Sunday, February 24, 2019

Get Ready to Weep

I'm hosting an intimate house show featuring Liza Kate and Jonathan Vassar...two of the most heartbreaking songwriters I know. This is also a rare opportunity to see Liza before she leaves RVA.

When an invitation like that arrives, you RSVP right away.

Mr. Wright came by and scooped me up so we could chow down at Goatocado first and while I've eaten there several times, tonight was the first time eating fireside. The afternoon warmth was still palpable when we arrived, so eating outside was extra appealing given that we settled on the bench nearest the fire as the sun set.

From there we went to my friend's house for mingling before music. Since the guest list was small - 32 people - I wasn't sure if I'd know anyone beyond our hostess and Jonathan. Silly me, it wound up being full of the old Listening Room crowd along with some new faces.

When I introduced a friend (and regular blog reader) to Mr. Wright, her handshake apparently conveyed to him how glad she was to finally put a face to all the many posts she'd read about him. Her tale of finding a copperhead in her laundry room and psyching her husband up to destroy it got the evening off to a fine start.

And while the hostess and I have been friends for years, she's only been in this Fan apartment for a year and I'd never seen it. It was like so many Fan apartments a series of good-sized rooms without doors, lots of door molding and very high ceilings. I took my time checking out the art on the walls, immediately recognizing one piece.

It was "The Lioness," part of the Grandville series Triple Stamp Press did for a Ghostprint Gallery show four - wait, how can that be? - years ago with the exquisite monoprint showing the lioness erect in a long, full 19th century skirt with a pistol tied to the sash at her waist and a riding crop under her arm. She's clearly a woman with a purpose.

All kinds of familiar faces showed up, including the scientist (who, I learned, stopped cycling after going through a windshield), the banjo player, the musical couple (minus their little one) and the in-laws who were supposed to be home watching Jonathan's children (they claimed they were nearly asleep anyway and took the chance to escape).

Talking to the scientist about teaching at VCU, he shared that his current students are the first generation to have grown up on standardized testing and the result is that they're incapable of critical thinking. And of all the unlikely moments, turns out that the scientist's partner recognized Mr. Wright from a bike ride.

This is such a small town.

After everyone found a chair, Liza Kate sat down with her guitar to play, stating for the record, "In case you don't know me, I'm leaving" and went on to share her beautifully sad songs with us as the hostess' cat wound its way among people's legs. All around us, candles burned and fairy lights shone. Wine was poured into paper cups and flasks were passed.

After singing a couple songs, Liza said, "I feel like I grew up in Richmond even though I came here in my 20s" and then paused. "That's all I'm saying about that or I'll cry" and she looked like she was about to anyway.

Saying that she didn't know who wrote it but that the song had been covered by the Byrds, she launched into a poignant cover of "You Don't Miss Your Water." I knew immediately who'd written it because I'd interviewed William Bell a few years ago ahead of his performance at the Folk Fest and he'd been justifiably proud of having written that song.

Afterward, she noted, "Every time I have to sing the word cry, I want to cry." For that matter, every time she got applause, she looked about to break down. Occasionally, she'd slip some humor in, like when she said, "This next song is for the partyheads. Move the chairs and dance if you want."

Talk about hilarious.

She seemed surprised when the room gave her a standing ovation, but for many of us, it was applause for all the years she shared her intimate songs with us. Besides, if she's like everyone else, she'll find her way back to Richmond.

During the break to allow more time for friends to chat, the Scientist shared with Mr. Wright and me his plans to cycle northern Italy with his partner this summer despite his bike issues post-accident. Getting back on that horse and all.

Our conversation ended when Jonathan Vassar sat down with his harmonica and guitar to play.

After his first song, someone in the front row put money in the donation jar next to his feet. Her husband observed, "She wanted to wait to hear the first song before she committed," the joke being that Jonathan and her husband have not only played together for years, but are business partners. For that matter, I can't imagine there was  single person in that room who hasn't heard Jonathan's distinctive brand of Americana before.

That's why it's a house show. You only invite the people who already care about the artist.

Jonathan ruminated on how being a father of three has cut into his time to book shows, so he's appreciative when house shows are set up for him. The apartment itself, he said, reminded him of the ones many of his friends lived in years ago.

He did the relatively new "For Now, We're Good" and made small talk while tuning his guitar by asking the room how everybody was doing. Pausing a beat, he said, "I'm doing fine, thanks" and got a chuckle out of some of us.

After doing a song "for Josh because he likes it," Josh called out, "Is that the radio edit?" and mishearing him, Jonathan responded, "Yea, I know some Radiohead." That got an even bigger laugh.

When Jonathan took a few moments to tighten the screws on his harmonica, his work mate and fellow musician called out, "Are you building that harmonica?" That's the only problem with house shows where everybody's a friend: no one hesitates to rib the talent.

Before singing "Something's Gotta Give," he explained that he'd only practiced the song late at night after his wife and kids were fast asleep. "I've never really sung it out loud," he confessed. "It's not about my wife." Then, just to make sure, he turned to her and said, "It's not about you, honey."

Introducing "Not in the Know," he joked, "This I did write about you. Just kidding!" And while the new material may not have had a full voice testing before tonight, they passed with flying colors.

When the audience gave him a standing ovation, too, he owned it by standing along with us to bring the evening to a close.

Was my heart broken after hearing so much melancholy music? Nope, it wasn't. But my devotion to house shows definitely went up a notch after hearing two of the most intimate singer songwriters do their best to break it.

Now if only Jonathan had played some Radiohead...

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