Roan Yellowthorn’s Jackie McLean shines brightly in Burlington


One of the reasons I have this site is to document live music experiences because seeing live music is right up there with air, water and food as far as hierarchy of needs goes.

And there’s something extra special about seeing a musician whose music you love for the first time live.

Such was case on the night of Oct. 3 when my friend Le Anna and I ventured to Burlington, Vermont to see Roan Yellowthorn at The Higher Ground.

This was one of those times when I texted a friend and essentially said “Babe, come do a thing with me. I’ll have you back in 24 hours.” There was only one response that was acceptable and Le Anna nailed it: “I’m in.”

And talk about bonuses of epic proportion. Roan Yellowthorn was opening for singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick who I’ve been a hardcore fan of for decades.

So who is Roan Yellowthorn? Permit me to unpack that question for you with gleeful enthusiasm.

Roan Yellowthorn is the name under which Jackie McLean records and performs under, at least for the moment but I’ll get to that part. Hang on.

McLean’s a native of Camden, Maine and I first became aware of Roan Yellowthorn toward the end of June of this year. The latest album, released in May, is called “Another Life” and it didn’t take long for it to become one of my favorite albums of the year with songs like “Acid Trip,” “Bloodline,” “Vampire,” and the title track among several others.

Jackie and I connected and I wrote a thing for the Portland Press Herald (my fabulous day job!) about her album and her backstory. Take three seconds and give it a read.

She now lives Plattsburgh, New York and I wasn’t sure when the opportunity would arise to get to see her do her thing live so heck yes, I drove four + hours each way. And I’d do it again.

Which brings me to that Sunday night in Vermont.

Jackie, who often plays her with percussionist husband Shawn Strack, opted to play her set solo. It was just she and her keys. The place wasn’t packed but the seated crowd was more than respectable.

I stood towards the back and moved around a bit to shoot photos but also had several moments of being still and taking in the five songs she played.

Listening to an album you love is like having your heart held. Hearing songs from it live is like your heart is being given a gentle squeeze. I love that feeling. I dare say I live for it.

You never know what a live experience is going to be like. There are SO MANY factors. What mood am I in walking in there? Where’s my head at? Where’s the artists head at? Did their soundcheck go OK and are they feeling good? You just never know until the house lights are dimmed and the artist walks on stage and starts their set.

Jackie Lee McLean/Roan Yellowthorn in Burlington Vermont. 10.3.21. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Jackie did not disappoint. She opened with “Bloodline” and it was the perfect choice because hearing the refrain of “I’m fucked in the head, I’ve always been…” live was glorious. She also put a little twist in it on the line “I’m Not Fine” which went up way higher than on the album. Bonus points awarded!

From there she chose a track from the 2018 debut album “Fingerless Gloves.” Whomever said hell hath no fury like a woman scorned was ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. The song takes a look back at a relationship gone sour and it does so with a bouncy pop tune that packs a whole into it in under two and a half minutes.

Then McLean busted out a new song she has just written five days ago to make her performance, as she humorously put it “a little more nerve wracking.” The song is called “Invisalign” and she sang that she has “finally fixed my teeth after 20 years. ” Early on I thought to myself that it was sweet and clever. Then the song took a sharp turn into an emotional landscape that caught me completely off guard. WHICH I LOVED. “Sometimes when you have a dream/You watch it rip right at the seams/The thing you tried to keep alive is looking like it won’t survive/What are you without it now/A crown of thorns you wore around/Feeling humbled and ashamed/Can’t even bring yourself to speak its name.” Epic. Five Stars. A+.

McLean continued her too short but none the less stellar set with “Vampire,” which she explained is about the kind of vampires that aren’t interested in your blood but rather have their sites set on sucking the will to live out of you. Even without the percussion and other instruments on the studio version, McLean nailed the song with just her voice and keys. “No ropes can ever hold you/ You always will escape/You’re like a vampire who’s never gonna go away.”

“Acid Trip” is one of the singles from “Another Life” and hey, while I have you, check out the video with its more than 150K views. Great effing song right here:

The stripped down Vermont version still shined though and the refrain of “Yesterday I let it go/When you know you know” still packed a punch.

A few days after my Burlington visit I reached out to McLean and asked if she’d be cool if I tossed a few questions across state lines for her to answer. She was into it.

Jackie told me that it felt amazing to play at Higher Ground, a venue she’s wanted to play at for years. From there I wondered how it was for her to play her debut there as a solo performer. She said a lot about it and so here’s the full response:

I don’t always play solo. In the past, I’ve played mostly with my partner Shawn on percussion. We also have a full band we play with so we’ve been doing that lately too. But I have a special place in my heart for doing solo shows. I want to do more of them moving forward. There’s an intimacy that can’t be replicated. Even moreso after the past year we’ve had, I crave that feeling of connection. Playing solo feels very honest and vulnerable. I love it, especially when I’m performing in a place where the music is central and I know people will be listening. It’s a lot more nerve wracking to play solo because there’s nothing to fall back on. If I make a mistake, no other instrument will cover it up. It’s all on me. But there’s a rush I get from that challenge. Having to rely on myself. The feeling of completing a solo performance and doing it well is very rewarding. I am thankful for opportunities to play these kinds of shows. There’s no other feeling like it. 

Then of course there’s the pandemic. We couldn’t NOT talk about it and I was curious about how it felt as Roan Yellowthorn has only played a tiny amount during it. Jackie had some thoughts and I’m sure glad she did because it offered unique insight into the grind and hustle of being a musician.

One thing about the pandemic in relation to shows, for me, is that it’s caused me to be more selective about the shows I do. Before the pandemic, I was grinding really hard. I went for years playing any show I could – no matter how far away it was, no matter whether or not there was any kind of guaranteed audience, no matter how little I got paid. I did many, many shows that required me to drive multiple hours for no money and play for only a handful of people. After a while, that gets really exhausting. After the imposed break from playing live shows, I can’t imagine going back to that again. I want to protect my energy. And I really only want to play shows that I feel will be a net positive experience. This was definitely an example of that. And it felt really good to get to have that experience.

McLean had mentioned to me that her next album will likely be under hew own name rather than Roan Yellowthorn. I asked for details.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. For probably the past 3 years, I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not I should perform under my own name. I started out using “Roan Yellowthorn” as a kind of shield. It protected me from feeling too vulnerable. It gave me an alter ego to inhabit. Over the past year or so, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin. With my own identity. With my own name. There’s a part of me that’s really yearning to integrate all of the parts of myself into one. To take the art that I create, art which is usually very personal and revealing, and claim it as my own. As of now, I do want to put out my next album under my own name. It feels like the next step in a natural evolution. I still have to figure out the logistics of making it happen. But it’s what I feel drawn to do right now. 

As for that album, much of it was written fairly recently and McLean shared that she has has grown as an artist and a person. She hopes the album will see the light of day in 2022. I for one will be waiting!

We went on a five-week road trip this summer in an RV all across the country and I wrote most of the songs during that time. I’ve written a few more since we’ve gotten back. I also took a break from social media towards the end of the summer that’s kind of still ongoing. Having that mental and emotional space freed up has really helped me to feel more creative and aligned. I think there have been some themes that have emerged. My last album was a lot about processing past trauma. I was really in the thick of it while I was writing. I feel like I’ve moved forward from that. Writing my last album was instrumental in the healing process. I feel free now to explore parts of my own universe. In this album, there are some songs about people who have been important to me. Portrait songs. And there are songs about where I am now. There’s no immediate trauma to explore. I don’t have as many questions as I did when I was writing the last album. In these songs, I’m examining realities that I see. It’s more taking stock of where I am and where I’ve been. The journey I’ve traveled so far. 

Finally, I checked in with McLean the person, rather than just the artist. She went through some pretty intense stuff this year, some of which was in the public eye. I asked her to share with me whatever she felt comfortable sharing and kept the question open-ended. If it sounds like I’m being vague, it’s intentional. If you read my Press Herald story above then you know. Her dad’s famous and there’s a fair amount to unpack. Or not unpack. You can go down that rabbit hole later if you’re curious or you can leave it be. I’m here to say primarily that I love Jackie’s music and think Roan Yellowthorn is a great band. But also, I’ve come to understand how much McLean’s a survivor who has worked her ass off to find the light during some very dark times. So she has my respect twice, as a musician and as a warrior. Now onto Jackie’s thoughts on my check-in question.

In many ways, the initial media things that came out were very triggering for me. I went into kind of a cocoon after the Rolling Stone article came out and I felt like I didn’t even want to exist. I felt very vulnerable and half-understood. Like this very private part of me was being shared without the context of all of the other parts of me. It also felt scary not to have any control over how any of it might be perceived. It was honestly a mindfuck in many ways. But, weirdly, when my dad responded publicly, it felt oddly liberating. Like I was finally free after thirty years of bondage. Like everything was finally out on the table and nothing was hiding in the dark anymore. 

At this point, I feel settled. I feel that I’ve said what I need to in order to make it clear where I am in the context of a family trauma. And, in many ways, I feel free now to move forward. The narcissistic parental abuse that I sustained throughout the first 29 years of my life still informs who I am and how I move through the world. But it’s not something that torments me the way that it did before. And it’s not big things that have changed. It’s little things. I can relax now without feeling as anxious. I don’t feel as much pressure to gain external validation. I feel more free to explore. To listen to my instincts. To do what makes me feel happy. I’m discovering myself for the first time. It’s a really good feeling that I’ve waited a long time to feel. And this feeling is a direct result of speaking out and, in effect, liberating myself. 

Amen, Jackie. Amen.

Follow Roan Yellowthorn on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and their website. Listen to their music. Buy their music. If they come anywhere near you, go see them live. I sure as shit can’t wait for my next chance.

Ponti out.

Maia Sharp turns in her finest album with ‘Mercy Rising’

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Maia Sharp has just released the best damn album of her career with “Mercy Rising.”

I told her during an interview a couple of weeks ago that I felt weird paying her that compliment because her body of work prior to “Mercy Rising” is tremendous and I’ve been a fan of her music for what feels like forever. Maia, however, appreciated where I was coming from. “It’s the most true to life. It is the most drawn from actual experience and emotion and strife than any of the other ones. Of course everybody says that their latest is their favorite but what makes it a favorite to me is it’s truly confessional. The other ones would have little glimmers of that but this one is all the way.”


The first Sharp song I ever knew is “Willing to Burn,” from her self-titled album released in 2002. I just gave it a fresh listen and it holds up nearly two decades later.

