I’ve been meaning to blog about the amazing night of folk music we enjoyed here in Washington on Wednesday night. Held at Solly’s on U Street and billed as "Out With It – A Night of Out Guys With Guitars" it featured the song stylings (who came up with that phrase?!?!) of Eric Himan, Tom Goss and Jon Bozeman.
We got there about an hour before the upstairs performance space opened and sat at the bar downstairs. We didn’t know how many folks would show up because it was a Gay folk concert and … well, you know the old saw about "Gay men are only into dance music blah blah blah." We hadn’t eaten dinner so, while Pete and Lyman drank at the bar, I walked over to a great Peruvian chicken place across the street and grabbed some takeout. By the time I got back (about 20 minutes) the bar was packed with guys waiting for the concert to start. They soon opened the doors and we went upstairs for the show.
Jon Bozeman was up first. From New York, he’d met Eric Himan at an environmental festival a while back and they, along with Goss, cooked up this idea for a night of Gay male folk music. Bozeman’s work is just lovely. His songs have some great wordplay and I especially loved a love song he wrote called "One to One" (on his latest cd). There was another great "fuck you"-post breakup song called "Take the Best of Me" (I believe that’s the title?) Bozeman did nice yeoman’s work on a Damian Rice cover before sharing a few more of his own compositions. These included a clap-along acapella song titled "Sexy Professor" — written for every cute professor you had in college. Other songs I enjoyed included "I Can’t Sleep" and the rollicking "To No Conclusions." Another stand out was a song called "Lonely Drinker" that Bozeman explained was written before he came of age. In it he imagines what it’d be like to finally gain admission to the bar. I think we’ve all been there before and it was interesting to sort of time travel back to that period. I can still recall the revelation of my first night at a Gay bar. It was Whitmanic for me to be surrounded by all these other men just like me. That seems a million miles away today but Bozeman sparked the memory again with this song from the other side of the entrance doors.
I have to say that I enjoyed every one of these artists but somehow Bozeman was the only one who didn’t leave me wondering about influences. His voice, which was flawless, is truly his own and I delighted in hearing someone well on his way to creating some great music. He has two discs out, one a shiny packaged thing for $10 and a great live cd done in consummate DIY style for the bargain price of $5. I actually picked up the latter because it had that love song that so moved me.
After a short break Tom Goss got the crowd going again with a lively set of original music and a few covers. Goss’s guitar work was really impressive and intricately thought out. The whole set was very high energy and as a performer Goss makes a full body job out of it. He was dancing as he performed, and although a bit distracting at times, it spoke to the infectious tone of most of his songs. His sound seems very indebted to Dave Matthews (at least to my ears and my tablemates) and he certainly shares that driving sound in his compositions. He tended to chat more with the crowd and worked hard to build a connection with the room. There was an interesting song he riddled the crowd with ("what’s this next song about? Guess.") Turns out the song was about wrestling (seems one of the interesting chestnuts about his past, along with seminary training for the Catholic priesthood, was his being a big wrestler. I very much enjoyed a song he wrote for his once-AWOL brother that turned into a great anti-war, anti-Bush song, (by way of a defense of his little brother) — "He knows your game is lies." Other highlights included a song called In the Morning Sun and a song written during his period of celibacy titled (tongue planted firmly in cheek?) "Come Around."
The local mind behind setting this gig up, Goss clearly has the chops for a concert a delicious snarl of a voice. That said I would’ve appreciated hearing more of his piano based compositions (he sang one piece he described as his "Gay anthem" on a keyboard — a great line: "If the devil’s in each touch, I’ll greet each flame").
So far the night was two for two in pure delight.
And then Eric Himan took the stage. He started with a few minutes of a blistering bit of guitar work that just got the crowd going. I mean it was a nice little rumble, sort of dirty bluesy Claptony riffing that just warned everyone in the audience to prepare for some serious rollicking fun. He did not let us down. By way of brief introduction he explained that he’d been touring and doing music for the last 4 1/2 years and he’d always wanted to experience what he had that night.. a room full of Gay men (okay there were a few women but it was like 98% Gay men in the crowd). He shared that he’d played over the years in Lesbian clubs and at festivals and while the fans were appreciative, the Lesbians would say, "but you’re a guy?" and then he shared the old saw he heard over and over again… how Gay men don’t listen to folk music. But here he was standing in front of a very large, standing room only crowd of very appreciative hungry Gay men ready for folk music.
What to say about Himan’s set. He floored us over and over again. Beginning with a great song he said he wrote for all the anti-Gay protestors who show up at all the Pride Festivals he attends. The piece was so funny and elicited some of the most enthusiastic clapping of the evening. He told me later it would be on the next cd he’s putting out (Himan puts out a disc a year it seems — he’s that productive!). He played a very energetic cover of Dolly Parton’s "Jolene" that had the crowd almost singing along in places. Himan’s influences seem very much in the Tracy Chapman vein. Something about his playing and singing. That’s extremely fortunate for his listeners because it puts him on footing to tackle some very difficult material. He powerfully covered Patti Griffin’s song "Tony" in memory of a Gay high school friend who’d committed suicide. He had a great slow song about weakness — thinking about an ex after you’ve broken up with him. Another song "White Horse" about friends waiting to be "rescued" by a knight on a white horse. A very funny song called "Heart Clean" written for guys who don’t get the message when they constantly hit on you in bars. Then there was the very funny song about falling for Bartenders that had some very witty word play. There wasn’t a misfire in the entire set. It was all on and the guitar playing and the singing just perfect. He gave a great encore in the form of his own recasting of Nina Simone’s "Nobody Wants You When You’re Down & Out." I love Simone and know that recording very, very well, but I daresay Himan reformats it in a way that leaves it unrecognizable while so very enjoyable. I would’ve loved to have listened to that take one more time to see what sorcery he’d just done.
A wonderful evening. May there be many more to come. Till then, visit their websites, find out when they’re coming to a town near you, visit their myspaces and listen to their music and support them by buying some of their stuff. Keep the love and good music going.
Here’s a Himan Youtube to give you a taste: