Imelda May at Union Transfer, Philadelphia, 11-7-15
Not sure if it’s the empty nest syndrome or just where we live, but after being a rare event in our lives for many years, going to hear live music is now pretty much a regular occurrence. Living in a major metro area, there are just a lot more shows that are of interest, and living in a town with two great small venues, a coffeehouse and an historic theater, and within a comparatively short drive of many others, it’s hard to sort out all the acts we could hear.
When we lived in Albany, we got out for the occasional show at the Egg, the Palace, sometimes Proctor’s. I’d pretty much given up on SPAC; their “pop” series never had anything I was remotely interested in seeing (that I hadn’t already seen in the ’70s). For classical, we’d go to the Albany Symphony Orchestra or over to Tanglewood. There was the occasional free show at the Empire State Plaza, or even in Washington Park. But it was a few times a year, at most, and if it was on a school night, that was a problem. Our only real exposure to local live music was at Troy Night Out, which was always enjoyable (especially, to me, if Oobleck was playing).
Since moving to Phoenixville, live music has been a constant, both big acts and small. We’re a short walk from three regular open mic nights, but our allegiance is to one at our local coffeehouse, Steel City Café, which boasts the best open mic night in the galaxy. The talent is really remarkable, the styles diverse, and the crowd extremely welcoming. At our town’s First Friday, there is live music all over town, so you can stroll from band to band, and, again, there is some incredible quality. The bars and restaurants (and the Farmer’s Market) in the area strongly feature live music, so you get a real chance to see some talented musicians.
And then there’s that whole metro area thing, so we’ve gotten to see some incredible acts, both right here and in Philly. Last night we made a last-minute decision to walk four minutes away and see Lucy Kaplansky, whom we hadn’t seen in years. (And, tipping the scales on that decision was that a local singer/songwriter we had seen at open mic, Anna Spackman, was doing a full opening set.) The week before, we got to see Phil Alvin, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones absolutely blow the roof off World Café Live in the city, where we previously got to see The Church. We chanced upon blues legend John Hammond playing in Ardmore just a couple of weeks back (by the way, blues historians should be writing down everything he says between songs, because the man has some stories). We sat almost uncomfortably close to Marshall Crenshaw as he played Steel City. At the Colonial Theater just a couple of blocks away, Leon Russell sang songs and told stories this past summer. Imelda May was incredible in a medium-sized hall in Philly, the same place where we’re going to see Aimee Mann, Ted Leo and Liz Phair in just a few weeks. We had to skip Joe Jackson because there’s only so much you can do, and, to be fair to our former town, Squeeze and Difford & Tilbrook have been there twice while giving the City of Brotherly Love no love at all.
On any given night, having to decide whether you’re going to venture down the street to hear some live music or not is a good problem to have.