Ditto for “Long Way Home,” from that same album. We’ve all been there; on the shit end of a relationship when you realize that it ain’t you babe they’re looking for and you’re reduced to drive-bys as you look for the pieces of your heart along the side of the road.

Fast-forward eight years when Sharp released “Fine Upstanding Citizen” and I finally got to see her live in Portland, Maine. The single “Something Wild,” like “Willing to Burn” is as fresh to me as the day I first heard it as Sharp sings about how the hunt is often better than actually landing your prey and it’s usually better to leave well enough alone, despite how difficult it can be. “You were so beautiful from where I stood/So I chased you down and held you as close as I could/That’s when the fire turned cold/Maybe you’re not supposed to hold something wild.” Vocally, the standout track on the “Fine” album to me is “Kinder Blues,” which I still beg Sharp to play live. She usually does. Because she rules.

In 2015 Sharp released the album “The Dash Between The Dates,” homes to songs like the golden nugget that is “Nothing But the Radio.” Not only that, the album closes with the just-kill-me-now ballad “I Don’t Want Anything to Change” which Sharp penned years ago and was first recorded by none other than Bonnie Raitt on her 2005 album “Souls Alike.” Around that time, Raitt played in Portland (Maine) and Boston with Sharp as the opener and they sang the song together. In fact, another track on that Raitt album called “I Will Not Be Broken” features Sharp’s vocals and it’s one of my personal anthems. Sharp also co-wrote the song “Crooked Crown” on Raitt’s “Souls” album.

It’s my blog so I’ll veer off if I want to. You GOTTA take a minute and watch this clip from 2013 of Bonnie joining Maia and guitarist Linda Taylor on stage for “I Don’t Want Anything to Change.”

There have been other albums and singles so do yourself a favor and go down the Maia Sharp rabbit hole and listen to it all. If nothing else, listen to “Sober” from the 2012 album “Change The Ending.” Trust me. Oh and “Me After You” as well. Yeah. You GOTTA hear that one.

Now onto “Mercy Rising.” It is after all May 7, 2021. AKA ALBUM RELEASE DAY!

Here’s what Bonnie Raitt had to say in a press release about “Mercy Rising”

“I think I have my favorites then another slays me. Maia is a master in her absolute prime – out of the ballpark once again, but this one really ignites everything that is different and brilliant about her writing, singing, songwriting and production. I’m running out of superlatives!”.

Bonnie, I feel seen…

Sharp has ventured into a whole new galaxy of mood and emotion with “Mercy Rising” and boy oh boy am I here for it.

Sharp moved from her California home of many, many years to Nashville in 2019. I’m not going to unpack her personal life but yeah, some relationship stuff shifted. The good news is she’s settled comfortably into the Music City.

Sharp also had to deal with Covid-19 that hit her soon after a natural disaster hit the state of Tennessee. A tornado touched down and did substantial damage in her Nashville neighborhood in March of 2020, a very short time before the abrupt pandemic lock down.

“One street over houses were complete annihilated. Then for the next six blocks to the north of me it was just random annihilation. So that was very scary but I was very fortunate,” recalled Sharp. In the immediate aftermath lots of benefit shows and hugs happened and although the storm spared her, the virus didn’t and Sharp was knocked sideways by it with the added bonus of pneumonia. Thankfully a handful of local friends she referred to as “porch angels” kept her medicine cabinet and pantry well-stocked as she recovered.

Now where were we?

Maia Sharp. Photo by John Partipilo


The title track, “Mercy Rising” opens the album and sets the tone for the rest of it. With stunning strings by Chris Carmichael the song is its own planet of mood.

“I’ve lived a revolution, every season come and gone/I’m looking to the sky/What’s taking so long/I’ve been counting constellations and I’m still waiting on mercy rising.”

Co-written with Sharp’s longtime friend and fellow musician Mindy Smith, it’s as if Sharp has crossed over into a whole other plain of existence as an artist. The song really is that good.

I asked Maia to break it down for me, how she came to the words “mercy rising.”

“I remember stewing for a really long time on that one and just playing through the chord progression with a feeling and a frustration that I wanted to get out about just  feeling stuck and having changed so much about my life but still feeling like this one nagging element and it wasn’t changing. “

She continued.

“It was like OK I don’t know what to do, something has to change. I’ve changed everything I know how to change. Show me a shift. It  wasn’t a religious thing. It was just like can something it nature just be different? Can that star be over there now? Just show me something changing. ” Sharp said she rambled like a crazy person for a long time before landing on “mercy rising”. “I felt like I needed some mercy from somewhere because I don’t feel like I’m creating it myself.”

I scribbled thoughts down about every track on the album and will share a few of them.

“Missions” is one that Maia wrote herself without any collaborators. It’s “ouch” factor is high in terms of opening a vein of emotion with lines like “I feel more alone than if you hadn’t come/You whisper to thank me for powering through and I hate that I love you this much.” My tones include the words EPIC and WOW and I’m sticking with them.

I noted the slow, moody groove of “Junkyard Dog” and its fantastic refrain. “Junkyard dog at the end of that chain/Junkyard dog howling out in vaine/Fighting for a love you don’t care about/Protecting something you can live without/I thought I was the queen of your castle/Turns out I’m just your junkyard dog.” Speaking of dogs, the track bares its razor sharp teeth and the musicians on it like Will Honaker and Joshua Grange absolutely slay. You even hear Sharp playing her sax on it. Pure fire.

“Not Your Friend” is another exposed heart confessional. “You might say that you never wanna see me again/But I’m not OK hearing about some girl that you might think be the one.” Despite the bitter pills being swallowed, the song is righteous and another feather in the cap of an absolutely spectacular album.

“Whatever We Are,” written by Sharp, Thomas Finchum and Sharp’s Roscoe & Etta musical partner Annu Schulze features Joshua Grange’s stellar guitar and Chris Carmichael’s strings and in the song, Sharp makes her way across the hot coals and into a place of peaceful resignation. Finchum and Schulze’s backing vocals make it all the more poignant.

Could I go on and on and on about the other songs on “Mercy Rising?” OF COURSE I COULD. But I ‘d rather send you off into the world to discover them for yourself and figure out what your favorites are. I really love the hell out of this album and think you will too.

ALSO: Here’s a little Maia Sharp 101 because her career is really quite something and if she’s a new artist to you, you’ll love these fun facts courtesy of a detailed press releases:

“Maia has always managed to play both sides of the songwriting field, writing for notable artists including Bonnie Raitt, The Chicks, Lisa Loeb, Trisha Yearwood, Art Garfunel, Cher, Edwin McCain, Terry Clark and many more while still recording her own albums. Through the years, “I Need this to be Love,” (Hardly Glamour 1997), “Willing to Burn” (Maia Sharp 2002), “Red Dress” (Fine, Upstanding Citizen 2005), “Death By Perfection” (Echo, 2010), “Me After You” (Change the Ending 2012) and “Nothing but the Radio” (The Dash Between the Dates, 2015) have all enjoyed Triple A (AAA) radio success. Her last two releases were with her due Roscoe & Etta (with writing/production partner Anna Schulze) yielding another Triple A favorite “Broken Headlights.”


NOTE: Today, May 7, Maia will be performing LIVE on her FACEBOOK page at 7 p.m. (EDT). COOL!

Ponti out.

The Bengsons’ “The Keep Going Song” is my favorite song of 2020

Well holy shit, I know what my favorite song of 2020 is. I don’t say this lightly because as much as this year has been a hell scape in so many ways, there’s been a bumper crop of tremendous new music to enjoy. (I’m looking at you, Fiona Apple and Kathleen Edwards) among MANY others.

But the top slot goes to “The Keep Going Song” by The Bengsons, a song that arrived in my life at the exact right moment.

The Bengsons is the married dou of Abigail and Shaun Bengson who live in Queens, New York though they have only been there once, briefly, since January. I’ll get into that in a bit.

Shaun and Abigial Bengson. Photo by Paul de Luna

About a week ago a small smattering of friends shared a YouTube clip by an act I had never heard of (The Bengsons) and their song “The Keep Going Song.”

Later that same day, when I saw it pop up again, I threw my headphones on and decided to give it a whirl.


How much do I love this song? So much that I fired off a semi-hysterical email disguised as a request for an interview. I was like the kid in “Stand By Me” who shows up at the tree fort all out of breath desperate to share exciting news. Though my news wasn’t about a dead body, it was a full-on fan girl declaration of my love for the song and asking if they’d be up for a chat.

ABIGAIL AND SHAUN SAID YES. We have a lovely conversation a few days ago and talked ALL ABOUT the song and I told them they’re my pretty much my new best friends and they seemed to be OK with that. Also, fun fact, there’s a Maine connection: Abigail’s sister lives in Augusta.

I’ll get into that chat in a second but first permit me to share my reaction to the first time I watched the video clip.

I almost immediately laughed upon hearing the line “we were in Louisville when the shit hit” and laughed a little more when they sang about more or less fleeing to Shaun’s parents house in Dayton, Ohio.

But then, I full-on sobbed. I watched the clip about five times that day and of course shared it.

Then I found it on Spotify and have listened to it dozens of times while out for my daily walk. When I’m not listening to it I’m humming or singing it or thinking about it.

These lines are repeated numerous times throughout “The Keep Going Song:”

This is the keep going keep going keep going on keep going on song
This is the keep going keep going keep going on keep going on song

They layer the vocals with some looping sorcery and it’s fantastic sounding and also lends itself to sticking to every brain cell so that the song comes to mind on its own accord at random times.

But it’s the other lyrics that reach directly into my heart and soul and closely hold both.

Lines like these:

Hope you’re getting enough sleep
And I hope you have enough good company
Or enough good memories
To last you a long time

And especially these:

I pray my rage is a fire
That cleans my mind out
And makes me ready to listen
I pray my pain is a river
That flows to the ocean
That connects my pain to yours
And I pray I pray my happiness like pollen
That flies to you and pollenates your joy oh boy
Oh boy is that possible?
I don’t know I don’t know
We are making this up as we go
We have to make this up as we go
The keep going song

In fact, what are we waiting for? Watch the video right here, right now and then I’ll tell you more.

Are you OK? Are you alright?

Dry your eyes and let me tell you about The Bengsons.

It didn’t take long for a Google search to reveal that The Bengsons are already a big damn deal. They wrote a critically acclaimed musical called “Hundred Days” and you can take a deep dive here. But a few amazing highlights from their bio includes having three singles featured on “So You Think You Can Dance.” and along with “Hundred Days” they’ve written several other shows and are recipients of the Jonathan Larson and Richard Rogers awards and are Drama Desk, Drama League and Lucile Lortel award nominees. Also, how cool is this? Abigail appeared on the HBO show “High Maintenance” and has toured as a member of the SUPER COOL band tUnE-YaRds which includes the time they appeared on Fallon.

