This past Thursday was the Acoustic Girls’ Concert, starring three women, their guitars and a harmonica. I was there to work the show-in other words, get paid to listen to good music-but this show turned out to be more worth my time than the seven bucks an hour.
I entered the Frontroom about an hour before the show to help set up. While I waited for the sound check to begin, I noticed three radically different women (and when I say radically, imagine to yourself an Indigo Girl, Sheryl Crow and Courtney Love sitting together munching on some fries) sitting in a corner telling stories over takeout. I was immediately intrigued. I tried to listen in on what they are saying, paying close attention to their mannerisms and tones of voice, hoping to figure out the recipe for success simply by observing these clearly successful performers.
But, remarkably enough, they turned out to be nothing out of the ordinary. I broke into the conversation somehow, and we proceeded to talk about music, how they learned to play the guitar and even about good hair products for the unfortunately curly-headed (i.e., me). Their down-to-earth attitude and positive energy were contagious, so much that after a few minutes I forgot they were famous and that I want to be them when I grow up; I was just one of the girls. Of course this only lasted until the show began, because once I heard them play and sing, I remembered why I had every reason to be intimidated by them.
Patti Rothberg, Trina Hamlan and Emily Curtis, all solo artists, combined forces to create one hell of a show. These women were amazing. I saw a group of solo artists become a trio, blending with such quality that you wouldn’t believe they could perform on their own just as well. They traded off the lead vocals, each taking their turn at back up and percussion. Trina was the harmonica player, who, having mastered this traditionally masculine instrument after 10 years, sounded like she must have been born playing. Their talents combined to create a sound that reminded me of songs by the Indigo Girls and Sheryl Crow.
When they took turns performing their solo work, each of them had a chance to showcase their individual style. Hamlan played her Minnesota blues, her beefy voice and her harmonica joining in a way that the harmonica sound seemed to come straight from her throat. Her voice was so clear and strong that it sounded like a combination of Tracy Chapman and Melissa Etheridge, soaring way up without a hint of difficulty.
Emily Curtis was the Sheryl Crow look-alike, her sweet voice seamlessly floating between her medium-to-upper range and reminding me of butterflies. She described my favorite song of hers as a “bad-break-up reggae kind of song,” which told the story of how one of her boyfriends broke up with her on a train to her friend’s party. The lyrics were hilarious, mentioning how she hates “parties anyway / you look so stupid and never know what to say.”
Patti Rothberg sounded like what would have come out if Sheryl Crow and Bob Dylan ever decided to have babies. An interesting mix of styles, her voice was smooth and sultry. The last song she sang was a girl-with-a-broken-heart anthem, chanting, “Everybody has their day and this one’s mine.” Her style, reminiscent of Courtney Love and Lenny Kravitz, was the cherry on top of this unique singer/songwriter.
As they were winding down the concert, they asked if anyone in the audience wanted to sing with them. When no one answered and they were calling out for the girl with the cool hair to go up, I didn’t want to believe they were talking to me. But indeed they were, and after some coaxing, shaking and nervous, I went up there and delivered a jumbled and on the spot rendition of “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”
I couldn’t remember the words half the time, and Rothberg was trying desperately to figure out the chords on the spot, but for five seconds-during the chorus which we all knew-I was able to taste the other side of the performance and it was delicious.
They were all amazing guitar players and superb musicians. They worked the crowd as if they were playing in front of their best friends at home, creating a laid back and positive atmosphere in the room that was hard to miss. So yes, I made about 20 bucks that night; but I returned home with much more. Not only was it a unique opportunity to be able to sing with professionals, I also caught a glimpse of two secrets to success: having serious talent and loving what you do.