Shipe @ Silver Moon w/ Emma Hill / Debut on Uke

It is good to be gigging in Bend, Oregon, a place I have sorely neglected of late.

Silver Moon Brewing is a terrific scaled down venue, filling a Central Oregon venue gap since the demise of The Grove some years ago. (Frankly, for acoustic music, it’s a better room, with a more intimate feng shui.)

A few words about Emma Hill & Her Gentlemen Callers: Two thumbs up. She brought only one of her gentlemen callers to this gig. (Brian, her pedal steel player/backing vocalist.) I prefer it that way. Emma has a gorgeous full voice–a charming, emotional performer, which might come through when backed by a full electric band. But in sparse format, you get the full dimension of her art. That’s a paradox for singer/songwriters. Less is more. You really hear and feel her wisdom, wit and honest emotion. Amongst many of the Northwest folk artists I’ve played with, she stands out in sheer intelligence of songcraft.

I particularly liked a song probably called “Keeper,” a brilliant, slightly jolly take on having the lower hand in a relationship. She sings, smiling: “I’m not your ‘keeper,’ but a little bit of you loves me.” She exhibits vulnerability without the dire, angst that threatens an audience’s comfort zone.

Even though I played first, I must have benefited retroactively from the vibe she created. I loved playing for her audience. Generous and responsive, used to paying attention. They indulged me in my debut on ukele–my latest original “The Beast is Back Again.” (I’m loving this new song of mine, influenced by Leon Redbone, about falling off the wagon after 10 long years of boring clean soberiety.)

There’s nothing like a gig where they face the stage, listen to your stage banter (even your pretentious navel-gazing), listen to the music & lyrics, laugh at the funny parts, and erupt into applause after every song. Lovely.

The reason a fellow goes solo-acoustic is to explore subtleties–particularly in the downward dynamic. But you only get that when the audience is willing to go quiet right along with you.

Another word about Emma, native Alaskan daughter of a bush pilot: The highest compliment I can pay to a fellow artist is when I pull out my notepad and start jotting down lyric ideas during her set, which I did. It means she has put me in “the zone.”

I found myself thinking about a certain detail of performance; when a performer says “Thank you” to the audience at the end of a song. Some say it the moment after the song finishes, before the audience applauds. That was Emma’s style. My style is to wait until the audience actually applauds. I do this consciously, thus communicating that I hear the applause and I appreciate the appreciation, acknowledging that it fuels me as I continue with my set. Emma’s quick-draw-thankyou style, and that of many others, communicates gratitude for the audience listening in the first place, regardless of applause. (i.e., “Thank you for the 4 minutes of your time you’ve just given to me.”) Nothing wrong with that. But I’ve witnessed some frontfolks uttering mechanically, “Thank you!” like an automatic tag after every song. For me, that becomes meaningless, and does nothing to enhance my connection. Not to mention, what if the audience isn’t listening at all? (And sometimes they don’t, no matter how good you are.) That version of “thankyou” is mere affect, part of a pose.

I wax over-analytical, but any method to keep the connection genuine is best for me.