Category Archives: Folk

Attention to Small Details

Rob always plays fantastic; I can never say enough good things about him. There’s something about how his Gretsch hollow body guitar rings out when he’s standing on stage alone. It’s like his voice melds perfectly with the guitar’s sound and carries through the bar, entrancing anyone who steps through the door. While he’s playing, I see a guy standing at the front, cash in hand to pay the cover for tonight’s show, and he’s just frozen, staring at the front where Rob’s performing. The guy working the door doesn’t seem to mind: he’s just as entranced as the guy with the money. I don’t think he even realizes that ten dollar bill is for him.

Tonight’s show is a little different. Where normally each performer gets thirty to forty-five minutes to play through as many songs as he knows before the next performer comes on, tonight there are three of us alternating every three songs. Joe’s on first tonight: an energetic classic bluegrass kind of guy with the dirty flannel shirt and thick mustache hiding his top lip to go along with all the other genre clichés. The thing is Joe knows how to nail it. Between each song he reaches into his back pocket to pull out his comb and adjust his pompadour and he taps his steel guitar to count himself in at the start of each song. It’s like he’s possessed by the spirit of Woodie Gutherie himself, the way he commands the audience and gets people on their feet dancing. I’ve seen full jazz symphonies playing old Louie Armstrong songs with the most swing who can’t get that kind of reaction out of people.

Joe blasts through his three songs in a frenzy, making Rob’s set right after a little awkward at first because of the tempo change, but a welcome change to all the out of breath dancers in the bar. Rob’s dark eyes peer out into the audience, always looking like he just spotted the prettiest girl in the bar and he doesn’t want to take his eyes off her. His low, humble voice sneaks out between his lips, lined with a dark mustache and goatee. His black hair is combed back, but a small strand always hangs in front of his face. His black hair matches the black vest and tie he wore over top his pressed white shirt; and, all those neutral tones make his sharp blue guitar pop and glow like it’s a gem he just found and he’s presenting it to the love of his life.

I stand behind the stage during Rob’s first set, trying to remember all the words to my songs. I keep the chords easy enough to remember, but it’s always those damn words that never seem to stick in my head. I stretch my arms and crack my knuckles, reciting the words over and over again. I don’t know why I still do that before every show I play; I always wind up adlibbing lyrics with whatever I see in the bar and, if I’m lucky, am able to go back into the choruses smoothly. I wonder if Joe and Rob run into this same problem that I do. Every time they play, they just nail it, every word seems perfect. I just don’t have that kind of attention to small details.

Robs thanks the audience and steps off the stage, patting me on the shoulder as I put the final fine-tuning to my guitar and get ready to go. I stand in the middle of the stage and stare out into the audience, staring back at me. For a moment, I completely forget where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. I look down at my guitar and a bright stage light illuminates me, standing alone on a stage. I raise my hand to cover my eyes and think to myself, “Fuck I hate stage lights.”

Fucking brilliant.

I walk up to the microphone. “My name is Chester, I haven’t changed my Bob Dylan shirt for three days and I really hate stage lights. So I’m going to try something different today.”

I hop off the stage and start strumming my acoustic guitar. Wandering around the bar, I start singing as loud as I can whatever words I remember. For the first song I stand in the middle of the dance floor, hoping people will stand up and stand around me; I wound up just standing in the middle of the floor looking like a bigger idiot than I would have on stage. If people aren’t going to come to me then I’m going to have to go to them.

For my second song, I walk over to the bar. The first line of the song has something to do with having a crush on a girl working in a hardware store, but I can’t remember that. On to adlibbing.

“Hey Mister Bartender/Can you pour me a pint of Keith’s/I’m feeling awfully dry here/and I can’t remember any of my words.”

This got a few laughs out of the audience while I keep playing through the songs. When the bartender hands me the pint I stop of a moment and let my strings sings out.

“That’s four-fifty for the pint, right?”


“Cool,” I hand the bartender a five and pop another two dollars into the tip jar before taking a sip of the pint and continuing my song.

I stand at the bar for the rest of my first set, tapping my boot against the bar to the rhythm of my songs. I finish the first set covering Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” knowing if I forget the words I better adlib a damn fine verse otherwise some folk purist is going to throw his beer at me.

Crap, what’s the second verse again?

“The bar looks awfully full tonight/And I hope you’re all having a good time/Make sure to tip your bartender/He’s a really really nice guy.” I turn and give the bartender a high five. “Joe and Rob are playing next/They put on a great show/Please don’t kill me/For not remembering this song.”

I kick back into the chorus and I spot a few people singing along, so I walk up to them and invite them to take over the verses. Some are too shy and kind of just left me strumming and negotiating, but one young lady wearing thick rimmed glasses and a bright purple hoodie stands up on her table and sings the last verse for me and joined me for the last chorus.

Ok, I’m winning them over, but what are Joe and Rob going to do to try and one up me?

Joe takes the stage and it’s like bluegrass in red heat. He strums frantically, faster and faster, giving me an idea what it would be like if Slayer tried to cover Robert Johnson songs. The audience claps along with Joe’s boot stomp and the harder he stomps, the harder they clap. Worse though, the faster Joe plays, the faster everyone drinks. Now the room is full of drunk college-aged adults who arrived with a false sense of irony in mind in liking a style of music that would normally have been reserved for their farmer grandfathers, and they’re all screaming and hollering along.

Joe finishes his third song and Rob stands on the side of the stage, mouth hanging open and arms hanging on his side, with a look on his face that only says, “What the fuck am I supposed to do now?” Rob coming on stage is like following trying to follow up a cocaine filled, pre-born-again-Christian Megadeth set with Joan Baez: people are either going to fall asleep, throw things, or attack poor Rob. The energy in the room is still too high for bedroom-eyed-ballads. But once Rob starts playing again, the energy did drop, but people are in that trance again, like those bedroom-eyes have the power to settle a rabid pack of hyenas. I stare at Rob and suddenly realize that three songs have passed and it’s my turn.

And I have no fucking idea what I’m supposed to play.

I give my six strings a slow strum to make sure everything’s still in tune. Then I pick a random chord. I strum it for a minute, not having any clue what chord I’m playing (I can’t read music, I make it up as I go) before picking another random chord and strumming it to the same tempo. It was sounding alright, I only know a couple of positions that I’ve given odd nicknames to (two-top-two-bottom, middle-string-magic, pretty-high, a-lot-of-open, and so on) and lucky for me, as long as I play these chords on the lowest frets of my guitar they generally sound good together no matter what order I play them in.

Strum… strum… strum…

Shit, I need words.

“It’s snowing again outside/The winter keeps me cold/Could we keep warm together tonight/If I could be so bold.”

Did I just sing a line about using snow as an excuse to get into a girl’s pants? People are giggling, keep going with it.

I keep this up for the entire set and I don’t know how I was able to pull this off. Whatever I see coming through the room, walking around, and even outside with the smokers, I just keep singing whatever pops into my head. I keep turning my surroundings into poetry.

Towards the end of my last set, I start strumming this one riff, and I keep strumming it over and over again, walking around the room. I stop beside a girl and I give her a nod and she nods back.

“How are you liking the show?” I ask whilst I keep strumming.

“Good,” she replies.

“Has it actually been good?” I stare into her green eyes, keep strumming. My eyes wander down her floral sundress, keep strumming. Down to her black ballet-style shoes, keep strumming. I look back up and she adjusts her thick rimmed glasses.

“Actually good,” she continues. “It’s been interesting.”

I nod. “It has been interesting hasn’t it?”

I keep strumming.

“Probably time to end the song, isn’t it?” I ask.

“Probably,” she giggles.

“When should I stop?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugs.

I keep strumming.

“K, I have an idea,” still strumming. “Pick a number.”

“Okay, uh, twenty-one.”

“Okay, we’re going to count down from twenty-one, ready?”

“Twenty-one,” she begins.

“Twenty,” I join in.

“Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen,” I listen and I hear it getting louder behind me.

“Sixteen, fifteen, fourteen,” even louder behind me.

“Thirteen, twelve, eleven,” the whole bar’s counting along.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven,” they’re stomping and clapping and pounding the tables along.

“Six, five, four,” wait, what do I say when I’m done?

