When I was a young, unfocused, undisciplined musician, dwarfed by my older brother’s long shadow on the high school dance and battle-of-the-bands scene, if you were getting serious about music, you learned to rock. If you were getting really serious, like my brother, you learned jazz. You learned to play hot solos and wicked drum fills. If you were an unfortunate bass player, you would have to wait a few years for Flea and later Les Claypool to change the game (because you probably weren’t hip to Larry Graham and James Jamerson just yet). The electric guitar was monolithic in its dominance of popular music, and leads were everything.
Now everything has changed. As the music critic Sasha Frere-Jones speculates in his recent New Yorker piece on St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, the young audiences at St. Vincent shows may be hearing their first-ever live guitar solos, and the Berklee-educated Clark’s fuzzed-out avant-riffage has very little to do with what we called a guitar solo in 1979.
When young musicians get serious these days, they do not typically learn to rock; no, they learn self-accompaniment, the have-guitar (or have-uke) self-sufficiency of the busker and the troubadour. They learn Travis picking; they learn the elusive neurological independence required to sing and to pick contrary patterns confidently at the same time. They learn to sell a song with character, and they learn to write their own tunes. It’s as if the tiny minority of kids in my day who were obsessed with Neil Young circa Harvest have taken over – or at least taken over what is left of the non-electro market.
This is bad news for many parties vested in the myths and verities of classic guitar rock (and they are not going gentle into that good night); but, taken on its own, it’s actually quite lovely. Go to an open mic these days – any open mic, really, but Tuesday night at Grimaldi’s in New Paltz is a good start – and prepare to be genuinely impressed by the game of practically every kid who mounts the stool, one after another. They pay homage with skilled covers as likely to raid their parents’ folk records as to draw from the contemporary folk revivalists. And then they play their own apprentice originals, which are often revelatory and usually competent at the very worst.
The New Paltz songwriter and musician Rick Schultz isn’t the first to attempt to rope up a bunch of the most luminescent songwriting talents on the scene into a big showcase, but he does have a novel idea: “333” he calls it, a nine-songwriter round in the beautiful and spooked environment of the Colony Café in Woodstock, the booking of which has recently fallen under the control of local producer, studio owner and drummer Pete Caigan. Each songwriter performs three songs apiece in rotating single-song sets.
The lineup is excellent and diverse, featuring everyone from über-talented young New Paltz-based songwriters like Sandy Davis (the bassist in Breakfast in Fur) and Brittani O’Hearn to established figures like Sarah Fimm and Nee Nee Rushie (the Big Takeover). Many acts will have accompanists on board. Also on the bill is that brilliant and uncategorizable eminence of solo performance Paul McMahon, who should be a role model if not a deity to this new generation of folk bards, if he is not already. The songwriters’ showcase will be followed by a late-night dance party by deejay Anthony Molina of Mercury Rev.
333 Songwriter Showcase, Friday, April 4, 8 p.m., Colony Café, 22 Rock City Road, Woodstock; (845) 679-8639.