On Stage Bonus: Livingston Taylor is still going strong

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Livingston Taylor

Livingston Taylor has a lot of musical talent – and a knack for longevity.

Taylor, who will be headlining a show on April 9 at Delaware Valley University (700 East Butler Avenue, Doylestown, is a singer-songwriter who made his first album 52 years ago and has released more than 20 more LPs since then.

Taylor has a long history of touring internationally over the last five decades. Taylor has also been a professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston for more than a quarter-century.

You might think that when the pandemic shut everything down last year, Taylor would put a hold on live performances – that he would stay home and work on recording a new album – and that he would resort to Zoom if he opted to continue teaching. That wasn’t his M.O.

“During the pandemic, I hunkered down and watched the world go by,” said Taylor, during a recent phone interview from his home in Watertown, Massachusetts. “Things slowed mightily.

“Some people were stunningly productive. I’m not one of them. I make music to play for people. I did do some live shows – some in a theater without an audience. It was very hard. It required a certain kind of visualization.

“I did a few Zoom shows. That’s truly the definition of ‘phoning it in.’ I also played some outdoor shows in parking lots. I need to see people. I crave it. When I don’t have it, I don’t feel good.”

When it comes to COVID-19, Taylor had it and it didn’t feel good.

“I got COVID a month ago,” said Taylor. “I didn’t feel well so I took a test. The next morning, I did it again and the positive sign was glowing. I had a couple days of feeling poorly — that’s all.

“Now that we’re moving to post-Covid, we have to keep going. When you drive a car into a ditch, you’ve got to get it out and figure out what broke.

“I still think it’s going to take four or five years to work through it. It was an unprecedented interruption in the world’s functioning. No other event has thoroughly stopped the planet like this.”

Taylor is a natural performer, peppering his shows with personal stories, anecdotes and ineffable warmth that connect him to his fans. His relaxed on-stage presence belies the depth of his musical knowledge, and fans might just as often be treated to a classic Gershwin or something from the best of Broadway.

“In my live shows, I do speak about the songs – who wrote them…why they wrote them,” said Taylor.

“It’s always about the idea of making a song – making an experience. I speak about myself – but only in reference to the music not me. A life well-lived is boring.”

Taylor picked up his first guitar at the age of 13, which began a 50-year career that has encompassed performance, songwriting, and teaching. Born in Boston and raised in North Carolina, Livingston is the fourth child in a very musical family that includes Alex, James, Kate, and Hugh. Livingston recorded his first record at the age of 18 and has continued to create well crafted, introspective, and original songs that have earned him listeners worldwide.

“I really like to play and see my music brought to people,” said Taylor. “My first show when I knew my music worked was when I was opening for Joni Mitchell at Boston University in 1969. I was third on the bill behind Joni and Jaime Brockett.

“Jaime had played, and the audience was anxious to hear Joni. In my 20 minutes, I was able to win the audience over. The only thing in my mind was that this works. This was before I started recording. I was writing a lot of songs and testing them to see if it works.”

A half-century later, it’s obvious that it has worked.

From Top 40 hits “I Will Be in Love with You” and “I’ll Come Running,” to “I Can Dream of You” and “Boatman,” the last two recorded by his brother James, Taylor’s creative output has continued unabated. His musical knowledge has inspired a varied repertoire, and he is equally at home with a range of musical genres — folk, pop, gospel, jazz — and from upbeat storytelling and touching ballads to full orchestra performances.

Taylor is a full professor at Berklee College of Music, where he has taught a Stage Performance course since 1989. He teaches young artists invaluable lessons learned over the course of an extensive career on the road. His high-selling book, “Stage Performance,” which was released in 2011, offers those lessons to anyone who is interested in elevating their presentation standards to professional standards.

“I still teach at Berklee but won’t do it on Zoom,” said Taylor. “I’m not going to take kids’ money and not give them a successful experience.

“Also, I’m not going to teach a course masked. I’m teaching stage performance. I’m teaching communication skills. I want to read people’s faces.”

Taylor also has avoided the recording studio.

“There are a couple albums in the pipeline, but no tracks recorded,” said Taylor. “I’m not making records in my garage. Recording the way I want to is an expensive undertaking.”

Taylor sees a light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

“The stopping of society is done,” said Taylor. “But it’s really going to take years to gear this up again. It’s hard to stop the world completely and then get it going again. I am very optimistic for its resolution.”

Video link for Livingston Taylor – https://youtu.be/HKlam3eXSSY.

The show on April 9 will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets prices start at $20.

Lyric Fest (https://lyricfest.org) is back in action this weekend with a concert of world premieres – “The Song Catcher: The Folk Song Re-Imagined.”

