Last Thursday night saw a perfect storm of musical talent, and you probably missed it. Club Passim wasn’t even sold out, and that’s a crying shame because the musicians onstage were a rare treat. North Carolinian songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Byrd was kicking off a tour with the lovely Carrie Elkin and young phenom Anthony da Costa.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew it was going to be good: it seemed every folk musician I had talked to since my arrival in Boston was insisting I check out Jonathan Byrd. So I dutifully arrived at Passim on Thursday evening after battling for a Harvard Square parking space, and miraculously winning.
Carrie Elkin was singing as we entered, and I was immediately entranced. With her blond locks, red sundress, and boots, she looked every ounce the Texas angel, and her powerful, rich, and every-so-slightly-imperfect perfect voice backed up this assumption. As she wove her song-story, I leaned my chin on my hand, and dreamed away. Carrie Elkin is so good that I forgot to take notes.
Often playing with Jonathan or Carrie on their solo shows, Anthony da Costa’s easy confidence onstage belies his young age. It’s difficult to pin down just which famous songwriter he reminds one of, but it’s someone who started out good and got even better with age. At turns his folksiness is tinged with a disenchanted pop punk sound, haunting riffs right out of vintage rockabilly, and shoe-gaze coffeehouse songs with surprising lyrics that draw the audience in. His affable demeanor gives no indication of the self-importance an artist might be expected to exhibit after being the youngest winner of the Falcon Ridge and Kerrville Folk Festivals (2007).
Jonathan Byrd, the man, the myth, the soon-to-be legend, is the old man of the group at 40, but his material seems to be channelled from a being who has lived three full, hard lifetimes, and still has a sense of humor about it all. Yes, Mr. Byrd is very, very good, and a damn fine storyteller. There is something so prototypically classic country about him that he almost doesn’t seem real, but he is. Jonathan is polished to the point of classy professionalism, but not so far that he has lost anything genuine or pure; his spine-tingling, sometimes funny songs make the listener feel they have been invited right into the songwriter’s life.
It was plain to see those three forces of talent enjoyed one another’s company, and respected each other’s abilities, and I believe everyone in the audience shared these sentiments, as well. Between friendly onstage banter, each songwriter played songs of heartbreak and human spirit, and with each successive song one thought, “He’s the best one up there…No, SHE’s the best one up there…No, it’s that one – he’s the best…maybe.” It was impossible to choose. That’s a good thing.
After Jonathan sang a song called “Father’s Day” dedicated to his deceased father whose favorite song was “Amazing Grace”, Carrie took it upon herself to finish out their first set with an a capella rendition of the traditional song. Her voice soared as she sang the familiar lyrics, and the men, tentatively at first, and then with professional confidence, harmonized with her beautifully. Their low, deep backing vocals added such depth to “Amazing Grace” that not a few tears were seen in Passim.
The three songwriters descended from the stage, and mingled with their friends and the adoring audience at set break, and, as is sometimes the case with really good musicians, it seemed wrong to view these artists up close in normal light. Each of them is such a powerful force onstage that seeing them as normal humans is incongruous with the mythic personas they so comfortably inhabit in performance.
There were so many stand out songs between these three that I won’t even bother to enumerate them here. What I will insist is that you, lover of good music, supporter of emerging artists, go purchase their CD’s. Now. And if you ever have the chance to see even one of these songwriters perform, do it. There are no excuses worthy of missing Jonathan Byrd, Carrie Elkin or Anthony da Costa live – not even horrible parking options.
Gallery Coming Soon . . .