Mary Chapin Carpenter and Corinne Bailey Rae

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WXPN’s NONCOMMvention was happening last week, which is, basically, a convention for Triple A (Adult Alternative Album) radio stations. While I did not have tickets to the main convention or the bigger musical acts, I was able to take advantage of the special free at noons that were happening and caught a double shot of Corinne Bailey Rae and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I always thought that Corinne Bailey Rae was a jazz singer, but she was introduced as a singer songwriter. Hey, I am not going to complain about that. When she came on stage, I could not believe how adorable she was. She seriously looked 10 years younger than she did 10 years ago and later learned she was 37 (I would have lost serious money betting on her being only 14 years old). Anyway, she has a great voice and is so damn joyful while performing. Really, joy just completely emanated from her being. Her 4 piece backup band was top notch, but I just kept getting drawn to her peace and joy. And though her backup band was top notch, I really enjoyed her quieter songs where it was just her and her guitar. She looked most at peace during those songs, just a gal and her acoustic guitar. And I agree, she is way more of a singer songwriter than a jazz musician and vocalist. It was great to be reintroduced to her and I am looking forward to listening more in depth to her new album. She was a great primer for Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I listened to a lot of Mary Chapin Carpenter years ago, when I was going through my woman singer songwriter stage. I always found her to be understated and more focused on her music than being a huge super star. And this was underscored immediately. She was the headliner, but played her whole set with just a guitar and accompanied by a keyboardist and a mandolin/ guitarist player.

There was an immediate calmness that came over the room when she took the stage. She is just so calm and soothing. And so freaking cool. She is a 58-year-old woman, originally from Princeton New Jersey who was categorized by her record label as a country singer. You know, all the makings to becoming the next big thing (not!). She put out a string of albums in the late 80s and 90s and I remember listening to each and every one. And then one day, I didn’t anymore. I am not sure why, maybe I moved on to the next big thing.

Her songs all evoke a certain weariness. Not sure if it is weariness for the world in the general, weariness for being a 58-year-old singer songwriter, or weariness for other reasons; probably a combo of many things. However, there is also hope, love and optimism sprinkled throughout that weariness. To me, that is kind of the quintessential characteristic of a singer songwriter and why I am so drawn to that genre. You want realism, but you also want to know it gets better.   Sometimes the acoustic guitar between verses spoke more than the lyrics she would sing. You know the type, the type of music and lyrics that conveys deep, deep emotion. And when you listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter, the calmness I felt was “it is going to be all right.” I am not even sure I knew what was going wrong, but I knew it was going to be all right.

Besides still having that smoky calming voice, she is a great guitarist. She played it each and every song. And here is what I really liked about her. She seems so very grateful to be performing. Perhaps it is because she had a health scare in 2007 or has battled depression her whole life. But I observed that she thanked her roadie every single time he handed her a different guitar for her next song. Every single time. And, in her ½ hour set, she switched guitars every song. I can get behind that type of gratitude.

I spent this year discovering new music and trying different genres, I can’t help but think that I may have become a little out of touch with the music and musicians that made me such a music head in the first place. I am not really sure why I stopped listening to Marcy Chapin Carpenter, but I do know she will be right back in the mix as I start my next 50 years of music listening.

2 shows to go, 13 days left…

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XPoNential Music Festival 2015

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Saturday at the XPN Festival

XPN festival was this past weekend. It is a festival I look forward to each year. There are always great bands, the weather is usually outstanding and you get to spend two full days looking at one of the best Philly skylines views around. There were some bands I was looking forward to hearing and some I had never heard of, so a good mix.

Amy and I caught the noon ferry over and was by no means the first ones there. Even though the gates opened at 11:30, we could not find a spot to set-up camp at 12:15.   We found a shady spot, set-up our chairs and started roaming. They have the music set-up alternating stages, so you never have to choose one band over another. Growing up a third child and being the inventor of FOMO (fear of missing out), I really appreciate that. I once spent a Jazz fest in New Orleans convinced I was missing the better band, though I picked one great one after one great one. After I calmed down a bit, I ended spending one whole day in the gospel tent (where I did not recognize one performer) and was a better woman for it. Anyway, no decisions had to be made at XPN, you just between the River and Marina stages.