So what were they doing in Louisville when the proverbial shit hit in March? Shaun filled me in. He and Abigial arrived there in early February as they had written the music for -and were due to also appear in- a show called “When the Mountains Meet the Sea,” by Jeff Augustin via the Actors Theatre of Louisville.

The show was part of the theater’s Humana Festival and they were able to get in one lone preview performance on March 11. Then the news came the next day that the world had, at least in part, stopped spinning and yeah, the shit sure had hit. Shaun told me all about the show and I sure hope they get another chance to stage it. It has a two-person cast as well as he and Abigail performing the songs they had written. “It’s a semi-autobiographical story. Jeff Augustin is Haitian American and a gay man and it’s a story about a son and a father ,” explained Shaun. “When the Mountains Meet the Sea” tells the story of the son carrying his father’s ashes back to Haiti and you get to see their two stories converge over the course of the play.”

On March 12 things got scary in a hurry and the couple, along with their toddler son Louis had 24 hours to get the hell out of dodge.

Thankfully, Shaun’s parents live just a few hours from Louisville in Dayton, Ohio. “We had no idea what was happening. But the only thing we knew was that the center of the outbreak was central Queens which is where we live. We thought, we’ll go to Dayton for like a week, week and a half ‘till this all blows over.

It still hasn’t blown over (Thanks, Trump) and they ended up spending nearly seven months there and recently repaired to Abigail’s home state of Vermont where her mother still lives and where they, when we’re not in a pandemic, often retreat to in between shows .

Despite only being to make it to their apartment in Queens once this entire time, The Bengsons don’t feel sorry for themselves. Quite the contrary, according to Shaun.

“I feel so grateful to have places to be and I feel so grateful that our work is able to go with us where we are. I just feel like we’re as lucky as you can be in this situation. We had to entirely change the entire conception of who we are, what our lives were over the course of a few weeks as I know so many people have.”

A few months into the sojourn in Ohio, they heard from their friends at Actors Theatre of Louisville who had recently been awarded grant money and were hoping The Bengsons would be up for contributing something for their now online season.

Shaun and Abigail put their heads together to come up with something meaningful. During this same time, the Black Lives Matter movement and nation-wide protests were in full-swing and this made them call into question how they fit it and what, if anything, should be their role as white artists. Shaun said that the material they had been working on all got scrapped once the protests started they started to re-approach the entire project.

Then in early July a pivotal phone call came. It was from Robert Fleming, a gay Black man who is executive artistic director of Actors Theatre in Louisville. He shared with the couple that as bad as things felt then, they would feel even bleaker in the fall and he encouraged The Bengsons to make something that might give people a little bit of a lift. Fleming was of course absolutely right about this. The pandemic is getting worse and Black people are still getting needlessly killed by the police.

They decided to make what they’re calling a visual album. It’s a collection of original songs performed live in a space in Shaun’s now famous parents’ house. The “Keep Going Song” is the song they shared footage of and the stats are frankly astounding.

First, they uploaded it directly to their Facebook page on Oct. 15 and it’s been shared 33 THOUSAND times and has racked up more than 2.2 million views.

On Oct. 19 they uploaded it to YouTube. Within 24 hours it had more than 13,000 views. Now, as I write this on Halloween, it’s at more than 206,000 views and the number is rising in leaps and bounds.

The entire album is called “The Keep Going Song (Live from Our Home at the End of the World” and you can get a digital copy at the usual spots. On Spotify, the “Keep Going Song” has more than 33,000 streams. And side note, be sure to listen to the entire album It’s lovely and poignant and glorious.

Keep an eye of their YouTube channel as they’ll soon be releasing the entire performance.

Now back to that phone call that led them to “The Keep Going Song.”

“We thought it was an amazing thing to be asked and we really tried to think what is the thing what we could try to offer and it was all feeling very insufficient and finally we just decided maybe we could sing about resilience and that may be the thing we could do do, try and create a piece and resilience through not only hard times but also through self-analysis and thinking,” said Shaun who said he and Abigail took a hard look and how where they fit in and what have they contributed. “For a while we had written some stuff what was a bit more explicit and we tried it out and it tended to just make both white and Black friends alike just kind of feel bad. In the end, we came up with the idea of the ‘Keep Going Song’ chorus and then we essentially talked about what are the things that we wish that someone would say to us and what are the things that we wish we could say to our family and our  people in Louisville.” The Bengsons set to work and sketched out a few ideas with a goal of creating pieces that would allow space for impromptu improvisation.

“We just figured out the rough structure for the song and talked about the things that we could say here, here and here and then Abigial took those ideas and just sang, half-prepared,” Shaun recalled.

It was at this exact moment of my conversation with Shaun that Abigail walked into the room and joined up. I brought her up to speed on the chat up until that point and then fan-girl kicked in (again) and I told her (read gushed) without taking a single breath all the reasons why I love the song so much.

I told her I thought the song doesn’t lash out at Trump, thought it could have and that it transcends politics in a really beautiful way.

“It really is a prayer and really coming a place of prayer and neither Shaun or I are religious in any particular way so praying meaning ‘I wish,’ praying meaning ‘I hope,’ praying meaning, ‘please,’ prayer meaning ‘do you hear me, are you out there.”

It’s as if Abigial and Shaun, if you pardon the spot-on brilliant pun, threw a Hail Mary pass with writing the song and wow, did they ever nail it.

I told them that the song stripped prayer of its religious connotations down to its purest form.” Abigail appreciated the sentiment. “That’s beautiful, that’s what we’re attempting right now and I think that prayer can be funny and can be upsetting and can be anything as long as it is coming from the center of you.”

Abigail went on to say that that the “keep going” line was something that she had been signing to herself as she moved through each day. “I would sing it when I was weeping and I would sing it while I was wiping a poopy butt and it just became a thing that helped me.” And she’s right. Listening to the song helps me. IMMENSELY.

” I felt like we couldn’t pretend that it was a normal time and I think we always assume whenever anybody comes to our shows that because  they’re human beings we assume that they’re going through a hard time. It’s always complicated. It’s like we always kind of hope when you come into a space of music with us you can put something down and feel seen for a minute and that’s what we try to do for each other,” said Abigail.

She continued.

“Now we fail at that of course but our attempt is to fail as beautifully as possible at something worthy. So that’s what we’re trying. And then the actual lyrics to ‘The Keep Going Song,’ it was a prayer of in the moment and it was a prayer after much conversation with Shaun about what we’re hoping to offer. We would kind of say to each other, if you were just looking at one person’s tired face what would you want to say to them?”

I told Abigail and Shaun that the song tethers me to humanity at a time that I’m hanging on for dear life.

“My prayer is that this time is not just remembered as a time of horror. I like the idea that at any moment in history, when terrible things were happening that there were people who were trying to make beauty in the world and there were people who were waking up in the morning  and walking the dog and taking care of the babies and doing what needed to be done,” explained Abigail. She said that it’s important for Louis, who is now four, to know that they were all together through a time of such uncertainty, especially as it’s day before the election.

Hey Abigail, Hey Shaun, you’ve done it. You have indeed made beauty in the world and my gratitude is without end. You brought grace into so many lives. You’ve found hope when there is fucking none to be found right now. You’ve brought light into a hole a thousand feet deep and you’ve reminded me of a basic truth that has survived being a punching bag for four years, a truth that has been spit on and knocked unconscious and made to bleed time and time again. It’s the truth that yes, I will keep going on. We will all keep going on. We will fight and we will pick ourselves back up and we will never forget what this year felt like.

In just over six minutes you’ve written the soundtrack for us. You’ve made us a map. You’ve healed at least some of the holes in our hearts. And boy, you released one hell of a song. And so yeah, when I say it’s my favorite song of 2020 I truly mean it. But it’s not just a song. Like Abigail so eloquently said, it’s a prayer.

One worth repeating.

Keep going on, everyone.

Ponti out.

ART MATTERS! Amanda Palmer and company release chilling video for “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”

10.6.18  9:46 p.m.

So as to not bury the lede let me say right off the bat that Amanda Palmer released a video yesterday to what I’ve already said I think is the most important song of 2018: “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.”
And in breaking news, I interviewed her via email about the video, the response to it and how fucked up everything feels right now.

But let me do this right and lay it all out for you. I’ve been working on this off and on all day, starting early this morning and twelve hours later I’m ready to hit “publish.”

Hi.  It’s late morning on Saturday, October 6, 2018 as I start this post and a lot of stuff went down yesterday. Not since the day Trump was elected in 2016 have I felt such politically-charged emotion.  But it goes WAY beyond that and I know many of you are right there with me. Never as a woman and as a human have I felt more offended, insulted, dismissed, disappointed and hopeless.  Holy shit. But hold that thought for a second.

Now it’s 4:45 in the afternoon and I just watched the senate vote to confirm Kavanaugh and it’s like knowing someone is going to die but then when it actually happens it still hurts just as much.  You can’t really be prepared can you?

By the way, this is indeed a music blog and we’ll get there because OMFG the video of “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” was one of things that happened yesterday and it’s the reason why I’m writing now.  But I’ve got to set the scene first because it very much feeds into my response to said video and why I think it’s so important for as many people as possible to see it.

Here’s where I’m at:

I 100% believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Her bravery is remarkable. I, like many of you, watched in horror, expected horror, but horror just the same, as Senator Susan Collins (from Maine where I live) spent 45 minutes saying she didn’t believe Dr. Ford. When she finally ended her  “speech” I started to shake and teetered on the edge of a teary tantrum. Later today is the official vote, otherwise known as the final nail in the coffin of not believing victims of sexual assault with the added bonus of having reproductive freedom potentially jeopardized when Kavanaugh gets on that bench. Meanwhile, POTUS took it upon himself to make a grotesquely erroneous comment  via Twitter recently about trauma and how it impacts memory. Then he straight up mocked Dr. Ford’s testimony a few days ago at a rally. HE MOCKED HER. Over the past ten days or so I have read countless stories that women have shared about being sexually assaulted. Some of these women are friends of mine. I’ve read and heard stories of women I know who were raped and didn’t report it for fear of not being believed and for fear of it bringing shame to their family and for many other reasons. My heart has been shattered. All of ours have been. I feel unprecedented anger and acute helplessness and it all sucks tremendously. While I’m at it let me add that in my opinion, #metoo is NOT a movement. It’s a reckoning. I’m starting to cringe when I hear it referred to as a “movement” even by allies because “movement” is not nearly strong enough of a word. “Movement” feels way too temporary. Reckoning is better but I’m not sure if that is even strong enough. Revolution is getting closer to the marker. #metoo revolution. Now that’s more like it. I know, this is really just a matter of semantics. But still…

I am woman hear me roar and watch me revolt.