“Three, two, one,” and I stop strumming.

“I’m Chester, I have no idea what just happened, and I hope you weren’t bored tonight, thank you.”


My Thoughts on Jimmy Eat World, Edmonton 2011

This was one of those shows I never thought I’d get to see, and if I did, it would be a total disappointment. I was excited to see this show, don’t get me wrong, but I unfortunately went into it fearing the worst. I expected the set to be one of two things
1) A whole lot of new songs and one or two classics
2) Sad attempts at the old songs, completely butchering them and thus leaving a bitter taste in my mouth for years to come.
Thank god, this show was neither one of those cases.
The night started with a half-hour long set from folk singer/songwriter Colleen Brown. She played at Edmonton’s Folk Fest in the summer of 2010 and did an amazing job. This night was no different. The band’s whole style is like Neko Case with a little more late ’50s and early ’60s pop influence engrossed. The band was tight and she performed absolutely amazingly, but the Edmonton Events Centre may not have been the best venue for her. The acoustics were a little weird for her style, too much reverb in the room, and her overall style requires a very intimate setting to really appreciate how amazing she and her band are. If I saw Colleen Brown at a much smaller, more intimate venue with acoustics that complemented her sound more, her set would have probably been a whole different experience.
Shortly after Colleen Brown and her band left the stage, on came Jimmy Eat World. I prepared myself for some semblance of disappointment but had in the back of my mind to try and just appreciate the whole experience. I was completely blown away. Jimmy Eat World only played 3 or 4 songs off of its newest record in the two and a half hour long set and paid homage to almost all of its records; the only record they didn’t play songs off of was its 1993 self-titled debut, but good luck meeting anyone who owns that record.
Because of how varied the band’s set was, I want to do something different for this review. Instead of giving a general overview of the whole show, I’m going to talk about how it felt hearing every one of my favourite songs.
First off, they played “Lucky Denver Mint.” The song was a mild hit in 1999, being on the soundtrack to the Drew Barrymore film Never Been Kissed, but it seems like the power of Bleed American kind of blew this mild hit out of the water. Still, Jimmy Eat World busted out this song and did a fantastic job bringing us all back to the late ’90s again, even if for only one song.
Next, a bit later on in the set, the band played “23” off of its Futures record. This is the best song off of that record but was never a single. I always found it funny that the singles off of the band’s records were always the worst songs on the record. I don’t know if they do this on purpose or not, but they do obviously recognize this as the band played many non-singles song this night. “23” is a 7 seven and a half minute long song and it was played the whole way through. The song is even more amazing live than it is on record and I was left with goose-bumps throughout the whole song. It’s one of those really special songs to me that holds a really special place in my heart and brings me back to when I was younger, more idealistic, and simply looking forward to the future. I didn’t think anything could top hearing “23” live, and then the band topped it something fierce.
To close its pre-encore set, Jimmy Eat World played “Goodbye Sky Harbor” off of its Clarity record. I never thought I would ever get to hear this song live. It clocks in at about 16 minutes long with an interlude that drones for a good 12 minutes of it. I can see how it possibly wouldn’t work live, but goddamn I love that song. But, Jimmy Eat World busted out that Magnum Opus anyways. They cut down the interlude a bit, but at the end of the song, there was an electronic segment where frontman Jim Atkins dropped his guitar and started playing a xylophone. This was a fantastic performance of the song and a great way to end the set, pre-encore of course, when the band busted two big hits from Bleed American, “The Middle” and “Sweetness.”
This really was an amazing show. I can’t say enough good things about Jimmy Eat World and they’ll always be a band that holds something really special in me. It’s almost inexplicable, I hear one of the songs off of Clarity or Bleed American and something just stirs in me. I’m brought back to summers the summers while I was in Junior High and I’m on the beach in Sylvan Lake; or, it’s my last year of High School, I’m planning my future, and realizing what’s really important to me in my life and what really isn’t. Jimmy Eat World has been with me all along the way in many important stages of my life. Seeing them live was a really important and pinnacle moment in my life as well. I’m working through University, trying to get my adult life in order, and I’m seeing this amazing band with some of the most important people I have ever surrounded myself with.
I’m never going to forget this night.