Monday, May 30, 2011

Lessons From the Enchanted Forest: Cambriah Heaton and Kinfolk

I am doing my best to keep my head on straight
I am doing my best
I am doing my best to keep the madness at bay
I am doing my best
Put here on this planet to do my very best
Oh yes my best!
-- Kinfolk

Kinfolk's Cambriah Heaton shared her enchanting world with Ricochet House Concerts Wednesday in a magical performance that left the entire audience spellbound.  With her delicate, whispery voice, Cambriah shares the secrets of the vast universe with poignant lyrics and warm melodies.  Her fairy-of-the-mystical-forest aura leaves no question that she's an old and wise soul, in spite of her youthful appearance.
Kinfolk opened Ricochet's outdoor concert series with inspiring songs about love, life and nature from their CD, set to be released in August.  Kinfolk is the spritely Cambriah (vocals, guitar), along with Chad Taylor (bass) and Nicki Singleton (fiddle). Together, they played two sets to a crowd of musicians and music lovers alike.  The upbeat lyrics to "Fortune Cookie" spoke to me, as if from a crystal ball:

You have the ablity to overcome obstacles, said my fortune cookie.
So I took one look as I read it and thought, okay let's go cookie.
You got to pick up your feet. You got to set the pace.
Once you set yourself in motion you've practically won the race.

Cambriah's messages are not naively spoken but are sourced from her deeply human experience of life, including losing a child.  Her daughter Mandalynn's ashes are front and center onstage when the group performs.  "She is our angel," said Cambriah.
As Cambriah introduced "Mountain Song" and "Earth Song" her passion for nature as both a healer and a rich resource emerged.  Everyday love songs such as "Typical Love Song" and the endearing "Morning Lullaby" rounded out the program.
The sunsoaked ambiance of Ruthie Naccarto's backyard was transformed to an azure sky and a cool breeze by the beginning of the second set.  And the mood turned quiet and pensive as Kinfolk sang "Reasons" and "Blessed Be."  "Love Wild," an impassioned tune about wrestling angels while love takes flight, energized the crowd one last time.  I left Ruthie's backyard inspired and a little wiser, almost as if I'd spent an evening under the tutelage of an angel.
Ricochet House Concerts - Facebook page 

Set List
Where Have You Been
Mountain Song
Eyes of Ours
Fortune Cookie
Doin' My Best
Long Roads
Penchant for Habit
Typical Love Song
Morning Lullaby
Earth Song
Blessed Be
Love Wild


Sunday, May 29, 2011

U2 Concert Extra: The Fine Art of Taxi Stuffing and More

As a "sidebar" to my U2 concert review, I must admit I was completely disappointed by the lack of planning and coordination around public transportation.  With limited parking and a Trax line which stopped preciously at the stadium, we expected to be able to ride light rail.  But one would have had to crowd surf to get on one of the cars by the time they reached Trolley Square and no extra cars were running either before or after the concert to accommodate the massive crowd of over 40,000.
Unlike some of my friends, we arrived on time to the concert but only because we shoved eight of us into a cab, and we ended up walking down the hill back to Trolley Square after the concert because Trax obviously had insufficient capacity.  Thank goodness I didn't go with my original plan to take Trax from 53rd South or I'd have arrived home well after 1 am.  As it was, it was 12:30 am.  I toothpicked my eyelids open for work the next morning.
On a more positive note, because of lacking table space, we made friends with three gents and a lady from Australia.  Desert Edge Pub was overrun with concert goers a few hours before the 7 pm start time so we all agreed to share a table.  Imagine traveling all the way from down under to hear U2.  Their company has offices here in Salt Lake City, and hence, they'll be back in another 7-8 weeks.  We've encouraged them to put more concerts on the agenda for their return visit.

U2 From the Endzone

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then, than I do now
-- U2, "City of Blinding Lights"

If you have read this blog oft, you know that I am drawn to the stage.  Front and side, front and side, sometimes on, but always in the thick of the crowd.  When I was invited to have a ticket in U2's general admission (floor) section, I responded with a resounding "yes!"  At noon the day of the U2 concert, we looked at our tickets.  Our seats were precisely two rows from the top of the north endzone.