Despite everything, I am able to find moments of peace and hope because there’s a huge sense of “we’re in this together,” especially, of course, among women. There’s a huge feeling of “we’re not gonna take this anymore” and we’re all figuring out strategies in our own ways. But my god, this hurts. My heart breaks for Dr. Ford. It breaks for everyone who has relived past traumas because there’s been a mine field of triggers.

What else? So much. Too much.

What next? Everything.

We will march. We will protest (and THANK YOU to everyone who did SO MUCH to try and stop this horrible confirmation from happening). We will vote. We will be heard. We will not be silenced. We will be believed.

We will also let our creative selves shine. I NEED art. It helps me make sense of things that can’t be understood. It helps to say the things that need to be said. It helps to make me feel less alone, knowing there are people out there who are harnessing all of their rage, their sorrow, their pain and their hope and they’re making things. Paintings, poems, films, music, you name it. ALL OF IT.  Sometimes I need a song to show me the way to my own heart, to crack a rib and let the emotions in.  Art, and for me music in particular, is one of the best ways to truly feel human.  And now today, and not for the the first time , Palmer and the people she chooses to work with, have fused music with film and the result is something remarkable.

Now about that video…

One year ago yesterday,  October 5, 2017, the New York Times story broke a huge story and the world learned that Harvey Weinstein is an absolute monster thanks to the bravery of women like Ashley Judd  and others who told their story.  We all know what happened next. #metoo was born. Weinstein’s now in jail.

A few months after this all broke, Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power collaborated on the song “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”  and they released it on  May 23.

single cover by coco karol
Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now Single cover by Coco Karol

If you haven’t heard it yet, decide on your own if you’d rather have your first listening be by way of the video that just came out or first via just the audio. There’s no wrong way to be introduced to the song. It’s going to destroy you either way. I don’t know how else to say it. But it’s also an incredible, stunning song so don’t fear it, just know it’s no “Walking on Sunshine.” It gives voice to the women, and there were many of them- that were assaulted, abused, threatened or otherwise mistreated by Weinstein. But it’s bigger than that.  I’ve listened to the song at this point a couple of dozen times and every listen twists and turns inside my heart. But it’s also a MAGNIFICENT piece of music. Art can be both things: Painful and beautiful. It should be. You don’t need me to tell you that.

In July, Palmer along with Power, director and choreograph Noémie Lafrance, producer Natalie Galazka along with a huge crew and cast assembled at rectory of a church in Brooklyn, New York and shot a video for “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.”

weinstein video still 1
A still from the “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” video shoot. Photo by Hayley Rosenblum

In all, 60 women along with a few men were involved in the making of it. It was paid for by Palmer’s nearly 12,000 Patrons. I’m one of them. We all contribute to Palmer’s Patreon so that she can make art without having to worry about how the bills will be paid.

Yesterday was the day  the video was released, on the one year anniversary of the Times Weinstein story.  I watched it after watching Senator Collins offer up her “yes” in that morning cloture vote and before her 3 p.m. shit show speech that made it official and sent millions of women (and of course several men) into an unprecedented tailspin.  It was  between those two things right around lunchtime when I set aside six minutes, put my headphones on and watched the video to “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.”

I watched it two more times over the course of the day and evening and have since watched it again. There’s a lot to take in.  I’m not going to say much about it because it speaks for itself. But it may be helpful for you to read a bit of what Palmer shared about it on Patreon.

Palmer wrote that that she and director Noémie Lafrance spoke at length and agreed that the video should not be sentimental, it should not exploit, it should not be patronizing and it should not be obvious. As for what it should be? Three words: raw fucking power.

I think it’s also important to share Palmer’s reasons for making this video which she also shared on Patreon:

“it has come to this. in order to effect change, we are having to expose our darkest pain in public forums. on the internet. in newspapers. in the streets. in the senate, in front of hundreds of millions of people watching.

it seems infinitely complicated to address these issues when they’re already so over-saturated and raw. how to not make things worse? how can we express ourselves and our righteous anger in our own terms, on our own dime, in our own time?

that’s what i wanted to do with this video.”

She did that. And she did a hell of a lot more than that.

Now it’s half past eight and I’m in my pajamas watching the Red Sox game because I can’t handle any more coverage of today’s events. I say that yet I check Twitter every 15 minutes.

Earlier today I reached out to Palmer via email with a handful of questions. A few minutes ago, I heard back from her and in the interest of clarity, I will share them in their entirety.

What reactions have you been getting so far, on day one, on the video? From what I’ve seen on social media people are feeling quite moved and affected by it. Any surprises on the feedback front?

Amanda: You know, I should be used to this by now, but I’m not. The reaction from my community on the internet is astounding – people are really finding it cathartic, triggering in a good way, and empowering, which was my hope. The reaction from the flesh and blood human beings who came out in the hundreds to see the screening in LA the other night was equally powerful, there were a lot of abuse and assault survivors sharing their stories. So many women poured so much time, rage an energy into making this video happen. And the response from the media was just….deafeningly silent. I’m used to most mainstream media not picking up on stuff like this, but the feminist media, where are they? Why aren’t they amplifying the art? Where’s Bust? And Bitch? And Ms. and Elle and Teen Vogue on and on…the other feminist allies? We sent them all the clip. It’s astonishing to me that every single article that’s run on this video has been written by a man . It’s just bananas. There’s this part of me that feels like I’m in fourth grade again, getting shoved away from the cool lunch table. It’s possible that everybody in feminist-land was just too wrapped up in the political cycle, but…just, wow. There are so few artists out there doing what we just managed to do, and it was really frustrating – for all of us – to see such loud silence on that front. On the other hand, this is the kind of problem that I’ve been facing for fifteen years. The media follows, but only very lazily, and the most powerful women in the arts are usually blazing way ahead with no regard to the coverage. So I continue to build the Patreon for this very reason: so that I will never need to rely on the media to be the force that authenticates or holds the keys to the amplification of our work. 

With both the song and now the video, you’ve given voice to victims through a stunning piece of art. I believe it’s helping people, likely more than you’ll ever know. How does that make you feel?
Amanda: It makes me feel like I’m doing my job. 
Did you watch any of the Collins shitshow ? If so, alone or with anyone? How was that for you? I mean we all knew deep down she was gonna go this way but it still HURT SO MUCH. Thoughts on that? Especially since it ended up being on the same goddamn day as the one year anniversary (anniversary feels like such the wrong word) of the Weinstein stuff blowing up. I felt so empowered when I watched the video (along with several other intense emotions) and then so defeated watching Collins speech. How was/it for you? How are you feeling right now? Honestly, I don’t know what to feel right now because it’s so easy just to sink into my couch a pile of tears. Thoughts?
Amanda: I’m feeling so hurt. I cried in yoga yesterday, I woke up today and read the news and cried. I cried and streamed to twitter. I cried and listened to my new album mixes, which couldn’t wait, because we have to head to mastering soon. I’ve just been crying a shit ton. I can’t believe what is happening to my country. It feels like our rights and freedoms and achievements – as women and minorities – are going to just get slowly chipped away at, one by one, and like frogs in boiling water 
we’re going to wake up one day with no fucking abortion rights and no immigration rights and it’s just going to be one brutal dictatorship of capitalist frat boys who will not share their toys. It really feels like that. I am also getting ready for what feels like the fight of my life. I’m ready to put down everything else right now and fight for justice for women and other disenfranchised people. Fuck everything. We need a full on revolution. Today. And believe me, I’ve been texting my allies. We are organizing, we are pissed, and we are going to change this.

And what that, here’s the brand new video for Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now

Ponti out

Aimsel on the Record is sponsored in part by L.B. Kitchen in Portland, Maine.


Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities.

The English Beat is back with ‘Here We Go Love’

That’s right people, THE ENGLISH BEAT IS BACK!

They’ve just released their first new album since 1982. It’s called “Here We Go Love” and you are going to LOVE IT!

Before I dive into it, here’s a quick discography reminder:

The debut album was 1980’s “I Just Can’t Stop It,” then came “Wha’ppen?” in 1981 and “Special Beat Service.” in 1982.

A snapshot of  some of the songs we know and love from these records includes “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Best Friend,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “Doors of Your Heart,” “I Confess” and the mother of all English Beat songs…. “Save It for Later.”

First just a a quick note to avoid any confusion:
“Here We Go Love” is The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling.  Dave, originally from Birmingham, England has been living in California for several years. Dave’s former Beat band mate,  Ranking Roger, is based in England and is  doing his own thing under the name The New English Beat featuring Ranking Roger and they put out an album called “Bounce” in 2016.

One more thing, lest ANYONE forget, when the original Beat broke up in 1983, Dave and Roger formed General Public and as much I’m trying to stay focused here, let’s take a minute to listen to “Tenderness” because I love that song immensely and so do you:


Ah yes, it’s  2018 and BAM! “Here We Love Love” is out in the world and it’s a FANTASTIC record. As  I write this, I’ve probably listened to it start to finish no less than 25 times.

From the bouncy rallying cry of “How Can You Stand There” to the edgy “Here We Go Love” to the politically charged “If Killing Worked,” the poignant “Never Die,”  the uplifting “The Love You Give” and the supremely catchy “The One and the Only,” I dare say they haven’t missed a beat. I’m 100 % standing by that pun so don’t give me any side-eye.   And once you listen to “Here We Go Love” you’ll be right there with me.


Let’s listen to “How Can You Stand There?”

“How Can You Stand There?” pulls you off the couch to not only dance but to pay better attention to the world around you with lines like “Warning signs all around this town/Something’s up, something’s coming down. Made aware by the plagues and quakes/We’re wound up tight like it’s gonna break now.”  With signature Beat horns,  fabulous ska rhythm and Wakeling’s vocals sounding sensational, this song is fresh and lively but also maintains that Beat sound we fell in love with in the first place.

Dave Wakeling
The English Beat’s Dave Wakeling
Photo by Eugenio Iglesias

A couple of months back, I sat with Dave in his tour bus in a motel parking lot on the outskirts of Boston and hit record on our conversation. Here’s how it went:

When was the last time The English Beat has released something new?
That’s a question for the ages. There’s a best of record every 18 months. The last one came out just a few months ago in England called “You Just Can’t Beat It.”

