For all intents and purposes I spent the better half of Friday afternoon and evening in Cincinnati, Ohio even if I really was in Newport, Kentucky. Sure, I was on the southern side of the Ohio River, which meant I was in the Bluegrass State, but most of the cars had Ohio license plates. The main indicator that I wasn't in the Buckeye State was smoking in the bar section where I saw the concert. (Ohio has a smoking ban in all restaurants and bars. The concert I saw in the ballroom was designated nonsmoking, but there are three performance spaces in the building. People were puffing away in the lounge.)
Above in the background you see Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Bengals
; Great American Ball Park, home of the Reds
; and some of the Cincinnati skyline. (If you look closely, you might notice a building familiar from WKRP in Cincinnati
After a morning press screening and a stop for lunch at one of the city's two Sonic
locations, I made my way south. (I should mention that aside from whatever strange bond I've made with Sonic, their food leaves something to be desired. The drinks are where it's at.) I've made this drive several times and never found it to be very interesting, but with the kind of week it was, some brain-clearing time behind the wheel listening to music was a welcome relief. I looked more with amazement than anger at the stubborn jerk with the Jack Bauer for President sticker on the rear window of his van. He was driving under the speed limit in the left lane and steadfastly refused to get over or speed up, meaning that traffic was backing up quite a ways behind him. (A semi was in the right lane, so no one could get around.)
I arrived in Newport around 3:30 p.m. and took some time to get my bearings. I found where The Southgate House
was and then was ready to knit. As I wrote yesterday
, I was undisturbed as I busied myself with the blanket.
Newport Oktoberfest was taking place by the river, so I wandered over to it for a short bit. The party hadn't really started yet. The oompah band was doing a soundcheck, and the vendors were twiddling their thumbs waiting for people to arrive. I wasn't all that hungry, but I knew I needed to eat something. The options were minimal: two German food vendors and a pizza chain selling slices. No wonder admission was free. I bought a bratwurst and walked along the river for awhile.
I still had a couple hours until the doors opened for the concert. I decided to take a look around Newport. As I made my way back to Newport on the Levee I was somewhat taken aback to see Kelly Willis
, who I had come to see sing, walking toward me. Although she was wearing black rectangular glasses, I recognized her. I don't think I get particularly starstruck, but it can be jarring to see someone in public whom you're accustomed to seeing only on stage or in the media. I didn't say anything as we passed at the intersection at Third and Monmouth. I figured most people in her position would rather not be bothered, and what did I have to say anyway? Good luck tonight?
While sitting in front of the aquarium I finished my second skein of yarn. According to my estimate, 42 rows of increased stitches is equal to a one foot by one foot section of the blanket. The second skein yielded exactly 42 rows, from 116 to 158 increases, a mathematical symmetry I found rather pleasing. I'm increasing to 168 stitches, so I'm fairly certain I will need a fifth skein to make a four foot by four foot blanket. (Don't ask me how the math works in this. I'm not sure it's correct.) I bought another today, so I have my bases covered.
The historical marker in front of The Southgate House informed me that the location was the birthplace of the inventor of the Tommygun
. It's an interesting venue for live music. The lounge and ballroom are simple, unpretentious spaces that invite you in. (I didn't see the parlour
.) The house also has an art gallery.
I guess they ran out of L's for their sign and had to resort to turning 7s upside down. The Southgate House's schedule features an impressive list of performers coming through. This picture shows some of the diversity. I'm not familiar with the music of Deerhunter, just their notorious antics that have been detailed at Pitchfork
. Pretty different from what I was going to be seeing.
I've seen Kelly Willis in concert several times, but I never quite know what to expect audience-wise. She's been releasing albums since 1990 but never broke through on the country music scene. The most consistent place she's played that's reasonably close is The Ark
in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It's a wonderful, intimate venue that holds three or four hundred people tops. She drew well every time I went to The Ark, and I'm surprised she's not playing there while promoting her newest album. Southgate House saves me an hour on the drive, so no complaints here.
I was toward the front of the line waiting to be let into the general admission seating area, but I didn't expect that I would end up snagging a seat at the center table in the front. I was five feet from the stage, if that, and had an unobstructed view. Not bad for less than twenty bucks. I sat with the people who had been ahead of me in line, and we talked until the show started. The period between getting in and waiting for the concert to start can seem interminable, so having some people to talk with was nice. (Going back to my assertion in the first paragraph, none of them were from Kentucky.)
I reckon that there were only fifty people in attendance, but Kelly and the five members of her band (guitar, bass, fiddle/mandolin, drums, and keyboards/organ) tore through twenty-three songs as though the room was packed. Translated from Love
, her latest album, is the most upbeat collection of her career in terms of tempo and subject matter, and the new songs sounded great live. After a hard week, it was a joy to hear her energetic set.
Most of the music I've listened to through the years has not been steeped in virtuosity. Rock and roll's power often comes from a distinct lack of it. With Kelly Willis, though, her remarkable voice is what hooked me. It's like a combination of honey and vinegar, sweet with notes of the sour. (Maybe a comparison to balsamic vinegar is more apt.) That voice, coupled with unerring taste in songwriters and her own strong writing, is what made me a fan.
She's the real deal as a singer. Her voice shines through on CD and is just as strong and clear live. She may sound even better in person, which I expect isn't true for a large number of today's singers, whose voices have been processed like crazy for recordings. On stage she comes across as modest and passionate, qualities also inherent in her music.
Anyone who spends significant time consuming art in various forms knows that it isn't necessary to like the creator to appreciate their achievements. I like Kanye West's albums--honest--but the guy projects the image of an egomaniac. Still, it's nice to find talented people who appear to value humility and hard work. I have no way of knowing, but Kelly Willis seems like someone with a good soul whose success has been earned through years of plugging away at her craft. There weren't a lot of people at Southgate House to see her, but she seemed grateful for those who were at the club and knew her work. We were rewarded with a terrific concert.
For me the time out of town and the concert provided the opportunity to shake off what's been weighing me down of late. (I mean that in the metaphorical sense. There was no dancing.) When opening performer Amy LaVere
took the stage and started slapping away at her upright bass and playing her bluesy and jazzy songs, I could feel myself relaxing as the music washed over me. (I was totally unfamiliar with her but liked what I heard. Her music was kind of reminiscent of Joe Henry.) I badly needed the relief I received from having time to knit and see one of my favorite singers perform. Take me to the river indeed.
A note on the concert photos: I haven't figured out the best way to shoot these with my camera. I don't use the flash, in part to keep from being obnoxious but also because it probably would be ineffective. The result is that many of the photos can be smeary. I'm also of the opinion that my camera doesn't handle red very well. I've attempted to correct the color and sharpen the images. Applying the black and white effect smooths out the fuzziness and delivers a nice image, which is why I included one of those pictures here.
Labels: concerts, Kelly Willis, knitting in public, on the road