Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Tale of Two Venues

It was the best of venues. It was the worst of venues. At least on two different nights.

I went out to back-to-back gigs, both times to see friends perform, and the two experiences couldn’t have been more different.

Friday’s gig was certainly not the performers’ fault. Michael G. Ronstadt was excellent as always, backing up singer Casey Reid Alvarez, and then doing a set with one of his regular partners David Trotta. Also performing was Dani Mari, a singer/songwriter who apparently runs an Open Mic at Triumph Brewing Company in Old City.

The venue was Connie’s Ric Rac, a deliciously raffish bar/space in the Italian Market. Walls covered with the work of local artists (most of it erotic or just obscene), rickety tables and comfy sofas, family bartenders and a makeshift stage with decent acoustics. Just a spit from 9th and Passyunk, where Pat’s and Geno’s have their cheesesteak standoff.

But Friday night was the final night of the playoffs, with the Phillies trying to make it to the next stage. Ever been in South Philly when there was a crucial playoff game in the balance? Madness.

There was almost no audience to speak of. And the game was being projected on a side awall with the sound off (while the musicians were playing). So the musicians were literally playing second fiddle. I thought about being indignant on their behalf but a) what kind of a bar in South Philly doesn’t show a playoff game, and b) if the game weren’t on there would have been no audience at all. So be it.

The musicians had the opportunity to experiment and riff a bit. I was there for the music, but admit to keeping an occasional eye on the score. Ronstadt and Trotta finished a song at almost the same second the Phils lost, and there was a real hesitation to the applause – nobody wanted to sound like they were applauding the tragic end of the season.

The next night was Burlap and Bean to see Seth Glier and Ryan Hommel and that was as smooth as a gig as it could have been. B&B has turned into a serious venue, especially on Saturday nights. They’ve added a permanent stage and mounted speakers, and it’s a real ‘listening room’ (no ball games, no conversation, just hearing the music). Seth and Ryan were in magnificent form and played for more than an hour, covering Seth’s past, present and future work.

The opener was a soulful Aussie gal named Mia Dyson – she has a huge throaty Americana voice (like Lucinda Williams) and is obviously moving forward with what promises to be a nice career. Keep an eye out for her on her East Coast tour.

B & B is a great venue to hear singer/songwriters when they come through town. I’d go back to Connie’s Ric Rac too – Michael tells me that on most nights it’s a much better venue. As long as you avoid playoff nights.a