Shawn Phillips played in New England once again, for the first time in six years. A small but appreciative audience gathered at the Muddy River Smokehouse to see Shawn, joined by several other talented musicians. The show, arranged and promoted by EMH members Vicky and Mike Knizer, was billed as “Simply Amazing”, and it certainly was!
Mike and Vicky had put this show together in only two weeks’ time, and did an outstanding job of getting the local radio stations and newspapers to promote this event. When I first saw Mike on the evening before the show he was thoroughly excited because he had just heard a great promo announced on the local “Drive Time” radio program! There were also articles in the local newspapers, and several other radio spots, as well as some airplay given to Shawn Phillips tunes in the week prior to the show.
I arrived on Monday afternoon to stay with Vicky’s brother, Jim Lehman, who was also going to be one of the opening acts. Jim and his girlfriend, Sharon Scammon, welcomed me into their home and we had a great time talking, practicing our tunes, and becoming good friends. Later that evening we drove north to Mike and Vicky’s house, where Shawn arrived sometime around 11pm. Shawn was, once again, dressed in his full firefighter uniform. He entertained us all with his stories, and even played a little on the guitar. We left around 3am.
The next morning I awoke, still fighting a cold which had come on a few days before. As I had feared, my voice was hoarse and fading in and out, and I was ready to bow out of my spot in the opening act lineup. I spent the day trying to speak as little as possible (not an easy thing, anyone who knows me will tell you!!), and drinking cup after cup of peppermint tea with honey. When we got to the gig around 5pm Mike completely forbade me to speak. He had some buffalo chicken with cayenne pepper and made me eat some. He told me to “just believe” and the notes would be there. I was a wreck!!
People started arriving little by little, including EMH member Bob Feeney and his son, Shawn. They had driven all the way from Long Island, NY for the show. SP was happy to see them, having met them at another show and, remembering that the younger Shawn was a bass player, asked him to play bass on a couple of tunes. Shawn Feeney was blown away!!
John McGale and Sophie Desrosiers arrived from Montréal to play with Shawn, along with Shawn’s Québec road assistant, Jean-Luc, and his girlfriend, Geneviève. Soundcheck was done for all performers, and the soundman, Paul Prue, did a great job of keeping everything together. With 4 opening acts, and the main act with all Shawn’s electronic gear, there was a lot to do.
The show began with a local artist known only as Grateful Ted. He played a number of original tunes including one about a local bar, and a heartfelt song written for his dad entitled “Father of Mine”.
I was up next, and somehow managed to pull off a set of 7 songs. Mike’s faith in me came true, and the notes were there (most of them, anyway), I only had to believe. I did all original tunes, except for one – Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to my Window” – which was done in my own arrangement. For my last tune I played “Dreams and Philosophies”, a song that I had written for Shawn about 5 years ago, which includes 8 SP song titles within the lyrics of the tune.
Jim Lehman was the third opener, and played about 8 tunes, mostly original, including one he had written for his sister, Vicky, entitled “She’s a Nice Girl”. He also played a couple of cover tunes, including “Wild Horses”.
He was followed by John McGale, a Montréal artist who has performed all over the world. This guy was incredible, and blew the house away with his outstanding guitar playing and original songs. Even Shawn is amazed by this guy, which is why he had invited him to be part of the show. He did a great tune called “Chicken Cordon Blues”, and in another song, an amazing stretch of lead guitar, during which he sang every note he was playing. At times it was almost impossible to distinguish the voice from the guitar! The crowd went wild and demanded an encore from John.
After a short break, it was time for the main performance. Shawn came onstage and began with “Free Samples”. Between songs he explained that he was so happy to be able to do the show in English again, after having spent the last 2 months performing in Québec to the French-speaking audiences. The set list followed pretty much the same format as the other concerts on the Québec tour, with Sophie Desrosiers joining him on cello and John McGale on guitar on several songs. With Sophie’s cello and John’s guitar work, “The Ballad of Casey Deiss” was absolutely beautiful. John also played some flute on this tune.
Shawn Feeney joined SP on bass for the last three songs, starting with “Hey Miss Loney”. He was great, having only run through the tunes once with Shawn during soundcheck. “Moonshine” was fantastic, with both Shawn Feeney and John McGale acompanying. Shawn even threw in “Big Boss Man”, as he often does at the end of this tune. This song was followed by “Woman”, with all 4 musicians roaring away. I have to say, this was the most incredible piece of live, unrehearsed music I have ever heard. I was in complete awe through the entire song. Shawn ended the show alone, with the “Peace Song”, which was powerful and moving, as always.
The crowd was small, but it didn’t damper the spirit of the evening at all. Rick Cormier was another EMH member there, along with his wife Judy. Of the 30-40 people in attendance, many of them had never seen Shawn before. We hope they will become new fans, and spread the word in the area, so the next concert, which is already in the planning stages, will be even bigger and better!
A tremendous amount of thanks goes to Mike and Vicky for putting on this entire event, and also the after-concert gathering at their house, as well as providing places for all the musicians to stay. The soundman, Paul Prue, also did an excellent job and deserves credit. Thanks from me to Jim and Sharon for the comfy couch to sleep on, and it was great putting more faces to EMH names, and making new friends. Just as predicted, the Muddy River concert in Portsmouth NH was “Simply Amazing”!!!
Hat’s off to Vicki and Mike Knizner for pulling off the most intimate musical evening I will ever spend with Shawn Phillips. The venue was small, and comfortable. No noisy popcorn machines here. No loud bar patrons. No kitchen clangy noises. Imagine Shawn playing in your living room. (OK, your BIG living room.) Imagine being able to walk up to the man BEFORE the show and just talk. You could have heard a pick drop.
Shawn still has the uncanny ability to create a “moment” in concert. Highlight for me was hearing him sing “L” Ballade. His voice was fuller and richer than when he sang it on Contribution. Breathtaking. This was the performance of that song that I will remember for life. Shawn’s new song, Beautiful People, is wonderful. It’s one of those insightful SP songs that uses irony to make its point. A dozen more of these and we have our next album! Most of Us Don’t Understand At All and Power of a Woman were additional highlights.
The 3 performers who opened the show were great. For those of you who only read the lyrics to the song, “Dreams and Philosophies” Ronnee wrote for Shawn, the music and performance are no disappointment. Ronnee is a wonderful artist. I hope you all get a chance to catch her sometime.
The 3rd opener, John McGale was also memorable. I want this guy’s 1st album. Period. It was so nice to get to meet Ronnee, Vicki and Mike, the other members of the Northeast branch of EMH.
Sorry if this modest review is a bit disjointed.