Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Curated by Karen

Tonight I got my reward for nearly perfect attendance.

It was Listening Room 32 and I have  attended 31 of them, missing only July 2010, for which I was called out.

Let's just say I never made that mistake again.

So when I was asked many months ago to curate tonight's event, I agreed with anticipation and not a little trepidation.

If I chose bands that appealed to me, would other people feel the same?

Tonight I was going to find out.

Things got off to a great start with Dixie Donuts and lots of my friends in attendance for support.

Okay, so maybe they'd have been at the Listening Room anyway, but some knew I'd have their heads if they  didn't show.

And they did.

Emcee Chris did his usual casual opening speech, anticipating the inevitable arrival of organizer Jonathan to remind him of something.

It's like an old vaudeville routine in its reliability, much like the one light that always fell when the Listening Room was at the Michaux House.

Afterwards, Chris announced that the show had been curated by Karen, raved about my blog and the pressure was on.

I'd chosen locals Sweet Fern because they sound like no one else.

Josh, looking very dapper in a vest and button-down shirt, demonstrated his ability to play guitar, mandolin (played so enthusiastically he broke a string) and banjo, sing and crack wise while Allison's big voice is a singular pleasure.

Calling themselves an itinerant band, they did several Carter Family songs (they are, after all, the bedrock of Sweet Fern) and songs with evocative names like "You're Breaking My Heart" and "Three Night Drunk," an hilarious song that played to Allison's acting and comedic skills.

A couple of songs in, my friend turned to me and whispered excitedly, "I love male and female voices singing together."

I knew what she meant; hearing these two together was making fans of everyone in the room.

Eventually Josh tried passing his guitar to Allison to play, causing her to tell the crowd that it was the two-year anniversary of her playing guitar.

"Are you ever gonna commit to one guitar?" Josh teased her.

"I'm committed to the open road," she shot back.

Their banter was just another highlight of their performance and Josh indicated that they hoped to add some routines to their act.

"Are you guys excited about seeing Nettles?" he asked us. "I've been web-stalking them all afternoon. I'm excited to be on the bill with other plant life."

The very same thing had occurred to me.

Whether doing Doc Watson, Johnny Cash or Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn songs (Allison: "I'll sing Conway's part"), the set list was a peek into another time.

"Now all the Depression-era songs are coming back," Josh said, "What with poverty and debt and all."

I can do without Depression Redux, but as long as Sweet Fern is singing the soundtrack to the thrifty life, I'm good.

During the break, I made the rounds and had first-timers raving to me about what they'd just heard.

The scientist, as usual, slipped me some chocolate when he saw me; the friend who hadn't been to the L.R. since the night she met her good-looking hunk of man-meat (her words, not mine) came and brought her hunk; even the poet showed up after being singled out online.

Hey, whatever works, I say.

While the six-piece Nettles got set up onstage, I went up to meet leader Guion, whom I knew only from our series of e-mails arranging their appearance.

Everything was going according to my plan.

After some technical difficulties with a guitar, the band settled into making some exquisitely beautiful music, part folk, a little Celtic-inspired and in general very poetic.

Since they're from Charlottesville and don't play here, they were a fresh sound for an RVA audience.

Guion made the most of it, saying, "I can reuse all my jokes here."

Favorite line: "You'll be an old woman by the time I come to get you."

"Houses," about a friend who'd caught fire (we were assured said friend is better now) featured flute player Juliana playing saw (always a treat), heart-stopping harmonies of three or four voices and some of the most interesting banjo playing I've ever seen.

I was especially taken with what Sam's synth added to Nettles' sound; it was the element that kept working its way into my ears.

Guion mentioned the poet Frank Stanford as a source of inspiration, specifically his 542-page poem, "The Battlefield Where the Moon says I Love You."

The songs were beautiful, with titles like "Keep, Pt 2" and "It Wasn't a Dream, It Was a Flood" and full of spaces, superb musicianship and the blending of voices.

I felt like we were in the middle of a lyrical poetry reading with instruments.

As if I hadn't had enough pleasure from the evening, Guion took a moment to thank the Listening Room and saying, "I got to met Karen earlier. She seems like a great woman."

Sigh. And I was worried about what?

Nettles finished with something unexpected, "Leather-Winged Bat," an old song with different birds giving advice on love.

Hi, said the little turtle dove
I'll tell you how to win her love
Court her night and court her day
Never give her time to say oh, nay!

Naturally I was thrilled with a band that ended with an old English folk song, but the prolonged applause at the end was hardly just mine.

They'd like it, they'd really liked it.

And why not?

Once again, the Listening Room had provided a stellar night of (free) music without the annoyance of people blathering over a single note.

And if I got more than a few pats on the back (not to mention the poster with my curating credit on it), well, apparently that's what happens when you do 31 of 32.

As thrilled as I am to have been asked to curate, the biggest satisfaction will be if I made Sweet Fern and/or Nettles fans out of anyone in the audience.

"I told you so," said the delighted curator.


  1. Still reveling in last night's show. What a treat! Thanks so much.

    Great choices, Karen

  2. Loved it. Of course. Well done, Karen

  3. Such compliments from two of my favorite women!

    As Nietzsche said, "Without music, life would be a mistake."