(Mostly written by Evelyn Chapman)
Sam Barron has been performing for close to ten years now, and has been here at Sidewalk for the past few years. Thursday night we all gathered together to celebrate the release of his newest album, Hex Moon. We haven’t bought it yet – shame on us – but after hearing him perform it was easy to fall for his soft-spoken and easy listening style. Ben Krieger opened with a set on electric guitar – on any night it isn’t strange to see Ben filling in where he is needed. It’s almost as if he knows when the club needs to book any extra act… We were lucky. It could have been a Yossarian Feedback show, or he could have performed as The Beekeeper, or Sound of Salesmen. Worse, when Brian Speaker showed up, there could have been the umpteenth reunion of Crabs on Banjo, with their brand of improvisational rough rock. Instead, we got a steady diet of electric folk from the Sidewalk’s booker, the Open Stage’s host, and the weight-losingest man on the scene (now that Carl Creighton’s MIA), all in one bearded body.
Sam Barron, the man of the hour, opened his set with a song on ukulele dedicated to Lou Reed, which references literally a few members of the pantheon of rock and roll undead. It may be called “What’s Good for Some,” but we can’t tell, since it’s not on Hex Moon. It might be called “Not Good for Anyone.” Alternately, it could be called “Ukulele Rag # 509.” Who knows?
Barron moved on to guitar to play the first song on his album. Sam does a wonderful job of making the songs as personal to his audience as they are to him, by providing their stories of their birth, ala Storytellers. In this way – and in many others – I can’t help but think of Billy Joel. Bear with me: Sam’s songs are similarly lost, hopeless, and beautifully bitter, and his lyrics are soulful and sweet. I mention Billy Joel in nothing but good ways. I hadn’t realized I was already a fan of Sam when I arrived; at the Halloween party I recently attended, Rebecca Florence covered Barron’s gorgeously bitter ode to New York, “NYC,” a song for anybody who understands the complicated relationship New Yorkers have with their city. Sam closed his set with “Go,” an appropriate song judging by the lyrics. “You’ve come so far, but you’ve got so far to go.” It was full of hope and oh so relatable to so many of the musical folk who haunt the Sidewalk stage.
Next thing I knew a tall long-haired Master Lee had taken the microphone, opening with the question, “Have you ever smoked so much Marijuana, you forgot where you put the Marijuana?” And it only got better from there, as Chink Floyd (featuring the musicianship of Jonathan Vincent Wood and Mr. Brook Shields) related Lee’s tales of parenthood, creativity, and… Zen? Maybe it was Zen. That’s Asian, right?
Charles Mansfield was the next act, playing with an increasingly AntiFolk all-star ensemble as the creatively titled Charles Mansfield Band. Their song “Monday Morning” was heart-shaking in that way you can feel every cavity of your body vibrate. That good. Did I buy his album that night? I did not. I am a bad fan.
Debe Dalton closed up the night, with a very specific set list that Sam had specifically requested, and for good reason. Debe has been performing since the mid-seventies, and frequented the Sidewalk long enough to have been awarded a plaque on the side of the stage. Everybody who’s anybody knows the blue-haired lady with a banjo – just don’t call her the Banjo Lady!
Thankfully, the moon had not been hexed that evening. It had been a mellow Thursday night, and from what I could tell, it was perfect for the album and the artist we were celebrating.