As we walked into Rice Eccles stadium, one could not help but notice The Claw, a massive stage set with a needle shooting to the heavens.  I know that the "typical" concert goer is awed by structures and stage sets, but as one who is enthralled by music and great performances, it's a hard sell to inspire me with a stage build out that took over 100 semi trucks to transport.  That said, I do believe I have photographs of The Claw's changing landscape of lights and colors for every song U2 sang and from a top-of-the-house vantage point the floor could not match.
The sequencing from the set list from a U2 concert which occurred several days earlier stayed the same for the group's Utah concert.  Changing a lineup flush with accompanying lights was likely a complex undertaking to say the least.  With the bigger tours, this is standard practice, sort of comparable to formula fiction.  There is a commercialized, mass appeal feel that contrasts starkly with the spontaneity of a gig playing at a venue like The Depot or The State Room, not to mention your garden variety house concert.  
Still, I wasn't disappointed by the lineup in the least and was on my feet most of the evening, dancing to familiar tunes like "Mysterious Ways" and "Beautiful Day."  In addition to the mostly fixed set list except for the insertion of Happy Birthday" to Bob Dylan on the occasion of his 70th birthday that evening, the crowd sang along to nearly every number.  In a smaller venue, it's rare that the crowd is as familiar with the band's music.  The amplification from the stage was enormous, sending huge volume to us at the opposite end of the stadium.
The crowd was jumping, dancing, and otherwise enlivened with fists in the air during the first five or so songs.  Dancing was a stadium-wide phenomenon, including for those of us in the cheap seats.  Filler conversation in between songs was minimal, but a few political messages were laced into the program.  The "power of one" message urging fans to let their voices be heard and make a difference gave me chills moreso than the cool night air.  Toward the end, Bono electrified the crowd with "Vertigo" and kept the momentum rolling through two encores, concluding with "With Or Without You" and "Moment of Surrender."
Friends who were in the general admission and VIP sections have graciously offered photographs which allowed me to live vicariously at the foot of the stage.  Their incredible shots fill in the gaps created by the seemingly endless chasm between the north endzone and Bono, proving that even or rather especially at concerts, it's all about location, location, location.
My friend Heidi and her boyfriend Kris, who provided the close-up pictures for this post, have followed U2 since the 1980s.  She noted that when she saw U2 in California, they played more songs, had three encores, and had a richer set list.  Still, a huge fan, she was not disappointed.  "It was an awesome night, perfect weather and, damn, those leather pants looked good from where I was standing."

Set List
Even Better Than The Real Thing
I Will Follow
Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Until The End of the World
All I Want Is You
Love Rescue Me
Happy Birthday
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
Beautiful Day with Her Comes the Sun
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Miss Sarajevo
City Of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk on
Aung San Suu Kyi Message
Where The Streets Have No Name with Blowin' In The Wind
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With Or Without You
Moment Of Surrender

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Three Faces of Jen Hajj, Utah's Desert Songstress

