I found beard level to be at a "lush thatch," as reported, and sensitive strumming was in progress. Chris Matthews Jr. of Joonior Studios fame was opening the evening up for Abi Grace, playing songs between heckling the crowd. After watching some spot-on bearded-era Neil Young impersonation, I made my way to the main stage.
Josh Wong was finishing his set, which he performed in full beard (see illustration), and I was just in time to catch Tomo Nakayama (Grand Hallway). Tomo's counter tenor voice is an instrument of rare beauty all its own—he looped it with pedals and harmonized to it, all the while looping folk guitar licks and just a scintilla of percussive guitar.
Perhaps the most sensitive songwriter moment of the evening occurred between two decidedly beardless musicians when Tomo broke a B string on his guitar. No sooner could he proclaim "It's going to be that kind of night!" than did Shannon Stephens herself come out of the crowd to the rescue, offering her own guitar. Tomo continued unfazed and unignored as his songbird-like style had everyone captivated. Sans-beard, even.
Cocktail Napkin Doppler Beard Tracker
& Yet was the brave septet/cacophony without a leader who had the unfortunate task of trying to follow Tomo's quiet, satiating act. They found their rhytm about three songs in, when their seven person set was finally unified by a choral arrangement and an exchange of electric guitar for melodica. Once the drummer moved beyond noise maker and into rhythm machine, and they cut loose newer band member and backup vocalist "Caroline" on the glockenspiel, things began to look up. & Yet had a 2:7 bearded ratio.
While it was just another Tuesday night for Shannon Stephens & Her Fabulous Friends, their set was the obvious highlight. One song into the set Shannon herself asked "Where's my damn whiskey?" and you knew it was going to be good. With friends like Julian Martlew, pulling gold tones out of a Gibson Les Paul and dobro, and the percussion skills of Andrew Rudd (Aqueduct, Pablo Trucker). it's no surprise. What was a surprise was the reinterpretation of some of Shannon's earlier material, now under the umbrella of Julian's crafty country soul guitar playing, and their live version of the country standard "Half As Much" (Hank Williams). I've praised it before, but having seen it done live, I'm here to tell you Shannon Stephen's Pull It Together is one of the best records you'll find this year. The live show wasn't half bad either, perhaps because the beard to bandmember ratio was 3:5, the highest of the night.
There's another Singer Songwriter Showcase on Sept. 9th for the bearded/interested. It features DAWNS, J. Wong, @kevinlongmusic, & Widower, tickets and info here