What’s different when those come out?
This wasn’t anything new, this was more like a condensed Reader’s Digest medium level. It’s a cheaper release. You’re trying to sell it to people who didn’t buy the records in the first place. It’s one of those. Now next year it’s going to be a bit more of a deal I think. There’s going to be some television advertised stuff.

Here and in England?
I think so. It’s heading toward the 40th anniversary .

Of the band forming?
Of first playing and all of that yes. It’s going to be a big deal.

Who plays on the new album? People you have hired? People you’ve been working on off and on for years?
It’s a great combination of both. So there were a few people that had been in and out of the group over the last 20 years while I’ve been in California. Particularly some backing vocalists that I’ve enjoyed the most singing with; Kevin Williams and Jillarney Jones. I only sang with them a couple of times. They were in the group overlapping but at different times and just two of my favorite voices so I got to do the harmony vocals with them which was really nice. I’ve got some people from the (current) band on the record and then I’ve got some people from previous lineups on the record.

Tell me, because you haven’t recorded new material in quite a while, are these songs that date back from many years? When were they written?
It’s a combination.  We started with 40 songs, a mixture of ones that were burning hot at the moment, new ones that had made the live set at the moment, oldies that had somehow slipped the net and that could be because perhaps a punky song wasn’t fashionable if things were terribly ska at the time or a ska song wasn’t so fashionable if ska wasn’t fashionable now or it was more 80s pop now. So there were a couple of songs that had slipped through the net a long time ago and then there were some that were probably as good if not better but they’d only just started recently and they’d still got quite a ways to travel before they were finished composing. So there are two or three now that are already starting that process for the next one. I let a small circle of people listen to the demos and I polled them; different congregations of votes from men or women around different songs, certain songs, a mixture of both and we whittled it down to a really well-balanced collection. There was one of everything at least. I didn’t rig the votes or anything but it turned out a decent spread and balance and now we’ve got 13 and they fit together really well. They tell a good story thematically and now they want to know if you want 10 or 12 on the record.

 What does it mean to you, after all this time, to have a brand new English Beat record out in the world?
There was some trepidation and that’s turned into resolution. The record sounds as good as we can get it.

What can you tell me about your songwriting process?
I have to go through some deep manic depressive state and then I start walking in circles, talking and rhyming couplets which turns into a poem which then ends up being good enough to turn into a song which then gets worked on for about nine months.

While I have you, let’s talk about the ultimate, iconic English Beat song “Save it for Later.” I want to know, when did you say to yourself, ‘OK, I’ve got something really special here with this song?’
It’s special for me. I would play in on the guitar. I was about 19 or 20 when I wrote it and I would just play it round and round and then on my 21st birthday I got a National steel dobro and I couldn’t stop playing it, I just played it over and over.

On a dobro?
Yeah. It rang like a bell. Then when we started the group I ‘d say  ‘Ooh, I’ve got one’ and then it didn’t make the cut. It didn’t make it until the third album. For the first album “I Just Can’t Stop It” 1980) it was deemed too old wave. Then the second record, I knew it was bound to get on it. Nope. We’d gone kind of world beat by then and that was too rock. So we didn’t do it then. At the time we sort of had a veto, there was five of us. If one of us went “that’s vile,” then we couldn’t do it which is why we never had any songs on TV commercials because one person thought it was vile.

You’ve been playing the hits like “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Twist & Crawl” for a very long time.  Speaking as a fan, I still very much love those songs and I love hearing them live. Do you feed off of that when you see how the crowd reacts?

To play the “Save it for Laters” or the bigger hit songs, it fills the room with a nice ambience and time sort of stands still for a second and everybody’s very jolly and the opportunity comes up that you can play a new song and you sort of paid for the entrance fee.

And the new songs are great!
That’s the luckiest part of it. People can be funny about wanting to hear new material. You’ve got to be careful, especially because there’s a list of 40 songs they want to hear of which you’re going to do 20 so they’re already 50% pissed off. There’s something about concerts that are meaning more to people. There are few places left where you can go somewhere and have an experience, you can judge it yourself, you can trust your own ears and eyes and intuition and share a space with common songs. You can’t really do what watching TV. I like it that concerts mean more and it’s what I do anyway and so it means that if you get it right and you’re willing to be a bit open and connect and have some general mirth and fun with it you can generate a terrific atmosphere in a room; warm and more reaching out from the audience to the crowd and the audience between themselves as well.

Want in on some of that mirth Dave speaks of? Click here for the current tour schedule! And needless to say, pick up a copy of “Here We Go Love” because it’s a brilliant record whether you’re an old-school Beat fan or they’re brand new to you.

Here’s where you’ll find complete album credits for “Here We Go Love”. Take a minute to check it out because it these musicians put their hearts and souls into the album and there are a lot of them.

Dave Wakeling
Dave Wakeling and yours truly in Boston.

Ponti out

Aimsel on the Record is sponsored in part by LB Kitchen in Portland, Maine.

LB kitchen logo

Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities.

Amanda Palmer & Jasmine Power release scorching, triumphant “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”

Let me get right to it: Amanda Palmer and Welsh musician Jasmine Power have just released a song called “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.”

I don’t think I’ve listened to a song more times in a 72 hour period than I have this one. With each listen, it seeps in all the more. While listening to it I’ve wiped tears from my eyes. While listening to it I  felt anger in my belly churn and burn. While listening to it I have wanted to run screaming to the top of the nearest mountain and with skinned knees and a thundering heart plead with the universe for those who have been hurt by Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby  and other monsters posing as men  to know some semblance of peace, healing and in some cases…goddamn revenge.

Can a song offer that? I’m not sure if it’s my place to say. But I paused for a moment to consider other songs that have documented abuse that I feel have been important. Ones by Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, 10,000 Maniacs , Suzanne Vega and Sinead O’Connor came to mind.

Before we get to the actual song, here’s a little backstory  that I think is key for you to know about.

This is from what was sent out to inquiring journalists. Jasmine Power, by way of a mutual friend, was at Amanda Palmer’s house for dinner a few months back. The two clicked and three days later  wound up in a studio together to record a song. Palmer explained that the news about Stormy Daniels was at fever pitch. “I found myself thinking about closed doors to hotel rooms across the world over time and how they’ve been the backdrops of so many of these painful encounters. That was the starting point, and we wrote with the idea of a split self: two voices inside one woman’s head.”

British film-music arranger Matt Nicholson added strings (and oh my god, did he ever!) and orchestration with the goal of making the song more cinematic so as to “kick Hollywood in the face.” Mission accomplished. And then some… “It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever made before; it’s almost a mini piece of theater,” Palmer added.

Palmer went on to say that she’d been thinking about how to address the #Metoo movement in a song. “It’s so personal to these women, these stories, and it felt wrong to write something funny and cabaret; the topic is too harrowing. It’s not surprising, that, just like the movement itself, it took two women getting into a room together, comparing notes and joining forces to create something almost like an anthem for taking back our narrative.”

Initially, the song was called “The Hotel Room” but Palmer thought a bolder statement would be to call it “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.” She heard from a feminist friend that using that title could stir controversy because Palmer couldn’t tell a story that wasn’t hers; at least not about this topic. Palmer’s response was that if that’s the case, it’s the “end of all art as we know it.” But she also reached out to Rose McGowan on Twitter with the lyrics and McGowan offered her approval of the title.

amanda and jasmine photo by Matt Nicholson
Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power Photo by Matt Nicholson

Lastly, before you listen to the song (and it is strongly suggested you do so with headphones for maximum impact), I’m going to share with you Amanda’s response to questions I sent directly to her about how she was feeling as she stood on the precipice of the song’s release.

“Every time I release a song, I’m faced with a mystery. I’ve learned by now not to have any expectations whatsoever; it never works. Things that I think will be understood are often misunderstood, and things that I think will be misunderstood are sometimes embraced with zero drama. But that’s the way I like it, and it prods me on to simply make what I make and let the public deal with it in their own way, it’s not like I have any control over it anyway. I’ve played this song in private for a quite a few people now, and I can tell you this: men seem to appreciate it intellectually and say ‘this song is good’ and women look me in the eye and say “Holy fuck.” But all that being said, I’m always in a kind of brace position when a song comes out, because I’m so used to being misinterpreted. At the very least, a conversation starts. I don’t care if people like the song, the lyrics, the orchestral production, but if it gets people thinking about or arguing about the issues, well…hopefully there’s some progress in there.”

So there you have it. Grab your headphones and listen to this when you can really hear it without distraction or interruption.

I think this is the most important song of 2018. I think music like this is vital.  And musically speaking, I think the song is a masterpiece. From the vocals from both women  to the heart-piercing piano to the holy-god-almighty string crescendos and most importantly the lyrics, “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” is brilliant.   So yeah, I’ll add my voice to the chorus of other women when I say with 100% sincerity: HOLY FUCK.

Also, through June 30, 100% of digital proceeds will go to the TIMESUPNOW legal defense fund. Here’s where you can buy it:

Ponti out.

Katie Herzig on her latest album ‘Moment of Bliss’

I’ve been waiting for a while to say these seven perfect words and since it’s been about four years since any of us got to say them, permit me to bust out in all caps:


And trust me when I say it’s been worth the wait.

Say hello to “Moment Bliss!”


So how good is this record?


Oh and then there’s “Feel Alive.” The single was released toward the end of 2017 and I love it so much it made it onto my Best of 2017 list.

Oh and let’s not forget “Beat of Your Own.”

Point being, Herzig’s made an extraordinarily album with “Moment of Bliss” and along with its release came the glorious news of a tour which includes a date in Boston in July.

I’ve only seen Herzig twice before, both at venues here in Portland, Maine. The first time was at Empire in 2012. In fact, I interviewed Herzig for the Portland Press Herald in advance of that show.

The second time was when she came to Port City Music Hall  during the tour for her 2014 album “Walk Through Walls.”  {Sidebar, go buy this album if you don’t already have it.} On the day of that show Herzig was kind enough to swing by my office at the Portland Press Herald for a Newsroom Session and as long as you promise to picture me with better hair, fashion  and about 30 pounds trimmer you can see that session HERE. and I strongly encourage you to do so because during the session Herzig performs two acoustic songs which thankfully is the focus of it rather than the dopey interviewer. (yours truly.)

Want to know if Herzig is coming to your city? OF COURSE YOU DO! Find that HERE.

katie herzig 2
Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist

Herzig is originally from Fort Collins, Colorado and has been in Nashville for the past several years. Her  solo discography dates back to 2004’s “Watch Them Fall” and several have followed. Make it a point to go deep down the rabbit hole of her music because her stuff is really different.