Jennifer Higdon

The event will introduce new works by Gregory Brown, John Conahan, Michael Djupstrom, Melissa Dunphy, Jennifer Higdon, Allen Krantz, Gilda Lyons, Robert Maggio, Jeffrey Scott, and Benjamin P. Wenzelberg.

Performances will be held on April 9 at The American Philosophical Society (104 South Fifth Street, Philadelphia) and April 10 at the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church Sanctuary (Goodhart Hall, 150 North Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr).

“We’re an art song revival series and this is our 19th season,” said DuPlantis, during a recent phone interview from Philadelphia.

“We take a theme and create a program. We curate songs and also do commissioned music. We’ve commissioned 200 songs in our history.

“For this, we invited 10 compose to write compositions inspired by works relating to folk songs. We asked them to come up with works inspired by the spirit of folk songs – the unpretentious spirit.

“When we approached the composers, I wasn’t sure how they would respond to this idea. Almost everybody wanted to be part of this.

“I’ve always loved folk music. And classical composer like Brahms, Dvorak and Haydn were always inspired by folk songs.

“We used 10 composers – one piece per composer. We have four singers – soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone – and four instruments – piano, cello, viola and oboe. Charlotte Blake Alston, a storyteller from Philadelphia, will be telling folk tales.”

The concert features world premieres of folk song-inspired works by Gregory Brown (The Ballad of Anna Rosina), John Conahan (American Dreams), Michael Djupstrom (Sejdefu majka buđaše), Melissa Dunphy (Eat the Rich), Jennifer Higdon (Little River Songs), Allen Krantz (Three Sephardic Songs), Gilda Lyons (El Zopilote), Robert Maggio (The Story of Cherokee Rose), Jeffrey Scott (A Morte Devager), and Benjamin P. Wenzelberg (Through the brightening air).

These new works will be partnered with dramatic storytelling by Charlotte Blake Alston, and performed by soprano Cree Carrico, mezzo-soprano Devony Smith, tenor Steven Brennfleck, baritone Jean Bernard Cerin, pianist Laura Ward, and instrumentalists from Orchestra 2001.

According to DuPlantis, “The resulting variety is amazing. Jennifer Higdon’s is Appalachian in spirit, and she wound up writing both words and music. Melissa Dunphy wrote a modern folk protest song in the spirit of Woody Guthrie and Gil Scott-Heron, Jeffrey Scott wrote a Brazilian inspired piece setting a poem that spoke to him, and our youngest composer Benjamin P. Wenzelberg, composed a setting of a Yeats poem that is folkloric in mood. These are only four of ten completely unique pieces!”

Video link for Lyric Fest — https://youtu.be/ankbV2WOsg8.

Tickets are $25 for either performance.

Hot Flash Heat Wave

Hot Flash Heat Wave is a young band from California that has already played Philadelphia three times. On April 9, they will return to the Quaker City for a shop at Kung Fu Necktie (1248 North Front Street, Philadelphia, 215-291-4919, kungfunecktie.com).

The band — Ted Davis, Bass and Vocals; Adam Abilgaard, Guitar and Vocals; Nick Duffy, Drums – just released its third full-length, “Sportswear.”

The trio got its start in Davis, California and released its debut album, “Neapolitan,” in 2015 and the follow-up LP, “Soaked,” in 2017.

“I started hanging out with Adam in high school in Davis and we’d play shows with Nick’s band,” said Davis, during a phone interview Tuesday from a tour stop in Montreal, Quebec.

“There was a nice garage band scene in Davis. We made an album in 2014 which was only available on Bandcamp.”

Duffy said, “We all went to different colleges. Ted went to San Francisco State, Adam was at a community college, and I went to the University of California

“Then, we moved to San Francisco. We had rent control at a nice spot. We were integrating with the San Francisco band scene.

“We put ‘Neapolitan’ out in 2015 and ‘Soaked’ in 2017. Both were full albums.”

Abilgaard said, “We’ve done a couple singles since then and we actually just dropped a new album. We definitely put a lot of energy into upping the production. We try to make records that have lasting appeal.”

Davis said, “The whole pandemic thing prolonged the process of finishing the album. Half was written before the pandemic and half during the pandemic.

“The songwriting is pretty communal. It’s pretty cool having three songwriters. We only have two singers. Nick sings in the showers and just drums.

“We did a lot of recording at home. Originally, we thought it would take a lot less time. We did some recording at Desanto’s in Oakland.

“We went to the studio to put on the finishing touches. We pretty much finished the album in November in Oakland with our producer Jason Kick.”

Video link for Hot Flash Heat Wave — https://youtu.be/ZSPdHKgw-No.

The show at Kung Fu Necktie on April 9 will start at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $15.

