Tina Shafer Hosts the Holiday Songwriters’ Circle – The Bitter End (NYC – Dec. 15, 2014)
By Pia Finnigan
While watching Tina Shafer host an evening of musical entertainment, it is not hard to realize why this showcase of emerging and seasoned performers is still going strong into its 25th season. Not a first timer to The Bitter End for a New York Songwriters Circle event, I enjoyed the show a few months back, the dynamic of the audience this time was completely different. The night’s show brought a new energy and excitement to a legendary venue.
The Songwriters Circle began in 1991 as a way to give talented, unknown performers exposure. The premise of a Songwriters’ Circle is that a handful of songwriters sit together on the stage and go around three times or so, regaling the audience with their original work. Many of the artists play multiple instruments and rotate from acoustic guitar to piano. Others have a fellow participant accompany them. The dynamic range of songs last night had spiritual undertones, with memories of times gone by and family themes with a holiday undertone.
To stick with the family theme, four out of the six singers had their family members on stage to share the spotlight with them. Rob Mathes — who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, JayZ, Yo-Yo Ma, Train, and Fall Out Boy — had his daughter, Sarah, join him during the first round. The lyrics, combined with Sarah’s strong vocals, created a very powerful gospel number. Mathes’s next two songs engaged the crowd during the second portion of the evening. He sang “Wheelbarrow”, a bluesy number which had the crowd up on their feet. Especially impressive was the scatting of the horn part. The performance evoked the vibe of a cafe deep in the heart of the South, possibly sitting back and listening at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. For his final number, Mathes chose a song he played at previous holiday songwriters’ circles.
Andrew Fortier brought very diverse sensibilities to the stage. He reminisced about years gone by and included his daughter, Juliette, and son, Cole, into each of his three songs. All the numbers had wonderful three-part harmonies. Cole (who appeared around 11 years old — most likely younger) had some true grit to his voice, but was still able to glide up to the high notes in each song. Especially moving was “It’s Okay Dad,” which brought up the feeling of two people passing or at different stages in their lives. After dancing during Mr. Mathes’s number, a father and son from the audience stood up and embraced during this performance.
Tina Shafer sang and played the guitar during her original song “Flash,” which carried the theme that she proclaimed about passing the torch to new performers.
Kevin Bents was raw and authentic, and tested out new music for the crowd.
The torch was truly being passed around, which Shafer had alluded to throughout the show. A country, homey vibe was also clearly achieved, as the aforementioned father and son pair felt at ease enough to introduce themselves to Shafer after the show. They thanked her for a wonderful night of entertainment and then the tourists explained how they felt like they were back in Austin, TX, with the quality of authentic storytelling through music.
The holiday edition of Tina Shafer presenting the Songwriters’ Circle was an intimate and emotional yet exciting collection of artists. Their work captivated the audience and left them cheering for one more go around.