Saturday, October 5, 2013

I'm Only Me

It wasn't your typical First Friday.

For starters, I left the arts district to meet a friend for dinner and never made it back in time for art.

We'd both gotten the memo to wear black and talk about love and violins.

Our meal was abbreviated by the need to be at a mutual friend's show at 7:30 at the Michaux House, where the Listening Room used to be held.

That alone was noteworthy and person after person mentioned how excited they were to be back where it all began.

The first person I saw inside was the reason for the evening, new Dad Jonathan Vassar, particularly striking tonight because his hair was showing.

When I asked about this rarity, he explained that he'd stopped wearing his summer baseball cap ("And once I stop, I never go back") but at 86 degrees today, it had been just too warm for one of his knit caps.

Hence, a fine-looking but rarely seen head of hair showing.

Elizabeth Whitmire opened with her friend Karen singing backup, announcing, "I'm going to play some whiny folk songs."

It put me in mind of an old boyfriend who used to say his favorite music was made by whiny white women.

Accompanied by guitar and mandolin, they played depressing songs ("Depressing songs always have the worst rhymes"), a spiteful song, the first song Elizabeth ever wrote, and a fine cover choice ("This is a Magnetic Fields' song we can't play").

If I was the Grand Canyon 
I'd echo everything you say 
but I'm just me, I'm only me 
and you used to love me that way 
so you know how to love me that way

The closing song hilariously came from personal experience. "This song is about the girl my boyfriend dated after me. She had long hair and a private jet."

Whoa, it's hard to compete with those two things.

Philly's Chris Kasper, a last minute addition to the show, played second accompanied by violinist Kiley.

He did a short set, singing songs about Carolina, about when you first move in with a lover and have no furniture and about seeing an ex on the street after you've broken up and pretending not to.

Tonight's main event was Jonathan Vassar's CD release, "Mercy for the Undeserving," a two-disc set, one of unreleased songs from ten years ago and another of new material.

Sixteen songs, two sister albums ten years apart. Kind of like twin sons of different mothers, a reference that dates me for sure.

Before he began singing, the lovely Anousheh turned around from her front row seat and warned us all that she always cries at Jonathan's shows.

Sad lyrics, spare arrangements, it's really a recipe for emotion.

An artist in the audience called out that Jonathan had on a cardigan, saying he'd gotten one, too, when he'd become a Dad.

It was immediately dubbed a "dadigan."

"I just learned tonight what hash tags are," Jonathan said by way of introduction. "I don't understand it, though, because that's a pound sign. Shouldn't it be a pound tag?"

The man raises a good point.

He dedicated "Houston Gone Again" to Elizabeth and commented that tonight felt like a Listening Room reunion being back in the old space "for all you Listening Room regulars and there's a lot of you here tonight."

I was sitting between two of them, one with his hands full of cookies and the other lost in thought about why men do the things they do.

After singing "Long Drive Home," Jonathan cracked wise, saying, "Hash tag thanks."

He called friend and fellow former Ophelia member Grant onstage to join him for a few songs and Grant's voice and mandolin add immeasurably to the evocative songs new and old.

Getting his harmonica into its holder, Jonathan shared, "I saw Kris Kristofferson this summer and he didn't become a full-fledged singer/songwriter until he was 34. And by full-fledged, I mean famous. So I figure I've got about two days."

Grant established his old man bragging rights by sharing that he hadn't known what hash tags were either, assuming that the pound sign meant that the writer felt strongly enough to pound on the table to make his point.

Who said musicians don't have a sense of humor?

After a touching "My Life is Not My Own," Jonathan asked for requests and Will, seated next to the teary Anousheh, asked for "Last Chance."

You can always count on Jonathan for beautifully heartfelt music done right and tonight it was even better given the nostalgic setting.

Church basement, low ceiling, twinkly lights, lots of familiar faces.

Toto, it's wonderful to be back at the Michaux house hearing music for the undeserving.

When I got home, I found a message from an out-of-town friend saying she was at Belmont Food Shop and to hurry over.

There I found three friends, the artist I'd seen twice already this week, and the bartender who greeted me by asking if I wanted the cook's plate.

Sadly, no, I'd already eaten. But it's nice to know that's my standing order.

But I joined in tasting some desserts - mint chocolate chip mousse and apple walnut crisp- and sipping Prosecco while '20s music played in the background.

Eventually the chef came out and when I refused the offer of a chocolate jalapeno, he told me to follow him.

Through the kitchen, past my favorite wooden walk-in to the backyard garden he took me, the better to show off his herbs and veggies.

Last time I'd been in his backyard, Belmont was only open for lunch and it was crowded with piles of stuff, some junk, some worthwhile.

Since then, inlaid terraces had been put down, a stone-encircled compost pile put in and an array of spot gardens added.

We talked about espaliered fig trees, aromatic lemon balm and the abundance of lettuces he'd grown and used this summer.

Talking about our recent stellar weather of warm days and cool nights ("Like desert weather," according to him), we eventually made our way back into the dining room and my waiting friend.

Some might think me rude to abandon them at the bar, but she knows me well enough to know that I am a sucker for a walk in a good garden, especially on a balmy October evening.

Hash tag good life.

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