When Utah acoustic singer/songwriter Jen Hajj told me she attended the rival high school in my hometown, Tempe, Arizona, she became my instant friend.  Her music brings back scenes of my life growing up in the raw southwest desert.  A classically trained vocalist, Jen has branded folk music as her own.  She's sprinkled her repertoire with other genres to create unique sounds and rhythms which tell stories and touch hearts.  In the past few months, I have happened upon several of her performances.
CD Release Party, Holladay Church of Christ - March 26, 2011
The first full-length CD is a rite of passage for musicians who dare. Jen released her CD "I Of the Storm" wearing an up-do and a bright blue sequined top. I don't normally add fashion commentary, but ... "Wow!" With a full compliment of musicians behind her on stage and in the audience, Jen played her CD mix to a packed house.  A compelling part of the evening came when Jen sat alone behind the piano for "Beautiful."
The most charming compliment about Jen's performance came from a seven-year old: "Mom, I want to buy her CD so that I can hear the song 'Rain' every night." Who can argue with a testimonial like that?  "Rain" eclipses the traditional "it's raining, it's pouring" song with a drum-backed melody that evokes images of a snake charmer luring a snake from a clay pot.  If you love "Rain" as much as all Jen's fans, you will want to get a free copy of it on Reverbnation (see link below).  Between the house lighting and incorrect camera settings, photos taken during the show were less than optimal and made Jen's blue dress look red (perhaps we need a song about that?).
Diane Gulezian Art Exhibit Reception, Red Butte Gardens - April 9, 2011
Jen sang Gandhi's thought-provoking words "Be the Change" as I entered the Red Butte exhibition area.   "Conservation, some folks shudder when they hear the word, we're asked to do small things to save some silly bird" are words close to Jen's heart (she's Education Director of HawkWatch International).  Diane's paintings exude a wildness vibe, so what songstress could paint a better backdrop than Jen, Utah's queen of the desert herself?   Backdrop acoustic, yes ... shrinking violet, never.   Jen attracted the attention of my guests, most particularly the young daughter of one of my friends.  And like Jen, we were wearing dresses and Hanes in a sea of casual Friday denim. 
2011 Tucson Folk Festival, Tucson Museum of Art - April 30, 2011
The beautiful desert city Tucson was one of my childhood homes. The ride between Phoenix and Tucson flooded me with memories ... dozens of bugs splashed on the car window, cactus stands, roadrunners, Oracle, and Picacho Peak.  Seeing the exit signs along I-10 was a vivid reconnection with my past.  I spotted a lizard on the way to the front door of the Tucson Museum of Art.
Jen drew the first spot at the Songwriting Competition, not ideal because the audience wasn't quite in place nor nearly as warmed up as they were by the musician who drew the much favored tenth spot.  No worries.  It couldn't have been a worse fate than having the airline lose her luggage.  She emerged to the Tucson Art Museum's Casa Cordoba stage wearing a newly purchased violet dress and cowboy boots.  Her picturesque "Where You Take Me" came alive against a landscape of desert foliage under the warm Arizona sun.
This would be the only one of these three of Jen's performances where I was unable to drag along at least part of the audience. My parents were planning to come, but at the last minute had to attend a funeral instead. Still, it was wonderful to connect with Utah Slim as well as Peter and Mary Danzig of Otter Creek while surrounded by Palo Verde trees.
About Jen's CD ... I listened for an entire day before the CD release party and have listened yet again many times since.  Jen's work showcases her smooth, sweet voice.  Powerfully, gently, Jen conveys the spectacle of nature with songs such as "Where You Take Me," "Rain," and "Water On the Wasteland."  Yet I found myself craving listen after listen to "In The Beginning" about Adam's wayward, rebellious first wife.  The lineup masterfully weaves together more than a dozen songs with thoughtful, kind lyrics and poetic tunes. If "I Of The Storm" is the beginning, I can't wait to hear her encore CD, when that emerges from the presses.
I Of the Storm
Where you Take Me
Eye of the Storm
In the Pines
I am Home
In the Beginning
Thank You
Water on the Wasteland
Run Away

Jen Hajj
Reverbnation - Jen Hajj
Facebook Fan Page - Jen Hajj Music

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How to Turn Your House Into a Concert Venue ... 5 Easy and Fulfulling Steps

Too lazy to get out to hear live music?  Imagine going to a concert without leaving the house.  You too can host a house concert and bring the music to you.  Here's how a few of my friends planned and pulled off a wonderful evening of music, all in Monica's warm and beautiful home:

1) Reel in some musicians.  Bobby did all the leg work here and snagged three musicians, on a Saturday night, no less.  Be sure to let guests know to bring a donation which typically goes 100% to the musicians.  The recommended rate in Utah is usually $5 - $15, but I have seen as high as $20.  Musicians will likely want to bring CDs and related merchandise to sell to guests.  If you are in need of musicians to do a concert in your home, please let me know and I will put you in touch with some appropriate contacts who can help you.   Just to be clear, most likely you will be able to find emerging local and regional artists, not Katy Perry or Justin Bieber.

2) Make room for guests.  Monica turned her living room into a concert hall ... she agreed to host, moved furniture, and called in chairs from friends.  Plan on chairs and possibly pillows or guests may sit on the floor.

3) Invite a few dozen of your favorite people.  A Facebook invitation with RSVP required yielded over 50 guests, plus children, some of whom watched the concert and others who played in Monica's basement.  Some house concert guests invite the local "universe," while others limit to friends or friends of friends.  Facebook and email are both great ways to generate interest.
4) Manifest food and libations.  Ask the guests to bring food and drinks. Monica had plates, cups, utensils, and napkins.  The guests did the rest.  Everyone shows up an hour or so before the show to munch, drink, chat with friends, and find a good seat.

5) Enjoy the show.  House concerts are an intimate setting where you and your guests can see the musician perform "up close and personal."  You will get a real glimpse into their music and you will be able to sing along, if you know the words.

After the show, there will be more time for mingling and livelihood.  Fun times!