Oh, bittersweet endings. Yesterday was the last day of the 2016 Listening Room Festival.
If you live in the Tampa Bay area, and you didn’t experience either one of the showcases (more here) or a house concert this week (one example here), you really missed out. Such amazing musicians came from across the country and beyond to show Florida their stuff.
Fortunately we have a good house concert community in this area, so you can still experience awesome, independent live music pretty much any time you want!
Last night was the finale of the festival. It took place at the lovely Palladium Theater in downtown St. Pete. I participated by helping out at the merchandise table, which is a fun way to volunteer. I get to hob-knob not only with the fans buying their souvenirs, but also with the artists. And, considering I am the Merch Empress (as proclaimed by the talented and wise Matt Bednarsky last year), certainly I wouldn’t want to face a demotion by taking another position…
Part of the fun of volunteering for this event is seeing the behind-the-scenes and sound checks. It’s interesting to watch the transformations the artists undergo from the time they first walk in the door to the time when they are performing in front of the crowd. They typically come in a bit disheveled with all of their equipment. They might be wearing shorts and T-shirts. Later they look much spiffier and put together.
Set-up is also a part of pre-show. We had a nice team of people ready to manage the merchandise table. We had a bit of fun before the show started.
There’s also free food for volunteers: another perk.
I accidentally stole mine from the artist area… Sorry guys! I didn’t read the text thoroughly, and I gravitated to where I first saw food. No one said anything to me!
Soon enough it was time for the show. The Duchesses released me from my duties, and I went upstairs to listen to the music and take pictures.
The only iPhone picture in this post is the one of the Duchesses. I thought I took one with my real camera, but it was not to be.
Tim and Myles Thompson started things off. Their mastery of their instruments impressed me most about their show: guitar in Tim’s case and mandolin and fiddle in Myle’s case. The whole set was fantastic. Bluegrassy, bluesy… They also developed a great connection with the crowd with their banter.
Tim is a big Joe Walsh fan, while Myles admitted to preferring Justin Bieber.
They ended their set with Mozart. It was a famous, recognizable piece, but unfortunately I don’t know the name off the top of my head. They sped it up, and they played in coordination with each other. It was amazing to watch and listen to. Myles got so riled up playing mandolin he even head-banged a bit, which of course got the crowd going.
Suzie Vinnick followed them up, with a vibrant green bass strapped on. I really love her voice. Bluesy, powerful. She moved from more serious songs, to competing with Bob Dylan.
She won in my opinion. Though he gets props for writing the song in the first place.
“Drift Away” had a more country feel, and it also contained a nice life lesson about taking care of yourself. She even had a blues song about an Oreo cookie addiction!
I have to admit that the combination between her voice, the alternation between serious and silly lyrics, her masterful playing of the various guitars, and the blues puts her as one of my favorites of the festival.
Dan Frechette and Laurel Thomsen closed out the first half of the show. Their set felt lower in energy to me than the first two. They too are masterful musicians. With them, the focus seemed more on the harmonies. The instrumentals were more fluid and soothing. I loved watching Dan’s facial expressions. He looks so joyful when he plays!
Dan and Laurel took us into intermission, and Empress duties resumed. People came to buy the CDs of their new favorite bands, who they just saw minutes before. Artists autographed CDs and opened a dialogue about potential house concerts hosted by their new fans the next time they come through town.
The community widens.
Ryanhood took us into the second half of the show. This duo is made up of Ryan Green and Cameron Hood. They started their set off with “Second City,” which is a powerful song both instrumentally and lyrically about rebuilding after tragedy.
I love their use of harmonies and percussion (i.e. foot stomping) through their songs. Both added a layer of energy and complexity to the arrangement of their songs.
I also liked that they were a bit spontaneous. For the last song, Ryan decided they should revisit their days as street performers in Boston’s Quincy Square. They played one of their big money makers of that time and added in the street performer accoutrements that helped them attract folks to their show.
I also like Ryanhood because they were a bit humble and promoted the act that followed them heavily. Unbeknownst to me, Peppino D’Agostino is a guitar god. Both Ryan and Cameron told stories about how they were heavily influenced by Peppino as they learned to play guitar.
When Peppino came out, Ryanhood had set pretty high expectations, and the high hopes that he would play “Grand Canyon.” While he didn’t play that particular song, he didn’t disappoint. His use of the guitar is absolute. He uses the whole things to create his music, which sometimes involves sounds you wouldn’t expect to come from a guitar. Some of it was more percussive, some more like whines… All of it melded together into something magical.
Or at least it looked magical as I tried to figure out how he was doing it all.
Antsy McClain was the last performer of the night. I’m not going to write so much about him, because you can go read a whole separate post about him here. I’ll just say that he was as talented and entertaining as he was at the house concert on Friday night.
You’ve already seen the finale picture (first one, above). The whole crew from the whole week singing “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson. With the crowd singing along, of course.
It was quite the way to end the night.
On the way out, people did their last minute shopping. They got their autographs from the artists. Artists, fans, and volunteers were all in good spirits.
It was a really fantastic event. This area is really lucky to have Fran Snyder and his team coordinating this event for the past few years. I hope he continues doing so for many more.
After clean-up, it was off to the after party…
But that’s another blog post.
So now I’m looking forward to next year’s festival. I’ve requested to be part of the judging for the artists who apply. Yay!
I really can’t encourage you enough to get involved with the independent music and arts scene. Support these musicians and artists that feed our souls!