WICN Performance Studio 50, Worcester, MA
September 28, 2017
On Wednesday morning, I was looking for some good live music to see that night. I found some local shows, including Shawna Caspi’s house concert hosted by notloB Music. After sampling her music and hearing her exquisite voice, I decided she was someone I really wanted to hear perform live, but I ended up having car trouble a few hours later – this was a recurring theme last week – so I couldn’t get out. Coincidentally, however, that very same day a member of Shawna’s team out to me about Thursday’s live in-studio performance at WICN 90.5 FM in Worcester. Shawna was slated for an hour-long set, a live performance on WICN 90.5 FM at the radio station’s studio, part of a four-hour show with a live studio audience. Now y’all may not know this, but I was a board operator at WKLQ in Grand Rapids one summer while studying broadcasting. I haven’t been back inside a radio studio in decades, so this sounded like a cool opportunity.
The Show: Folk Revival
As you know from the variety of music covered in the Blog, I’m not much of a folkie. I love the best music across all genres, but given the small percentage of my music that’s folk, it’s not surprising I wasn’t familiar with WICN’s Folk Revival (7:00 to 11:00 pm Thursday, over the air and streaming online via the WICN website) and host Nick Noble‘s decade-long run at its helm. In addition to his knowledge of the genre, Nick possesses an easygoing, friendly demeanor, skill at asking friendly questions that yield interesting responses, and a deep, silky voice that makes him the quintessential radio host for this type of show. Though I hadn’t known about him before, it was a pleasure to watch this maestro in action.
I walked in right around 7:00, just in time for the show’s first performance, an hour-long set by Shawna Caspi. She was followed by Chris Welles. And Outrageous Fortune headlined the evening. Between featured performers, three local artists each performed a song. During these “breaks,” I often left the studio, so I only caught half of the songs and entirely missed both songs by the third of these three artists. Below, rather than running strictly chronologically, I’ll write about the three main performers first and then mention the performers whose songs populated the transitions. Well, the two I caught, anyway.
The Opener: Shawna Caspi
The Folk Revival was the tentpole gig of Toronto’s Shawna Caspi trio of Massachusetts performances. As I noted above, it’s Shawna’s voice (and delivery) – powerful, emotional, precise, as if from the ’60s-’70s folk era. My limited folk knowledge betrays me a bit here in that the only group that comes to mind is Peter, Paul, and Mary, but that’s not exactly who she reminds me of; stylistically, though, I’d place her as a musical contemporary. Of course, when any genre is performed by a musician of Shawna’s caliber, if you’re a music fan, it’s an opportunity missed if you don’t go out to hear her when she’s in town.
Fortunately, I didn’t miss this opportunity. Shawna kicked the evening off with one of my favorite songs from her new album, Forest Fire, “Never Enough.” It features a soaring vocal, and it just seemed to pop in the acoustics of the radio station’s studio. “Love in a Moving Van” followed, a guitar picker with a rolling tempo, a catchy, memorable tune with rich, warm vocals.
“The Devil’s Rolling Pin” was a bit of a change of pace. You can actually hear the devil in the details of the rich, finger-picking strum and ever-so-slight haunting hint and cheerily foreboding tone in Shawna’s vocals. So haunting and slightly speakeasy-ish, it would probably fit on The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League’s Masquerade, which I reviewed earlier this month. Very cool, showing the breadth of Shawna’s vocal capabilities.
Next, Shawna’s voice soared as she breathed new life into an old cover, “The Hobo’s Lullaby.” And she went very old-school folky with a little syncopated rhythm on “Not So Silent,” a catchy, fun, and powerful protest song with the singalong line, “We are louder; we are louder than them.”
“Anchor” refreshingly changed things up a little. Nice and airy, it felt free and bright like a summer day. A lazy summer day.
“Breakables” followed, a slow roller with a headturning phrase or two that really showcased Shawna’s voice. Those high, powerful, warm, crisp notes that only a few can hit, and she only even truly showcases that range occasionally, saving it to wow us on songs like this one.
Shawna brought her set to a close with “Oleaster,” a lyrical and vocal-driven tune from Forest Fire that utilizes clear, rising power in the vocals to help provide emphasis. It was a strong performance in a unique setting, a room whose acoustics were ideal for the crispness, precision, and warmth of Shawna Caspi’s performance style.
The Warm-Up Act: Chris Welles
Chris had a busy night. As one-third of Outrageous Fortune, he also served as his own warm-up band. Though he wasn’t alone. He, as guitarist, was joined by fellow Outrageous Fortune members Dan Dick on bass and, for some songs, Rod Thomas on backing vocals. So, really, the entire Outrageous Fortune trio all had a hand in opening for themselves. The third member of Chris’ trio (or fourth member of his quartet, depending on the song) was violinist Tomoko Iwamoto.
