It was two sets in, nearly eight minutes into my visit to the World Café this past Friday night, when I realized I had underestimated the artists.
The idea was great: 47 musicians, four-minute sets, four-second set changes, one song and one shot for the performers. But as I approached the venue, I was speculative of the Philly Song Shuffle’s ability to follow through in its concept.
We’ve all been to shows where 10 minutes are wasted because the performer tunes their guitar or the other act wants to play “just one more.” It’s not something we hold against them; it’s just their moment, their music. I expected much of the same as I set out my notebook, preparing to jot down only a few thoughts on the folk acts that would follow. The result was about 10 pages.
It started stage right with the classic-sounding, mellow guitar and vocals of Jim K, but when his one song and four minutes were up, it was Alexandra Day’s stage. Then it was Alfred James’, it was Dan May’s, John Faye’s, GW’s – only for their one shot.
It was a living play list, a mix tape that feeds off the crowd. Each performer immediately took the stage with no introduction, just music and connection.
As much as I would have liked to have been a part of the masses that joined in with Adam Brodsky as he stood with his guitar in one hand singing a cappella, he was only one of many talents to be taken in that night. It wasn’t flawless, however; it was a mixed bag. But whenever the song shuffle would hit its stride, you would be sure to remember names like Chris Chandler and his biting criticism of how we never grew past the 1970s – politically, socially and sometimes even musically. Or Gillian Grassie’s striking harp melody and smooth jazz voice that leaves you turning over what you heard, labeled with nothing but the word “cool.” I watched the stage as the center of my attention shifted from the left to the center to the right and back. All of these performers had different styles, different moods and different messages. Yet the transitions were seamless every time.
The evening wound down with the inspiring and captivating sounds of Melody Gardot. Drawing us in with her smooth jazz vocals and rolling bluesy instrumentals, the modern-day dame ended the night with everyone cheering.
As the Philly Song Shuffle’s fifth year concluded, many left the café awaiting next year’s sets, including me.
Maybe not all of my copious notes of the evening made it in to this review, but rather they were for my own memory as I attached words to the memory of all the singers and songwriters after their one song ended.
Luke J. Marron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.