My concert recaps tend to be rather fawning and fangirly. I recognize this, and for the most part I’ve kind of embraced it. But I’m hoping that this recap will be a little different. Because Sunday night’s show was about a lot more than my seeing a musician who has become a friend and about how amazing he continues to be. It was a celebration of what I’m hoping is a rising music culture.
Over the past 4 or 5 years I have found myself becoming increasingly fond of independent music as I have grown increasingly disenfranchised with popular music. It’s probably not a coincidence that this began with my discovery of Graham himself. In fact, he became a kind of symbol of this music blog. He was the first one I ever wrote about, and I truly believe that were it not for him, I might never have embraced independent music the way I have.
The wonderful thing is that the more shows I attend in support of Graham, the more I find other music to love. I usually enjoy his opening acts, and I often begin following them after his shows. In fact, while I write this recap, I’m listening to Chase Kerby’s new EP. (More on that later.)
The fact that this show happened to be in the home of an Oklahoma City resident named Sheri just makes it that much more perfect. Many of you reading this know that I myself hosted a show for Graham at our house in January. It remains the most incredible experience of my life, music-wise. I truly believe that this show and others like it are the future of music tours. Participating in enough of them, through either hosting or attendance, and I think you’ll believe the same.
Graham has started a website with friends and family, Fanswell.com, that embraces this trend and is doing its best to promote it. My show with Graham was put together through it, and Sheri’s was as well. The great thing about it is that it has signed up many artists who have embraced this concept too, and it’s adding more all the time. If you love independent music, you really should consider signing up as a potential host. One of your favorite artists just may be the next to sign up, if he or she hasn’t already.
Okay, leaving the essay behind for a moment…let’s get on with the show.
My first encounter with anyone happened to be with Sheri herself, although I didn’t know it at the time. Eric and I had just come inside and sat down, and she came to me and told me how much she loved my hair. I thanked her and responded in kind – Sheri’s hair is a beautiful rich red. It wasn’t until I saw her shaking hands with people later and offering her name that I realized it was her. Ha.
A little while later I decided to go back to the kitchen, where she was holding court, and introduce myself properly. Well, that was my plan. Unfortunately a certain someone was standing in the doorway and completely blocked my path. His face lit up, and he said, “Wow, look at you, rockstar!” (I’m pretty sure he was referring to my hair – he hadn’t seen it in its rainbow glory yet. LOL)
So of COURSE I had to talk with Graham for a while, and well, “a while” turned into “until he actually had to leave to go on stage.” Basically the upshot is that I never actually got the chance to introduce myself to Sheri until after the show. Oops.
(I’m joking, as I’m sure is obvious. You all know I’m always happy to talk with Graham.)
Our kitchen conversation actually led to my first introduction to another musician at the show. His name was Andrew, and he mentioned that Graham was helping him produce a work. (I can’t remember if it was an EP or a full-length CD, please forgive me.)
Sheri went to the stage, and first she let us know who will be at her next show – John Moreland. (I looked him up later because I was pretty sure I’d heard of him. His claim to fame is that several of his songs have been featured on a TV show that a LOT of my friends love, Sons of Anarchy.) Then she introduced Graham.
He started out with “Summer to Me,” from his newest CD Lonely Ones — a CD that I still love and firmly believe is Graham’s finest work to date. He then played “Born to Raise Hell,” also known as “the serial killer song.” The funniest part of this song is that right before the final measures, there was a pause, and the audience began applauding. Graham then said, “Not yet,” and we all burst into laughter. He finished with the first two lines of the first verse, and then he gave a big nod of his head, as if to say, “okay, NOW you can applaud.” It worked — we cracked up laughing as we cheered and clapped.
Before I continue, I’ll mention this. Sheri’s house is set up so that the front door opens directly into the living room. Not just the living room, but The Living Room; that is, the actual concert space. So, if you happened to be running a little late and got to the show while the music was happening, it might be a little awkward.