As a trio, Chris and comrades opened with “Paradise or Hell,” showcasing a moderately haunting, weird sound. The second song, “Lullaby,” with Rod joining on backing vocals, was exceptionally impressive, showcasing a rich, warm, all-encompassing sound, perhaps my favorite of the set.
The performance continued with a jazzy, swingy cover of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and then a guitar and violin duet arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that was light and very old movie soundtrack-esque. Indeed, that classic cinema music vibe continued with a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” featuring a very Bing Crosby-ish vocal amid a lively performance delivery.
Chris’ penultimate song, a fun and lively (that word again!) rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “Old Man Mose,” was another of my favorites from this set. And the set ended with Jelly Roll Morton’s “Whinin’ Boy,” again sporting something very black and white movie-ish about Chris’ vocals.
The Headliner: Outrageous Fortune
I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay until 10:00 PM when the show ended, but Outrageous Fortune did get through an enthusiastically entertaining six songs before my 9:30 exit. I’m not sure I’ve ever covered a live show by a jug band before, but yes, this was as much fun as it sounds like, a half-dozen rousing numbers from this multi-talented trio.
Outrageous Fortune kicked things off with “I Got Mine,” the energetic opening track on the band’s new album, Delta Bound. They followed it with a vaudevillian rendition of Irving Berlin’s “My Walkin’ Stick” on which Rod Thomas played a walking stick-kazoo, of all things. It was an animated performance – a treat for the in-studio audience, at least – and a stroke of genius when we all realized the walking stick Rod had produced for the song was more than just a visual prop.
Next up was a rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Come in My Kitchen” that had a Sesame Street-esque rhythm, kind of Big Bird-meets-Dukes of Hazzard. I particularly liked the patience in the vocals, as if waiting for the right lane to open at various times. Outrageous Fortune followed that with another Irving Berlin number, “Russian Lullaby,” deploying a relatively traditional line-up of guitar, bass, and harmonica, driven vocally by a nice, crooning lilt; and the harmonies here were truly something special. This led to the new album’s title track, Duke Ellington’s “Delta Blues,” at which point I had to exit, though the band and the radio show still had plenty of time remaining. I’m sure I don’t know what I missed; and I could have known but didn’t, as I forgot I had been at a radio show, so I didn’t think to turn the radio on while I drove home.
The Between-Band “Break” Performers
That was the end of my evening, a heck of a night. Of course, as I mentioned, there were performances during the breaks between the main artists. Each of three performers delivered a single song twice during the evening, a terrific idea for showcasing additional artists during the program. As noted earlier, I stepped out of the studio during part of each of these breaks, but I heard three of the six songs, as performed by two of the three artists.
I was in the room for both of Kevin Kvein’s songs. His first, “Age of Destruction,” was a mid-tempo strummer with a kind of open, echoey vocal style. His second song, currently untitled, was even more interesting. Rich, warm finger-picking guitar with a fragile vocal, not trembling though it seems like it should have been. Very cool and original.
I only heard Edwin’s second song of the evening, his rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman Blues,” a well-conceived slow-paced blues performance with an airy, almost Western feel.
This radio studio live performance experience was very cool, and I look forward to keeping an eye on The Folk Revival’s Facebook group to see when there are future live shows that fit my schedule.
Shawna Caspi’s concert schedule, per the gigs page on her website, continues with a gig at Bear’s Place in Bloomington, IN on October 3rd; a house concert in Grosse Pointe, MI on October 6th; a show at the Unitarian Universality Community Church of Hendricks Country in Danville, IN on October 7th; and a Musical Hospitality Coffeehouse show at Boss Community Center in Kewanee, IL on October 8th. Following that, her calendar lists a series of shows October 11th-14th in British Columbia, an October 20th show at the Folk Alliance Region Midwest (FARM) Conference in Iowa City, IA, and then some shows back in Ontario. Check out Shawna’s website for additional details and more concert listings.
Outrageous Fortune’s next gig is Saturday, October 14th, 1:00-3:00 PM at Cafe L’Aroma in West Newton, MA. (You know how I love daytime shows; this’ll be great fun!) Keep an eye on the “shows” page of the band’s website for information about additional shows as they are added.
And, lest I forget, Tomoko Iwamoto is a member of the gypsy jazz outfit 440. Per the group’s Facebook events page, they’re performing at 11:00 AM today, October 1st, for Sunday brunch at the Trail’s End Cafe in Concord, MA. This is usually a second Sunday of the month gig, but it’s obviously the first Sunday this month. And, as always, check back at the Facebook page for upcoming show announcements as they’re added.