As Amy and I made our way from the ferry to the stages, we heard some screeching. It is unclear if it was a band or not, but I am not going to count them/ her/ it. So, the first band I saw was Field Report. Nice, pleasant, good enough way to start. Somewhat unforgettable since I have literally no notes about him. Correction- totally unforgettable. As it turns out, I have more notes about someone I mistook for Cole Redding on the ferry on the way over (story for another day) than I do about this band. We then made our way back to the main stage to hear Calexico. They were good, very good.

I have heard about this band a lot in the last month. I almost invited people to see them with me for my birthday, then friends left my party to go see them, then I realized that they sing my favorite song, Going to Acapulco, from the “I’m Not There” soundtrack, so, overall very excited to hear them. And I was not disappointed. They have this tight band and really incorporate a mixture of styles, including some jazz, southwest influence, afro American drumming, singer songwriter, and, possibly, salsa. A big mash-up that totally works. They were tight and it is always good to get your dancing on by 1:00 pm on a Saturday.

As I go through my notes, I realize there were some bands who I just did not seem overly impressed by or were noteworthy, literally there were no notes written. Don’t get me wrong, a day of non-noteworthy bands on a gorgeous day taking in the Philly skyline is better than any day in an office. But for the purposes of this post, I will just remark on the bands that I really enjoyed and why.

After Calexico, I really loved First Aid Kit, though I kept calling them Field Trip. Seems like the same name to me. They were these two young lovely Swedish sisters who were equally comfortable rocking out as they were singing a powerful yet quiet acapella song. Their version of “America” by Paul Simon was awe inspiring and I always love seeing young performers do their interpretation of older, somewhat obscure, songs. Feel likes a sign of respect to me. They also seemed to really like each other, the rest of the band and just playing of everyone. Lastly, they called their mom to the stage for recognition. C’mon, who doesn’t love that?

Son Little played on the river stage and he seemed to be a crowd favorite and his set seemed to feed off of the energy of the crowd. I was listening to Lord Huron as I made my way back to the ferry. I would love to see him/them in a longer show as I felt I did not get nearly enough time to appreciate the music. Same for Delta Rae. They are a very fun group and regardless if I mix them up with other bands that have Rae or Delta in their name, I must see them on their own.

Sunday at the XPN festival

Susan and I got a nice early start, got over to the festival in time to take advantage of remote parking lots. I am not gonna lie, it is a pain to see shows in Camden. After the previous day of taking planes, trains and automobiles, I was more than willing to pay a premium for parking just so I could spend more time at the show and not stressing about schedules and figuring out my next zig zag and transportation mode to get around.

Another beautiful day on the waterfront and we were there exactly in time for Lone Bellow, who I was psyched to see. I had heard of these guys and was planning on seeing them during the winter at Underground Arts, but they sold out immediately. Their next show was at Union Transfer, which is a good indication of their rising popularity.

These three musicians, who call their sound “Brooklyn country music,” incorporate folk, gospel and blues while completely rocking out. At one point, the lead guy was coming off stage to try and get into the audience and the gal was in the zone playing an electric mandolin. I did not even know there was such a thing as an electric mandolin. More surprisingly, I loved the sound. They got completely caught up in their set and the audience went nuts in appreciation. I was so glad they lived up to my expectations. They are returning in November (Union Transfer) and will definitely make a point of seeing them then.

We then met up with a bunch of folks and was hanging out by our little camp. My friend Chris, one of my MBFs (music best friends), got there later than expected and was itching to see music, so I met her over at the Marina Stage to see Bombino. I had no idea of these guys and was incredibly pleased when I happened upon them to find this full blown band in glittery, matching Bedouin wear. Turns out they are from the Sahara desert. From further research, it turns out that Bombino is the lead singer and a raw and hypnotic guitarist channeling Jerry Garcia but with funk. Check out his bio here, I cannot do him the justice he deserves. I would have to say that this was my best find and the band nugget I took away. What I love about the XPN festival is that while I am excited about seeing bands I know and what they do live, I always come away with a brand new band that I can’t stop replaying in my head afterwards that was not even on my radar. There is some damn good music out there.