Of course, that’s exactly what happened. TWICE. Actually, the first time, Graham heard a noise outside the front door, and then he joked that someone was about to be really embarrassed. Then he had an idea: “I know – I’LL answer the door.” That’s just what he did. Can you imagine going to a house for a concert and then having the door opened by the musician you’re going to see when you reach the door? It was hilarious. The looks on the faces of the women who had just arrived was priceless.
The second time it happened, there was no awkward silence while the late arrival worried that she was interrupting a song or anecdote. She just reached the door and marched right in. Graham lauded her “total confidence” in marching into the house late. Which was just as funny, in a different sort of way, as the first late arrival.
Another of my favorite moments happened when Graham was introducing a song that I’d heard him play many, many times live. Aside from the joy of hearing his voice and watching him pour his heart and soul into his performance, one of the best things about seeing Graham is hearing his stories about the songs he performs. Sunday night he told us about the experience of writing “Don’t Give Up On Me” with Dan Wilson. This was, Graham told us, his first collaboration with anyone, his first meeting with Dan (the lead singer of the band Semisonic), and he was just 19 years old and completely starstruck. He told us about playing for Dan a verse of a song he had been working on, and how Dan simply went to his piano and right there and then played the entire chorus of the song.
I must add that what made this story even more amusing was that Graham added that Dan had, instead of a piano bench, an exercise ball. Meanwhile Chase mimed Dan sitting on an exercise ball at the piano. I tell you, these two need to take their comedy show on the road. (Graham is always great at playing “straight man” to his comedic stage partners.)
Graham shared another amusing story before performing his newest song, a demo called “Lightning in Bottles” that he co-wrote with a Nashville songwriter, Eric Arjes. He told us that he originally had dreams of writing a huge arena-style song that could be performed by a major star like Kenny Chesney. (Why Graham is always invoking Kenny Chesney’s name whenever he wants to mention a huge country star, I don’t know. I don’t know enough about country music, I guess!)
The song they wrote wound up being far different – much more personal and intimate and beautiful. Graham made an innocent comment about the beauty of songwriting, that two strangers could meet and produce magic and an hour later, there’s a song. Graham added that your songs were kind of like your children. Chase then compared songwriting to creating children (ahem…) and it became simultaneously awkward and hysterically funny. At least it was to me. Maybe I just have a dirty mind!
Anyway, I recorded both anecdote and song, and you can watch the video here. Please accept my deepest apologies for my ridiculous laughter. I know I have the most horrible laugh in the world – I can’t help it.
Graham also performed a song I had never heard live before, that he said was one of the first songs he ever wrote, called “Can’t Stand Here Waiting.” It appeared on his very first album, and here I will share with you that I am enough of a nerd that I keep a list of all the songs that I have not yet heard Graham perform live that I really want to hear. This song was on that list. Now it is not. Yay!
I recorded this one as well, and you’ll see it below. Before I began filming he mentioned that he hadn’t played this song in a very long time, but he had decided to perform it in a few of his earlier shows that weekend. Because it had been so long, he couldn’t remember the lyrics. How did he recover those lyrics?
You’ve probably already guessed the answer — he Googled them. Yes. Graham Colton Googled the lyrics to one of his own songs. He added with delight, “But I found them! They were there! This must mean I’ve made it!”
As is pretty much essential whenever Graham plays with Chase, they performed “Graceland.” This is a song that Chase wrote and offered to Graham during one of their own first songwriter collaboration meetings, and Graham recalled the way the song blew him away and how he basically begged Chase to let him have it. Back when I saw Graham and Chase perform in Weatherford in April, Chase told me that when he gave the song to Graham, the latter had “put his Graham spin on it.” Graham was far more humble: “I stole it and changed a few words. I think I changed ‘the’ to ‘and’ a few times.” He added “we songwriters are just thieves.”