I reached out to Herzig and asked if she’d be up for a conversation about “Moment of Bliss” and other stuff she’s been working on these past couple of years.  With fingers crossed I waited and indeed she responded and a week later we were on the phone chatting up  a storm. Here’s that conversation in which we covered not only “The Moment of Bliss” but also delved into the inner-workings of how Herzig makes a living with music.

AP: Congrats. Your record’s been out a little over a month. How are you feeling about it?

 KH: It has been such a long time coming that mostly there’s only relief. This record took a long time to get out; my records take a long time to get out anyway so for some reason this felt longer. Just a lot of life happened in there so it just kind of drew out the process. And now in this day and age with releasing singles upon singles leading up to the album it just really stretches it out so by the time the album was here I was just like ‘thank god, let’s just do this.’ So yeah, I felt much relief.

AP: Can you walk me through the chronology of singles? What was the first one?

KH: “Strangers” then it was “Feel Alive” then I think we did “Me Without You,” that was around the holidays and then we started off January with “Beat of Your Own” and then we totally threw in “Weightlifting” on a whim two weeks before the record came out.

 AP: You must be getting some decent radio play? Is that a safe assumption?

KH:  I had a lot of support at AAA and different singles along the way at different stations There was no AAA-sounding obvious radio song so I didn’t put money into it. A lot of that turns out to be trying to get on playlists.  There are stores playing it.

 AP: I would imagine every little bit helps like if you’re added to one of those Spotify fresh tracks playlists.

KH: To be honest there’s always this huge decision and it happens with all my friends who are independent, who are putting out music and trying to make smart moves about how to spend money and how to promote it. Do you put money into the playlist thing? Into the radio thing? In the last album I did, we put a lot of money into a lot of things and this time I’m gonna try to not do that again. It’s all kind of random.

 AP: How much difference does radio airplay make with getting people in the door on a tour?

KH: I think if a radio station is playing you a significant amount and at good times it does make a difference. I think the difference is, and I feel like I got a taste of this, in certain towns where -and this was back when “Free My Mind” was happening because that got to Top 20 or something like that so there were certain markets that were getting a lot of spins and I would show up and more people would come. But it was a much more fickle crowd, it was a ‘people there to hear one song’ kind of feeling. So you feel the difference between what radio does. There’s always gonna be people who dig in further and listen to your whole catalog but it feels a little more seasonal, the radio thing.

 AP: Have you worked with Cason Cooley before as a producer and what did he bring to the table? How would you described his contribution to “Moment of Bliss?

KH: This will be the third full length record we’ve done together and then he did half of “Apple Tree” with me. We’ve also been co-producing some other stuff together.  I’m a  very hands-on in production artist so a lot of times, an example would be, I would pretty much have a pretty fully-formed song and I just need help getting across the finish line. So a lot of times that’s where he steps in. And then at other times he’ll have a musical idea and I’ll take it and run with it, write lyrics and then we’ll come back to it and he’ll help me finish it. So it can be from the beginning we’re writing and recording together and then other times it’s kind of more fully-formed and I bring it to him.

 AP: Did I see that you posted that “Feel Alive” was on “American Idol” or something like that?

KH: I think so. I work with a licensing company, Secret Road, and those things, a lot of times they tell you the day of. Then I turned it on but I never heard it so I don’t know for sure.

 AP: You’ve had a robust history of TV placements. It’s a bit of a mystery how that all works behind the scenes. You hire somebody who specifically does that right? Licensing to TV and film?

KH: Yeah. That’s been a huge part of my career; working with a licensing company that is essentially representing me and pitching me to TV, film and commercials and some of that stuff means me writing for those things.  Some of it is just them using music that I’ve already created. Some of my music has started as writing something for them and then it became my own thing.

 AP: As a fan my process is -when I’m watching a show -like the recent reboot of “Twin Peaks,” I hear a song I like, rewind it, open the SoundHound app and then I immediately follow the artist on every platform so that I don’t forget. My point is, it’s awesome and I’ve become fans of artists because of one little TV placement so I think it’s a very powerful tool.

KH: It is. That’s kind of what my career has been built on. That and me opening for other artists mixed with a little bit of radio. It’s kind of a hodgepodge and I think the licensing stuff can be a really powerful thing because especially if these are TV shows that people care about and songs become the backdrop in these emotional moments. It can form this instant connection.

AP: I can’t imagine “Me Without You” isn’t  going to get a placement. You’ll get off this call from me and will get another one telling you that- I’m manifesting it for you.

AP: So today, my favorite song  from the album is “All This Time.” What’s your favorite right now?

 KH:  Right now I would say. Wait did you say “All This Time?”

AP: Yeah.

KH: That’s the one I would say because it took on a whole new meaning for me recently.

AP: How long have you lived in Nashville for?

KH: I moved here in 2006 so 12 years.

AP: What do you like about Nashville and what’s hard?

KH: The music community here is super supportive and collaborative. It’s such an easy and inviting town to make music in from writing to recording to putting music out. And because the talent and quality level is so high, it just ups your game at every level. I find it to be an energy like nowhere else, where music is a part of the fabric of this town. It’s so normal to be a musician here and to have  a career in it. If I moved from here I would greatly miss that. What’s challenging for me is that I miss the West and I miss being  closer to my family and I miss bike lanes.

AP: I know this record was a long time coming but you’re also someone who gets involved with a lot of other projects so what else has been going on?

KH: I have been collaborating with Ingrid Michaelson on her new project. Cason and I are co-producing that project with her. Now that the record’s out I’m starting to prepare for a tour. There’s so much work in getting this thing out now I’m getting back to music. It becomes so much about content and deadlines and artwork and all that stuff. I’m just kind of in the process of figuring it all out.

 AP: It seems like a new album has about a two-year trajectory as you release singles and videos and such so “Moment of Bliss” is still kind of a newborn.

KH: It’s just a weird thing too because to me these songs and this thing, it doesn’t feel that way and so I have to keep reminding myself of that. Especially with the little I put out, this doesn’t happen very often for me.

 AP: Speaking of things you put out, I’ve never really been much of a Cold Play fan but I sure love your take on “Viva La Vida.” I had forgotten you had done it and it’s gorgeous.

KH: Have you ever heard their song “Midnight?”

AP: I only know the radio hits so if you tell me listen to “Midnight” I totally will. I liked them when they first came out, I don’t know what happened. I’m just a terrible person. {note, 3 days after this interview with Katie I did indeed listen to “Midnight” with an open heard and mind. What can I say? It’s a goddamn beautiful song. Like REALLY beautiful.)

AP: As I think about “Moment of Bliss” as a whole, there’s just so much going on and I extract a lot of hope and positivity and also acknowledging  things that are kind of a struggle. But say you’ve just gotten on  an elevator with some random person and are asked to describe your record to someone who hasn’t heard it. What would you say?

KH:  As I was making this album it felt like a completion of an idea. It felt like the completion of this season of making the last three albums and somebody even pointed it out to me saying this feels like the third in a trilogy.  This is the third I’ve done with Cason and just kind of the evolution of where this vision and these influences and these seasons of life back to back kind of have gone where they’ve ended up. I do feel like this is a reflection of…there was kind of like this acknowledgment of a beginning and this world of possibility and it started with “The Waking Sleep” and these new sounds also this way of me taking in life and then this second “Walk Through Walls”  was  very much me working through this very difficult reason and then this one kind of feels a little bit like the aftermath of that and the arrival of some reflective maturity and some experiences and the resignation. It feels like resignation to these things I do as an artist. This is a very natural progression of what I’ve done and I am kind of indulging in these things that I have done in music in these landscapes and these tendencies and layers of sound, themes. And that doesn’t mean I’m gonna necessarily never do any of that again but it did feel like getting it out of my system in  a way. Whatever comes next is gonna feel really different but who knows?

 AP: I’m looking out this super cool cover. Buttefly (Boucher) did all the art and layout right?

KH: Yes she did.

AP: The yellow squares over your eyes. Are those symbolic of something? The whole thing looks amazing I’m just wondering if there’s any symbolism in there? What went into the decision with that?

KH: There’s a really interesting story behind this album of that almost like art and life getting so tied up, talk about manifesting stuff. You write these songs and you explore these ideas and then the album is done and you’re doing the artwork and you’re realizing some of these themes are coming to life in your own life. For me, “Moment of Bliss,” what was like, that, you know, and even coming up with an album title, that whole journey can be very difficult and once “Moment of “Bliss” revealed itself it like really revealed itself. If I talk too much you’re gonna have to ask me more questions.

 AP: Dream collaboration. With anyone? Dead or alive. Who comes to mind?

KH: One that comes to mind is the composer Gustavo Santaolalla.

AP: (after lightning fast Googling) Wow, he did “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel.”

KH:  I first heard him on “Friday Night Lights” and there’s one song in “Babel” what was in “Friday Night Lights” and it was like ‘oh my god what is this?” so I tracked him down. Artists like him or like Bon Iver, there’s something I identify with in how I make music that is almost like it doesn’t have to be the most put together, clean thing. There’s just those layers of things happening that move in a certain way that just gets you. So I want to do something where we put this guy, Justin Vernon and me in a room and see what happens.

AP: I don’t think that that’s that unrealistic of a request.

KH: Dreamboard?

AP: That’s amazing.

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Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist



Interview with the incredible Paula Cole

My love for Paula Cole began in 1994 upon hearing her debut album “Harbinger” with the songs “Happy Home,” “Ordinary” and “Watch the Woman’s Hands.”  And then in March of 1995 I saw her for the first time live opening for Sarah McLachlan at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine. My friends and I were right up front and our jaws collectively dropped hearing Cole sing and bang on something like a pizza pan. It was a “holy shit” moment I’ll never forget and to this day I still maintain that Cole has one of the most powerful and gorgeous voices I ever hope to hear.

In 1996 Cole released the self-produced album “This Fire” and it won her a Grammy for Best New Artist. The album tore up the charts with “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and “I Don’t Want to Wait.” And the single “Me” is still a personal theme song.

“Amen” followed in 1999 with the song “Pearl” which is even more a theme song for this writer. The album’s single “I Believe In Love” is still is a contender for a planetary national anthem as far as I’m concerned.

A lot has happened since then. Cole took a several year hiatus to care for her daughter who was born with severe asthma, went through a rough divorce and stepped way out of the spotlight. When she came back to the music world it was in a much quieter way but with no less impact in terms of the music. 2007 brought with it “Courage” followed by “Ithaca,” “Raven,” “7” and the live “This Bright Red Feeling” in 2016.

