Another outstanding article from GtoC’s new writer Courtney Boutwell. She was at The Spark Theater for an acoustic Strange Americans. show. Check them out this Saturday at hi dive for Knew Years Eve presented by GtoCMagazine.
The moment I opened the door to enter the Spark Theater tonight, I was immersed in a back drop reminiscent of a Capitol Hill apartment I’d overtaken during my early twenties. I had not expected a venue offering such an up close experience with the performers; and wondered what treats lay in wait. Within minutes Murry Mercier and Trent Nelson of the Strange Americans, along with special guest violinist, Emily Rose Lewis, began setting up equipment and the rest of the atmospheric details for the evening. Curious about the personalities behind the group, I introduced myself. Moments later Matt Hoffman and Scott Gunshore joined the three in their endeavor; and I will vouch, this is one good-natured clan.
The stage was set. The audience, which had been eagerly waiting in the hall, took their seats. Meanwhile, a certain electricity filled the air. Perhaps it was because the other spectators knew what was in store; but, I was blown away when Hoffman belted out the first few lines of Benji’s Pjs. Much like a schizophrenic, I am prone to chasing ideas through my head when preparing to write; but, Hoffman’s vocals demanded attention, slicing through my inner peanut gallery and sucking me into the present. The lyrics of the fourth song took me beyond the state of direct correlation I was experiencing, “there’s a kid in me that says we’ll get what we deserve.” The foot stompings around me told me I wasn’t alone.
I’ve read Hoffman’s jokes about pretending to play the harmonica. But he used that Hobo Harp with razor-like precision to cut into the sixth song, Plastic Pearls; and owned that electric tin can with a voice like aged wine as he sang, “Dialed it on a rotary, Telephone, And all the numbers tried to flee, Spun around, numerical uncertainty.” Trent Nelson’s facial expressions during the vocals and his manipulation of the mandolin spelled out the passion, personal involvement, and soul the group pours into each song and the delivery. I could not help but bob my head along with Scott Gunshore as he brushed more charged static into the air and struck out rhythms on his drums.
It’s an extraordinary pleasure to witness a new song come together. Mercier, Gunshore, and Hoffman familiarized Nelson with the cords to Rebuild the Radio. I deem the results majestic. Mercier etched his way into my heart with his commandment of the keyboard as, “I keep losing sleep, It’s been no friend of mine, Like you, Somewhere in the middle ground, Drones, A persisting radio” were delivered via perfected blend of Hoffman, Mercier, and Nelson’s vocals; which struck universal chords in tune with my daily haunts.
Before the thirteenth and final song of the evening Hoffman announces, “We’re gonna folk rock really hard right now,” and asked for an audience member’s participation. About thirty seconds in , I began to wonder why there were chairs in the room; all I wanted to do was kick them over so I could get up and move. I imagined people standing outside, under the bay window, filled with jealousy. Emily Rose Lewis hammered another nail into the coffin of each beat; and drove Out on a Drift home. I didn’t want the set to end.
Matt Hoffman took some time with me after the show; and comical rumors of the Strange American’s plan to take over the world had me asking, “Were this possible, what would you change and where would you start?” The answer is: the Strange Americans have heart for fellow musicians and the struggle. Hoffman would like to see his peers making a living doing what they love. With that in mind, I’ve asked my boyfriend to donate the seventy five dollars to the Strange Americans Kickstarter; which entitles the contributor and a friend to attend a BBQ hosted by these guys. I told him it would be a lovely Christmas present. If this evening was even just a taste, (I’m sure it was more along the lines of a banquet), of what I’ve been missing in the local Folk, Bluegrass, and Americana music scene, I’m here to stay!