WXPN Singer-Songwriter Weekend 2004

Well, it was a tough job (to go two out of three days) but somebody had to do it... (originally written as email to musically inclined friends on Sunday July 18, 2004).  WXPN's Singer- Songwriter Weekend took place July 16th through 18th at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, PA. 

Rachel Yamagata -  I was totally brainwashed by hearing "Worn Me Down" too many times (I guess it wore me down) as it's been in hot rotation on xpn for the last month so I bought her disc at the merchandise table before her set (big mistake, potentially).  If Yamagata had kept her mouth shut between songs, she might have been able to pull off quirky, or maybe even interesting, but as it was she came off more annoying than anything else.  Was kicking myself for not trying to return the unopened CD to the merchandise table. The good news is that I'm listening to the CD now as I type this, and it's much better than she was, really good in fact.

Fountains of Wayne -  Nice live versions of many of the great songs on Welcome Interstate Managers.  Nice and loud too.  Fifty-somethings rocking out like they probably haven't in years.  Music that parents and twenty-something kids can agree on.  Great choice to headline the first night of singer-songwriter weekend.

Nellie McKay -  I think Nellie added many new rercruits to her fan base with her set that opened Saturday's program.  She threw in a couple of new songs including one that promotes Kerry while pining for Nader.  She slowed down some of the songs just slightly from the record, like "Clonie" which allowed the audience to hear and understand the words and enjoy the humor.  The more intense rap sections like on "Sari" won her applause just like you sometimes get after a great instrumental solo. On "Won't You Please Be Nice" the crowd picked up on all of the humorous lines.  Although she's been touring and performing constantly for the past six months or so behind her record, she's still apparently not comfortable on stage yet and she's still got a definite deer-in-the-headlights quality to her stage presence that is totally endearing.  A great opener for Saturday.

Mindy Smith -  As Mindy Smith was playing, I realized that this time last year I had never heard the names Nellie McKay or Mindy Smith and yet this was the second time seeing McKay and the third time seeing Smith, thank you WXPN (Sony too).  I sense a slight attitude in Mindy Smith that she thinks she's better than you - I could be imagining that, but I don't think so.  She's written a few really good songs and a bunch of average ones, has a nice rootsy sound courtesy of the excellent guitarist she works with, plus for this gig she borrowed one of the members of Nickel Creek to play with her. It's still curious how she came up with the Dolly Parton connection while still an unsigned unknown but it has served her well. This was the most enjoyable performance of the three I've seen her do.

Lauren Hart, Mutlu, Jim Boggia -  "Philly Local in the Round" as it's been dubbed by Helen Leicht of xpn, this being her one and only contribution to the station that I not only don't find annoying, but actually enjoy.  This being the second time I've had the pleasure, the first been the free 6pm show at the Kimmel Center on 3/24/04 with Mutlu, Boggia, Amos Lee and Phil Roy in which all four were excellent.  This time around Lauren Hart was pleasant but her songs were forgettable.  I really like what I've heard thus far from Mutlu - he writes some great stuff and has a great voice that doesn't hesitate to soar into falsetto range - he might be the next generation of blue-eyed Philly soul. I'd tell you what's up w/his name but I don't remember exactly, I think it's his actual last name maybe - he's American born (Philly native) to a Turkish family - might be a little presumptuous with the whole one name thing, but he does have the talent apparently to pull it off. Jim Boggia is always an enjoyable, engaging performer, did a few newly written songs this time - his highly energetic stage presence does kind of make me nervous however - he might think about cutting back on the Wawa coffee. All three joined for a great finale version of the old Staples Singers song "I'll Take You There" - a nod to WXPN who use that song to promote their recent fundraising project for building their new studio - medley'd with the old Stones song "Waiting on a Friend."  Nice.

Michael McDermott -  If not for his excellent lead guitar player, this set might have been a total waste. Who am I kidding, this set was a total waste.  McDermott seems like a complete John Mellencamp wannabe only without Mellencamp's ability to write a catchy song. He only stopped the rock posturing between songs long enough to say over and over again how he waited for ten years to be invited to Singer-Songwriter weekend and how glad he was to be here. If not for the fact that I was surrounded by guys who seemed to be totally into it, cheering wildly and singing along, I'd think that Bruce Warren has some explaining to do.  Maybe he does anyway. Or maybe I'm just missing something...

John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting -  Ondrasik has such a powerful voice and sense of melody that he (like Julia Fordham or Kim Richey to name a couple recent examples) can totally take command of a song, regardless of how much or how little instrumental backup there is. This was a solo performance on acoustic guitar and piano with assistance from one additional acoustic guitarist. He's written a few really great songs ("100 Years") and a few average ones -his batting average is good though. He's clearly revelling in his stardom however he seemed genuine enough onstage that it never came off obnoxious.  At one point he singled out some little kid sitting up on the base of a light pole elevated a bit above the crowd, asked the kid his name, and said how it totally made his day that during "100 Years" this kid who looked about ten years old, was singing along every word of the song.

Shemekia Copeland -  Only being marginally familiar with Copeland I briefly considered not staying for the last set on Saturday's lineup. What a monumental mistake it would have been to leave and not hear this. Copeland, who is the daughter of old time bluesman Johnny Copeland, performed the best set of the two days and basically blew everyone else off the stage.  Her voice is more soulful than bluesy although it works great for both types of song - absolutely on par with the greats like Aretha.  Her songwriting is excellent too - no stretch at all to include her on Singer-Songwriter weekend.  Her band was smokin' hot, totally excellent all the way around - guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards - two electronic keyboards, one set to sound like a piano, the other as the classic Hammond B-3 organ - all players sounding as great as one would ever hope to imagine.  By the time she did "It's 2 AM" the entire crowd was up and dancing and didn't sit down for the rest of the set.  If I had had any idea of how great this set would be, I would've twisted the arms of all my Friday night compatriots to come back with me for Saturday's concert. In retrospect it makes total sense that they scheduled her to close the show.  When Jonny Meister introduced her, he said that when he started doing the Saturday night blues show on xpn 27 years ago, Shemekia wasn't even born yet.  He remembered her at age ten or eleven coming out on stage during her father's concerts to do a song. According to her website, she's fully booked for the rest of the year touring as opening act for B.B. King and then opening for Dr. John. The Dr. John tour comes our way October 19th at McCarter Theater in Princeton - we may have to give that some serious consideration. Anyone near Foxwoods Casino in CT might want to know that she's there w/B.B. King on 9/4.  This set was as good as it gets. Check out her complete tour schedule here:


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