Making our way back to the River Stage for Courtney Barnett, Chris and I decided to head into the “belly of the beast” and get as close as we could. I love wandering around during shows and seeing the music from different angles. That almost always includes getting as close as I can. I know some folks are not into that, but I just kind of burrow and burrow until I get where I want to go. I am polite and always excuse myself and sometimes I keep burrowing so much that I dump myself out of the other side of where I started. I get pretty focused on the task at hand. I was leading Chris (I always lead) and as we made our way, I hear her say ‘there it is” and there it was. It just always kind of happens that when you are doing your thing to find your spot, the spot finds you and it will be perfect. We settled in. I turned around and asked the gentleman behind me if he could still see or if he needed me to remove my hat. His answer was “No, way, I saw what you were doing and started following you on the outer ring. You are awesome. No need to move or take your hat off, I am just thankful you got me here.”

Back to Courtney Barnett. My friend Michael had seen her in June and said it was the best show he had seen all year. And he goes to a lot of shows and does not exaggerate. I knew I was going to be in for a treat. Bottom line, she is the future, and hope for, old-time, wailing guitar and political lyrics rock and roll. She is a Patti Smith and Mick Jagger and all about the substance and not the style. She wailed on her guitar for 45 minutes straight as she strode across the stage. The only time I saw her face was when she was shaking her sweaty hair out the way to scream into the mic. Outstanding. Just outstanding.

After that exhilarating set, we went over to see Kopecky (formerly Kopecky Family Band). We did the opposite of getting as close as we could and stood behind the stage, which was a cool view. You see the musicians doing their thing from a different angle and see the crowd’s reaction. I hope these guys get really popular. They seem like really nice people, have great banter and energy and are good musicians with great vocals. Loved seeing them. We headed back to the main stage for the Indigo Girls and they were exactly the Indigo Girls. We left during their set.

The number one question I got over the weekend from folks who know of my year long quest was, “How will I count a festival?” Will it count as one show? Or will it count as individual shows to reflect the number of bands I saw? I am still not committing to making a hard and fast rule. When people ask, I say a lot will depend on where I am at come May 29, 2016. Though, I was pretty clear about saying I wanted to see 50 shows in the year, not 50 bands. Still there will be a time where one concert or event may really encompass two distinct shows and can, thus, be counted as 2. Who knows, at the end of the year, I may tally how many bands I saw this year, but for now I will just keeping track of shows. So, even though I saw 12 bands, the XPN festival counts as 2 shows.

36 shows to go, 311 days left…

35 shows to go, 310 days left…

Warren Haynes and Railroad Earth

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Recently, I decided to check out XPN’s schedule. Susan and I had plans to see a band later that night (see Parlour Tricks), but the “XPN’s Free at Noon” concerts are just too hard to resist. It is one of these things in Philly that I think we take for granted. Every Friday, WXPN, our alternative public radio, sponsors, exactly what the name implies, a free noontime concert. It is usually an artist in town for a show that night or maybe someone just wanting to promote their newest album. The thing is that these are totally legit and well-known bands. I have seen a ton of good shows, including Adele, right before she became famous. The year I saw her she later went on to win “best new artist” Grammy. Before the Grammys, though, on a very cold day in January, I was listening to this new phenomenal talent. XPN also broadcasts it live, so there is usually a hard stop after 45 minutes. It is a perfect midday mini concert. Inevitably, a member of the band will ask if anyone works, because I, guess, it is kind of curious to see a roomful of folks at a free concert on a work day drinking beer.

So taking advantage of that rare Friday off, I checked out the schedule and saw that Warren Haynes and Railroad Earth were playing. I also saw that it was sold out, but decided to take a chance and see if I could get in. A lot of friends totally dig Warren Haynes, Allman Brothers, Government Mule, etc and I was curious to see if I would too and was worth checking him out.

Got there and, indeed, I was not on the list (shocking since I had not RSVP’d), but the volunteer was kind enough to let me in. It was great. Having some mild regrets for not trying hard enough to see the Dead for one of their Fare Thee Well shows, it totally hit the spot. Some good ole rock and roll with hints of jam band thrown in. As is usually the case, I would definitely pay to see a full show, which I think is exactly the goal of these XPN shows. 45 minutes later I was headed downtown to catch a matinee of the Brian Wilson flick “Love and Mercy” since I had tickets to a show coming up.

43 shows to go, 341 days left…
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