He also added that Chase would sing the part that belonged to Sherrie Chamberlain on his album Pacific Coast Eyes, and it would be very good and we should all feel free to give him wild applause wherever we saw fit. It reminded me very much of a show at the Blue Door a few years back when Brine Webb was playing electric guitar for Graham, and the latter encouraged us to go crazy whenever Brine had anything resembling “a moment.” The resulting insanity was very much like the way we reacted in Sheri’s Living Room whenever Chase had something resembling a solo.
I think his was also when Graham mentioned that Chase had just released an EP, and added “I challenge you to check it out.” Chase responded, “I do too.” I asked Chase after the show to remind me of where I could find it, and here’s the link: chasekerby.bandcamp.com. You can listen before you buy, and you can pay whatever you want. PLEASE buy it if you like it. Support good music.
Sorry, I’ll hop back off my soapbox now.
Graham saved “Hands Untied” for late in the show, and for a few fleeting moments I feared he wouldn’t perform it at all. I was so happy when he not only performed it, but he referred to it as “my favorite from my newest album.” It’s mine, too. It’s hard to pick a favorite from that CD as every song is ridiculously high quality, but “Hands Untied” inspires me.
Other songs on the set list included “Love Comes Back Around,” “Cigarette,” “Cut,” and “Cellophane Girl.” I have no idea if there were others. I’ll probably remember them a few days from now.
After the show, as always, Graham encouraged us to hang out and talk and pick up some CDs if we were so inclined. I later joked with Graham that he needed to get new stuff for me to buy. Eric added that Graham needed to offer black shirts because “I’m a guy, and you know, guys like black.”
The funny thing is that the conversations I remember most following the show weren’t even with Graham. I mean, I remember talking to Graham (and specifically I mentioned that I had worn my Born to Raise Hell T-shirt in public only once and probably never would again, because I got funny looks, LOL), but the other conversations I had touched me greatly.
Eric, me, and Graham
First, Eric and I happened to talk with a young man who had also been in the first row of chairs. I had enjoyed watching him watch Graham almost as much as I enjoyed watching Graham myself. His name was Nathan Grant, and he was also an aspiring singer-songwriter. Not only aspiring but inspired: he shared that Graham had inspired he himself to start pursuing his music seriously. He eagerly told us how he had quit his job (he was an automotive technician) so he could pursue his dream fulltime. He told us about the album he was putting together, about the touring he was planning…the excitement on his face and that permeated every cell of his body made his passion obvious, and beautiful to see. Right there while we talked, I pulled up his Facebook fan page on my phone and “liked” him. Without even hearing a single note of his music. I felt like anyone with that much passion deserved a listen.
Later Eric and I talked with Chase. I started our conversation by asking him about his EP, because I wanted the opportunity to download it. The whole time we talked with him, he was putting away equipment – a special kind of skill, in my opinion. From Chase I heard the other side of the music industry, someone who’s been doing this a while and is trying to produce his best work with honesty and passion. He told me a little about a campaign he’s working on with PledgeMusic (a crowdfunding site somewhat like Kickstarter, only it focuses exclusively on music).
Chase & me
Something about Chase just really touched me. He’s good. He’s really, really good. But I feel like there was maybe a bit of frustration from him in not yet having much success in getting his music out there. And I understand that. It makes my heart ache. Someone with tons of talent who works his butt off the way Chase does really has to struggle to find an audience. He emphasized several times that he isn’t in the music industry to “make it” – he’s not interested in fame. But he wants to be heard. Just like every musician does. Artists, after all, are only half the equation. Without audiences, artists can feel irrelevant.
Sunday night reminded me of why I love the living room concert experience, but it also reminded me of why I love independent music. The rawness of talent, the emotional honesty, the skill and determination involved in playing your own instruments and writing your own songs and finding your own collaborations and fighting to make your voice heard and your art resonate…all of that is something worth supporting. It’s why I’ve been supporting Graham for years, and it’s why I want to support every independent artist whose music speaks to me. I hope you will, too. Without independent musicians, I truly believe music would lose its soul. And what else is music about, but soul?