This past August, Cole released a glorious double-album  called “Ballads.” It’s all songs she loves from the 30s to the 60s from artists including Rodgers & Hart, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan and Bobbie Gentry to name a few.

Photo courtesy of 675 Records

I saw her play the entire album live in Massachusetts last summer and the show did not disappoint.

This brings us to now. At present, Cole is on faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston, plays shows regularly and lives on Massachusetts’ North Shore with her family.

I got her on the phone the other day for a candid chat about music, life and turning 50  and it is with sincere joy I share this conversation.

How long have you been teaching at Berklee School of Music and what specifically do you teach?

I’m in my 5th. It’s hard to believe. I’m in the voice department. I teach singers all kinds of things; how to relate to the rhythm section, things about the voice and learning new material. The most specialized thing that I do is my songwriting class. They are very wonderful to me and I can tour as I need to.

“Ballads” has been out in the world since August. What’s your favorite song to perform live from it?

“I just know “God Bless the Child” inside and out so well it feels like hand in glove and it’s like swimming, it feels so great. And the lyric writing on those two Bob Dylan songs is so wonderful (“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.“) I love those. The lyrics are like mini-novels. I felt like they could be re-interpreted and blended into some of these other writers’ work. Interestingly, most of these songs are from the 30s and the 60s. With maybe just a couple falling outside those boundaries. Those were such times of social upheaval in America and great content was written through all of our suffering. I’m drawn to the angst and the suffering and the meaning.

I really appreciate that you care so much about these old songs and wanted them to have another lease on life. I can’t imagine my favorite not ever being “Ode to Billie Joe” because it’s such a good song but then I hear on ones like “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and that’s pretty awesome too and “Skylark” too. It’s just such a great record.

I can credit you for inspiring me to record “Ode to Billie Joe.”

I don’t know if you should give me that much credit.

Yeah, I would.

I’m flattered. That’s one of those songs that just never really gets old and to hear you do it is the combination of her lyrics and your vocals it’s incredible. Every once in a while, I dip my toe into a bunch of her other songs like that record she did with Glen Campbell. And I just love the fact that Bobbie Gentry’s out there somewhere. Who knows what she’s doing; if she’s a recluse or what’s happening with her but I love that somewhere out in the world Bobbie Gentry is somewhere sitting at a table drinking tea right now for all we know.

I heard she was in the San Fernando Valley somewhere.

Why hasn’t there been a documentary done about her? Or maybe there is and I don’t know about it.

I just want to give her a hug and just thank her.

And speaking of other people’s songs, did my eyes and ears deceive me or did I see a recent clip on YouTube of you covering Aerosmith’s “Dream On?” It’s fucking awesome. How long have you been doing that one for and what inspired it?

It was a Kickstarter pledge finally manifesting. It’s really fun and the audience loved it. I guess when you step over lines and barriers, you know a woman doing a big cock-rock song or a woman stepping into classic rock, it’s just much more of a man’s playing field and it used to happen when I sang “Black Dog” a lot as well. It just gets a lot of attention.

That’s awesome. I listen to some of the big classic rock stations around here sometimes and it’s awesome but it’s also frustrating because hours can go by without hearing a woman artist.

That’s right. It’s a desert. They might play Stevie Nicks but that’s it.

Or a Heart song. I love it but sometimes the feminist in me roars.

I love hearing stuff. Robert Plant when he sings and Steven Tyler when he sings, that so works for me.

Maybe I’ll start a secret fund for your next Kickstarter campaign and I’ll have you do “All My Love” because that’s my favorite Led Zeppelin song.

You’re turning 50 on April 5. What are you going to do to celebrate? But don’t jump out of an airplane, that scares me too much.

The closer I get to it the more pressure I feel. I don’t want to do anything typical. I’d like to do something that allows me to stretch and grow into some areas where I have not had growth; learning more things. Because you know in mid-life we’re kind of patterned to stay in our groove and make income. But what I’d really like to do is shake some of these chains and learn and one thing I’d really love to do is learn more whole systems design and permaculture, especially with this author named Ben Falk. He and his wife Erica have a farm in Vermont and a learning center. I tried to register for the course but I can’t because I have gigs and I can’t pull out of the shows. I decided instead of going to Paris or something I wanted to do that; I wanted to learn. I think what I’m headed for once the kids start stretching their wings and flying off independently from our nest, I would like to move to an era of more social justice work. I would like very much to work for sustainability and less plastic, less petroleum and less pigs. The three Ps; we’re addicted to those things; we’re addicted to meat eating, we’re addicted to plastic, we’re addicted to petrol. I think being a vegan – and sometimes I struggle because I fall off the wagon with dairy- but I think being a vegan is one of the most awesome and  subversive acts someone can make that creates real change. So if I can even continue that and influence more people to see the light  in that movement where you’re not participating in the holocaust of animals and you are being more conscientious about your waste and your food and what you do. I want to be on that trajectory. Yes, I’ll still make music but something is gonna shift and I feel 50 is a doorway for that. I can’t be doing back-breaking work, I’m feeling it in my body for sure. But I’m in good health. I’m very aware of my lifetime being finite and I want to be meaningful and purposeful. I’m tired of being as quiet as I’ve been quite frankly. The planet needs more advocacy and I’ll probably move into that role a little more.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive though as I imagine organizations like P.E.T.A. and people involved with Earth Day would love to have you play benefits for them and such.

Definitely. I play benefits every year. It’s hard to choose. I tend to be a bit of a hermit because people ask things of me and it’s hard balancing all the things in my life, whether it’s teaching or touring, even a Kickstarter campaign, I’m still not done with that fulfilling all those pledges. And then of course being a homemaker and a mom. I’m pretty domestic when I’m home. Getting older is nice, you take less bullshit on, you feel more entitled to your opinions, I definitely would not want to be 25 again. Or 35. So far I really like myself at almost 50. I’m fortunate to have my partner David and my sweet kids and my sweet fans. I’m so lucky to be healthy. I’m really aware of that. And I feel like, well, if I’m still here because so many in the music business aren’t. Look at Dolores O’Riordan and Prince and David Bowie. All these heartbreaks. But I’m still here and there’s something to be said about that. I think my trajectory was too fast in the pop world; it was inauthentic then. I pulled myself back and it’s been very slow and small since but it’s real and still here like the tortoise. I’m still here and I think it’s actually manifesting well for me. I think I’ve got more so much more creativity in me yet.

I love to hear that. Let me ask you this final question. This is going to sound cliché but I’m genuinely interested in your response. I’m wondering what bums you out about the current state of affairs with the music business  and what makes you still feel hopeful?

What sucks is that musicians are the most beautiful species of homo sapiens in my opinion. We’re sensitive, we design and and we make something from nothing and yet I don’t feel that our gifts are appreciated enough by our society the way say Finland supports their artists or Canada. Musicians struggle to exist in this society and more so now than ever with the digitization, distribution, Spotify; a single stream is .0005 cents. It’s a non-money amount so how are these sensitives, with a very gifted and specific skill set, how will they have time or make the very thing that heals us in our pain. It’s proven again and again. You look at the data; music heals society, where there is music there is healing and there is less crime, there’s more  business fruition. The whole society is healthier. So I travel the world and I see the societies where art is supported and everyone is supported, it has an effect on the whole. That bums me out that our American society does not support that arts sufficiently compared to the rest of the world. It’s a shame.

What gives you hope? Maybe your students?

Yes. I’ve gotten close to enough millennials now through teaching and even through touring with younger players now.  They show me something, they’re learning in a principled fashion that inspires me. It’s less materialistic, it’s more about seeking meaning and I really respect that. They are inheriting a more difficult workplace, a more fraught world, a more polluted world with less natural resources. It’s really different. It will be harder for them. You and I are luckier in many ways even just that we listen to vinyl. Maybe we have a hope of Social Security, maybe not. They’re looking at it in a more spiritual, more holistic way and idealistic way. I appreciate them. They’re open to listening to all kinds of music. They’re listening to their musical ancestors.

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Photo by Erica McDonald

Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor : The Dream Job Q&A

To my fellow Boston Red Sox fans…this one’s for you. And to everyone else who thinks that you’ll never land your dream job, this one’s also for you.

Four  years ago I was at a Red Sox game sitting in the bleachers when I heard the organist play a riff of David Bowie’s “Starman.” I got home from that game and immediately figured out who was behind the magical moment and soon after followed Josh Kantor on Twitter.

Fast forward to April of this year when I saw a Tweet of Kantor’s saying that he’d be sitting in with The Jayhawks for a few songs playing accordion at Port City Music Hall.

So I of course showed up at the show and Kantor himself overheard me saying his name out loud. We said hello and having already established a rapport a few years back when I blogged about the “Starman” moment, I wasn’t a complete stranger to him. I was however a determined one so I asked him right at that moment if he’d be up for an interview. Bless his heart, he said yes and up we went to the dressing room where, much to my delight, a few Jayhawks popped in here and there  during our conversation (they’re awesome).

I busted out my digital recorder and it was off to the races for the next 20 minutes. We talked about how he got the job, how long he’s had it for and what it’s like going to work at Fenway Park 82 times a year (more if we make the playoffs!). And I’m going to share this interview momentarily.

But first just a few words about my love for the Boston Red Sox. It all began in my Papa’s backyard. Papa was my grandfather and when I was a kid I used to help him with yard work. He’d mow the lawn and pick up clippings with his ride-on mower and would dump the clippings in front of me and then I’d fling them over a rock wall. The yard was huge so this took a while. Atop a rock sat his big, heavy transistor radio and that was my first introduction to the Boston Red Sox and to this day, I still adore listening to them on the radio. When I get to Fenway (which is not nearly enough) I’m the nerd with the old school Sony mini radio and headphones so I can listen to the radio broadcast while watching the game. For real.

I survived the 1986 World Series because I was just young enough to not be as invested as I would later be in the team. Fun fact, at the time of that fateful series, Bill Buckner lived not only in my hometown of Andover, MA, but less than a mile form my house. I never ran into him but If I had I would have been nice.

The 2003 American League Championship Series was brutal. For all of us. I can close my eyes and still feel that pain. I know you can too.

Conversely, the joy of 2004 is something I’ll never forget. I know you agree.

I watch this clip at least once a year. It never gets old.

I’m telling you all of this so that you understand that I’m not some casual fan. I’m hardcore.

Photographic evidence: (and yes, that Big Papi in the upper right hand corner that I have my hand on and yeah, he signed my freaking baseball).

