the set) but got some laughs out of the resulting mic stand gyrations, played a good set of funny and more serious music, and was well received.

Jean Rohe (with side player Liam Robinson) was more of an unknown to me - she was a Falcon Ridge emerging artist last year (and I recently learned she'll be returning as a Most Wanted artist) but she slipped under my radar last year. Silly me - she was pretty much amazing in this small, two person set.

I've been pondering why she slipped past me last July. I have made it a habit over the past few years to purchase (via eMusic.com) the most recent works of as many of the emerging artists as I can find and listen pre and post fest (in 2014, I got 20 of 24), but looking back, she must not have had anything there because I did not get her music. And, playing as part of an ensemble (the "End of the World Show") she may have gotten a bit lost in the mix for me; I've got a bit on an internal bias against emerging artist groups because they tend to be over-represented in terms of "most wanted" by dint of (I think) their energy and volume. I'd rather see the showcase be more solo artist / small groups, but that's another issue.

In any case, Jean Rohe, by herself and with a single side player, blew me away. She's got a beautiful voice, wonderful song-writing, and a great stage presence. I picked up two of her CDs, 2013's Jean Rohe and the End of the World Show (which has to win some folk award for most interesting / entertaining packaging and design) and what appears to be a home-published re-release of 2008's Lead Me Home. 

Listening to her albums, she's got a lot of different energies and sounds - from spanish language songs that sound latin / salsa (5 of 9 songs on her first CD are in spanish), to more quieter folk songs. Her "National Anthem: Arise, Arise" linked above, is pretty amazing, as are many of her other quieter songs. I confess to being brought to tears at least once during the evening.

All in all, a real win of an evening. I do not get to see Josh enough, so good excuse to travel north. The venue is just over the MA border, about the same travel time as New Haven from me - so wonderful to have yet another space to go hear live music. And as wonderful as it was to see Jay Mankita again, "discovering" Jean Rohe (for the second time, albeit) was wonderful; and gets me excited for the 2015 "most wanted" song swap at Falcon Ridge!

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