What a great concept: get 15 songwriters together, subsidized by an Iguana Music Fund grant, and send them to a camp on Lake Winnipesaukee to write songs for a week. They call themselves the Sub Rosa Collective, and they are the lucky recipients this grant.
The Iguana Music Fund is an annual grant program partially funded by Club Passim’s memberships. Artists apply for grants to cover “career development” and projects on which they are working. Sub Rosa’s requirement for the grant is that they play two shows at Club Passim, during which they perform the songs written during the retreat. Sounds like fun to me.
I do not know if the cast of characters is the same each year, but participants in the 2015 retreat who performed at the second of the two shows were Dinty Child (Session Americana, Chandler Travis Philharmonic, The Funky White Honkies, Agnostic Gospel), Dietrich Strause, Charlie Rose (Barnstar!, Elephant Revival), Zachariah Hickman (Barnstar!, Josh Ritter), Sean Staples, Kris Delmhorst, Rose Cousins, Dave Champagne (Agnostic Gospel, Treat Her Right), Jocie Adams (Arc Iris), Dave Godowsky, Kristin Andreassen, Mark Erelli (Barnstar!), Laura Cortese, Annie Lynch (Annie and the Beekeepers), and Rose Polenzani.
I had seen two-thirds of these musicians perform before. A couple of them, I had been extremely interested to see but kept missing, and a few were unfamiliar to me except by name.
The stage had to be extended to accommodate the 15 musicians; Passim’s stage is crowded enough when there are six players! They shared guitars and switched instruments frequently throughout the show – except for Hickman, who stayed on bass, and Cortese, who kept to her fiddle.
Each artist presented at least one song written at the retreat, taking center stage (most of the time) to sing while the others sang backing vocals and played various instruments. It is hard to speak to individual songs; they were all new to me and everyone else, and there is nowhere to hear a recording to refresh my memory on a particularly strong lyric.
There are a few I do remember, however. When Rose presented his song, he explained that his grandfather was a poet (his avocation, not his livelihood) in the early 20th century. Rose’s mother gave him a book of his grandfather’s poems and he is setting them to music. Hickman told us he is not a songwriter, but did write a very dark and funny song.
All the songs were strong; it shows what can happen when creative minds are surrounded by other creative minds. Even if there is no collaboration, there is an energy in such a situation that leads to great work and breakthroughs. (I’ve experienced this when taking two-week pottery workshops.)
The last song of the second set was a song by Delmhorst that the group decided was their favorite to come from the retreat. It was a beautiful song that I hope makes it onto an album.
The whole group was prompted to do an encore. This was the day David Bowie died, which sent music lovers into a tailspin, and they honored his memory with a gorgeous version of “Starman.” What a perfect way to end the night.