System Exclusive,

If you do a Google search for System Exclusive, a frequent answer goes something like this – “One of the categories of MIDI messages, System Exclusive (Sys Ex) is data intended for, and understood by, only one particular piece of gear. Normally, this data is used to communicate with and control parameters specific to that item. For example, all of the proprietary data in a Roland D-110 synthesizer representing RAM patches might be sent as a “sys ex dump” to a computer librarian. When the computer sends this data back out over MIDI, the only device recognizing and responding to it will be a D-110, all other synths and MIDI devices will ignore it. Other uses for sys ex? MIDI control of parameters not supported by continuous controllers, remote patch editing, patch bank select, and more – uses depend on, and can be tailored for, each specific piece of MIDI gear – that’s the beauty of sys ex!”

If you search a little more, you’ll find that System Exclusive is also the name of an intense synth band – actually, the name of a duo.

Ari Blaisdell (formerly with the Beat-Offs and Lower Self) and Matt Jones (formerly with Male Gaze and Blasted Canyons) are System Exclusive – self-described as glittering synth-poppy heart throbbing post-punk from the heat of an eternal Pasadena summer.

On April 11, System Exclusive will visit the area for a show at the Dolphin Tavern (1539 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, www.dolphinphilly.com).

System Exclusive is touring in support of its self-title debut album which was released March 4, 2022.

“We made the album during quarantine,” said Jones, during a phone interview Monday as he and his partner travelled from Louisville to Nashville. “We wrote it and finished it in early 2021.”

The album was recorded and engineered by Enrique Tena Padilla in The Cube and Jonestown in Pasadena and mastered by JJ Golden.

“We had just finished building our studio,” said Blaisdell, who is originally from Santa Cruz, California. “Jonestown is an extension of our garage.”

Jones, who is from Santa Rosa, California, said, “When we’re recording, we usually start with synth and set the framework.”

Blaisdell added, “I’ll get a line in my head and give it to him. I’ll come up with a melody, but it’s all centered around the synth.”

The eponymous album is not System Exclusive’s first recording effort.

“We did one single on Bandcamp only called ‘We Follow’,” said Jones. “We also did Christmas single called ‘A Carole to St. Catthew.’”

All of the duo’s roots are in California.

“We met at a party in San Francisco,” said Jones. “Her band was falling apart, and my band was falling apart. We realized we both liked to travel and tour a lot.

“So, we started to play together. We had a long-distance relationship for a while. I do a lot of work in San Francisco, and she was living in L.A.

“Eventually, we got together. Now, we’ve been life partners since 2018 — four years.”

Blaisdell said, “We had six or seven songs ready to record. We were ready to do shows and then the pandemic hit. We wrote a few more songs during the pandemic.

“In our live set, we’re playing album songs and three new songs. We do one cover – ‘When I’m With You’ by Sparks.”

Video link for System Exclusive – https://youtu.be/hIukBS4swI4.

The show an April 11, which also features Catherine Moan and Twin Princess, will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12.

Shovels & Rope

The four years the System Exclusive pair have been life partners pales in comparison to the duo that makes up Shovels & Rope.

Celebrated, award-winning duo Shovels & Rope, which is playing the Brooklyn Bowl (1009 Canal Street, Philadelphia, www.brooklynbowl.com/philadelphia) on April 12, features Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent.

“We got married in 2008,” said Trent, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Asheville, North Carolina.

“We first met in Charleston,” said Hearst. “There was a good music scene in Charleston. Everybody was excited about each other’s music.

“We each arrived in Charleston around 2004 or 2005. We were in different bands and working just weekends. He was in a band called The Films. In East Carolina, it’s easy to play a few markets.”

Trent said, “When we got married, we both were doing separate music acts. Then, we started doing our shows as a two-person band. We played bar gigs to earn money. It’s pretty easy to do in Charleston.”

In 2008, Hearst and Trent recorded and released the album ‘Shovels & Rope’ as a co-bill under their individual names, not intended to ever create a permanent act.

“Our first record was not really a band record,” said Hearst. “It was two songwriters making music together.

“When we started touring as Shovels & Rope, we recorded the album ‘O’ Be Joyful.’ That was the forst album that came out as Shovels & Rope.

“On that record, all the songs were character-based – sort of a conceptual album. There would be one song and then the next song was what happened next. It was a pretty dark record.”

Trent said, “The record company Dualtone came up to us and wanted to sign us. We’d been burned in the past by a major label, so we just wanted to tour in our van and self-release our music. Now, we have a really good relationship with Dualtone.”

Shovels & Rope have released six of their eight albums on Dualtone, including “Manticore,” which just came out in February.

“We made ‘Manticore’ at our home studio in Charleston,” said Trent. “We had just come off the road prior to lockdown.

“There is no theme. It’s just a collection of songs. We tell our own story through other people’s stories. Some of the songs are about family stuff or about depression from the pandemic.”

Video link for Shovels & Rope – https://youtu.be/39WK2cIYGEc.

The show on April 12 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $25.

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