ALP Red Sox Collage photo
The top two pics were taken by my friend Jen on the day we got to go on the field before a game in 2005. The bottom left was when I got to run the bases circa 2007 and the lower righthand corner, thanks to my generous friend Anne, is me at the 2013 World Series. We lost that game but Papi homered and you know how it all turned out.

So back to Josh. He’s a hell of nice guy. Humble and kind and also a huge Sox fan. It was SO COOL to chat with him.

Boston Red Sox organist John KantorPhoto courtesy of Josh Kantor
Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor living the dream at Fenway Park.

And now for the Aimsel on the Record 2017 John Kantor interview:

Where you do live?
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Where are you from?
All around but I’ve been in the Boston area since 1990

How did you end up playing with The Jayhawks?
We were on a bill together in Mexico maybe two or three winters ago and I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time and we just kind of hit it off and the next thing I knew they were asking me to jump up and play with them and we stayed in touch and so when they were swinging back through the northeast they asked me to jump up and play with them again.

What was your first instrument?
I started playing piano when I was about five or six and then got serious about organ shortly after I finished college and have kind of dabbled with some other instruments; accordion in recent years.

Where did you go to school?
I went to Brandeis in Waltham, Massachusetts

What kind or organ is there at Fenway Park?
It’s a Yamaha. The model is called Electone AR-100. It’s a mid 1990s model. I’ve been very happy with it. It’s one of those things you know no two models  are exactly alike so I spent a lot of time kind of getting to know the ins and outs of this one so it feels very comfortable and familiar to me, I’m really happy with it. I have a similar model at home that I use to do a lot of the practicing that I do for the stuff that I play at the ballgames.

How long have you been the Red Sox organist and how did you get the job?
This is my 15th year. I auditioned before the start of the 2003 season. I knew someone who was working for the team at the time. He and I had written songs together previously and he knew that I was a baseball nut and he knew that I was an organ player and he recommended me to the audition committee and I went in for a couple or rounds of auditions. I had played in a lot of different bands and I had done a lot of musical theater. I had done a lot of live piano and organ accompaniment for improvisational theater which I found to be sort of the most transferable skill for the baseball job because  you’re watching players on a stage and you don’t know what’s gonna happen next and you have to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice with the appropriate musical idea.

Do you sit near other?
We used to but I’ve moved around. We used to be in the same location. My location has since changed but we are in constant communication with each other via a headset.  Before the game, during the game, after the game, we give each other cues, suggestions, feedback and keep each other on our toes and make sure we both don’t play at the same time. He also comes from a background of doing that kind of thing for improvisational theater so we have a really cool, unique kind of verbal shorthand with each other which helps us keep things quick and sharp.

How long has TJ been doing his thing for?
He’s been there full-time since the start of ’08 I think and for maybe three or four years prior to that was the backup so he’d substitute occasionally.

Do you remember what your first thought you had when you were offered the job?
I was thrilled. This really is a dream job. It’s something that I remember as a kid thinking ‘that must be the coolest job in the world to play the organ at a baseball stadium.’ I kind of always wanted to do that. But I think I had probably mentioned that to enough people that the friend who recommended me for the audition probably remembered or heard me say it at some point and was able to connect me with the audition committee. I remember thinking that the first audition went OK but not great. And then some time passed and they called me back.

Did they have you audition right at Fenway Park?
I auditioned in the park. In fact the first audition was over the loud speakers in the ballpark which was not the plan but one of the people on the audition committee was stuck in a meeting in a conference room with a window that faced out into the park and couldn’t leave so he just opened the window and asked the audio engineer to just turn on all the speakers. That was a little nerve-wracking for me to have my audition be in an empty stadium for the whole neighborhood to hear. Then I remember the second audition, I felt maybe because they called me back that was a sign that they liked me. I remember going into the second audition feeling comfortable and confident and I remember feeling like it was really long. It was at the end of that audition that they offered it to me and they said “Can you do every home game?”

What’s 162 divided by two?
81 games plus playoffs if you’re lucky.

So your first season was 2003 right?
That was the year they lost to The Yankees.

Were you playing during those American League Championship Division games?
Yes. And especially since that was my first season I really rode the rollercoaster everyday the way that so many of us did.

Then the 2004 ALDS again against the Yankees did you play during all of those crazy extra-inning late games that felt like they lasted until the middle of the night?
Yes. I remember they were down 0-3 and I remember walking into the gate for game 4 and just telling myself I have to believe we are going to win tonight in order to walk through that gate.  I remember leaving that game thinking “that’s the most exciting baseball game I’ve ever seen in my whole life” whether I was working it or not.

That was the famous Dave Roberts steal game.
Yeah so they won that game in 12 innings on the Ortiz  home run. The next night, game five, they won in 14 innings.

Right. When Big Papi muscled out that game-winning single.
Yeah. I remember leaving game give thinking “that one was even more exciting that game four” and then they went to Yankee Stadium and won two more and then they came back and beat the Cardinals.

Did you play at the World Series?

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch is you playing live right?
Yes. That’s the one thing that’s scripted as far as live playing.

When did you join Twitter and when did you start having fan interactions because I get a big kick out of seeing that stuff.
I joined Twitter fairly early on but I didn’t understand it and I didn’t see the utility of it. I was sort of instructed by the boss at the library where I was working my day job to get on it and I was skeptical. TJ Connelly and the organist for the Atlanta Braves, I saw them starting to use it in interesting, clever, creative and interactive ways with fans at the games and I thought “I bet I can do that.” And so I just started doing it and I started just as a wild experiment offering to take people’s requests. I really had no idea how it was going to go. I didn’t think anything was gonna come of it other than it might be fun for a week . That was about five years ago and now it’s turned into a pretty self-sustaining thing. I’d say most of the songs I play during a game are fan requests that come in live via Twitter from people in the stands.

I see that you do get heckled sometimes.
I do. People tell me what they don’t like. People also tell me what they do like and it’s fun. I tell people what I like and don’t like too. I’m not there to play what I want to hear, I’m there to play what other people want to hear. But I will tell people “I think that’s a dumb song.” I’ll gladly play it, let’s have fun with it. I also make fun of my own musical taste constantly.

Do you feel pressure to keep up with all the popular, hit songs?
Not a ton of pressure. I think part of the job means keeping to some extent your finger on the pulse of what’s popular. I’m 44 so that charts are not aimed at me. I’m not paying a ton of direct attention to it other than for occasional work related purposes but I can take a peek at it every once in a while. I kind of know who some of the big names are. The other thing is, people will tell me. I have young colleagues who are newly minted communications graduates from Boston University and Emerson and they’ll tell me what’s hip. Or fans will come to the games and they’ll tell me what’s hip or what’s new.

So if Beyoncé had some scorching hot single that the entire planet was singing, it’s not like you have to learn the whole song right?
It depends. Sometimes you’re just looking for the one little hook or the chorus and it can be ten seconds, fifteen, thirty. Sometimes I’ll play the full song if it’s before or after the game.

But you’re not going out buying sheet music right?
I don’t read music. I knew how to as a kid but I just haven’t practiced it.

So if there’s a popular new song, you’ll just kind of figure it out?
Yes, if it’s simple enough. I do this every night. Now if it’s a straight-forward tune , then usually one listen and I’m good to go.  But sometimes it takes a second or third listen to get the nuances of it, especially if you’re really trying to nail the hook or an extended chunk of the song.

I know you play a lot of requests but you also have a keen appreciation for some 80s alternative music.  I think I heard you play a Plimsouls song once. Do you ever get to work in some of your own snippets?
I play whatever people ask me to play so if people ask to me to play a Plimsouls song, I will play it. Now I happen to be in my  sort of freelance music “career” I’m kind of connected with a lot of the sort of 80s and 90s indie rock world because those are the bands I end up meeting and playing at festivals with and connecting with. I’m in a band with Eddie Muñoz who was the guitar player in The Plimsouls.

What’s that band called?
It’s called The Split Squad. So it’s Eddie Muñoz, Clem Burke the drummer from Blondie and Keith Streng the guitar player from The Fleshtones. So those kind of people.

How often do you play shows?
Everybody lives all over the country and everybody’s in lots of bands so I would two or three times a year we get together for like a week.

How long has this been going on for?
This band formed about four of five years ago.

So it’s a cold, rainy night in say June and the game sucks and we’re getting our asses handed to us. Is that when you really try to lift people up?
That’s when you have to earn it. Because if they’re in first place and they’re kicking ass and everyone’s in great spirt and the place is packed and it’s the weekend and everyone is in an awesome mood, it’s not difficult for me to wind people up because they’re already pretty wound up. But when the weather is miserable and the team is having a bad night and people are in a bad mood… I mean we’ve had a couple of seasons recently where they were in last place it’s tricky because you want to be light-hearted, you want it to be buoyant, you want to keep people optimistic. At the same time, Red Sox fans are really savvy by and large and if you whitewash it they feel like you’re insulting their intelligence and you kind of are insulting their intelligence so I don’t want to do that. So it’s  bit of balancing act. If the team’s not playing as well then maybe there’s a little more pressure on me to at least make it so people are having fun.

Remind me of what happens between innings? Are you and TJ both playing songs?
Yes. Sometimes it’s him, sometimes it’s me. We trade off. During a commercial break there’s almost always music being played at the ballpark by the DJ or by me.

Do you play songs for players as they’re coming up to bat?
Every park does it differently. Each player has a song that is associated with them and a lot of times it’s personally selected by the player and so when they get introduced and they come up to bat or it’s a relief pitcher and they’re coming into the game than that song will be played at that time. 99% of the time that’s a DJ thing cause that’s what the players tend to prefer. Then as far as incidental music that happens in response to plays or lulls in the action or anything like that, that’s a combination of me and the DJ. By and large the DJ and I have the leeway to make those decisions.  Sometimes we get input from colleagues, bosses and we take that all into consideration.

Do you ever get to interact with the players?
Occasionally it’s a quick “hi, how are you you? but I kind of observe them much in the way that fans do. Do you get to interact with the players ever?

Where is the organ? 
We’ve had  a few different locations over the years but right now it’s directly beneath the press box where writers sit. It’s level four in that’s called the State Street Pavilion Club with is a restaurant/bar area.

Even after all these years and all of the times you’ve walked into Fenway Park to go to work, do you still have moments of “this is so cool!”?
Oh yeah. Everyday. At least one, usually several times every day I kind of stop and soak it in and pinch myself. Even on days I’m not there sometimes, throughout the off-season I think “I can’t believe I get to go there and do that?”