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Common Fence Music 2005-2006 schedule

Review of Chris Smither concert, September 24, 2005.

Click here to view photos of this concert.


Strutting and fretting his hour



Common Fence Music
Sat., 9-24-2005


Where can you sit comfortably with several friends at a table, step out to the porch for a breath or a smoke, cut up some apples and cheese, uncap a six-pack of beer, plow through a platter of sushi, and sample some homemade desserts, all while listening to great live music in an intimate setting? Well, unless you somehow manage to get Chris Smither to come over to your house with a picnic basket and pull out his guitar, you'll have to go to Common Fence Point, which is what I did Saturday night.

The moment I heard Smither skipping along the neck of his guitar I knew I was hearing an accomplished guitarist - and all he was doing was tuning up and talking to the audience. He teaches a guitar workshop at a summertime camp hosted by Jorma Kaukonen (of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane fame) - and it is easy to see why. His playing is very precise and crisp yet breezy and fluid. He explained that his admiration of Mississippi John Hurt evolved into attempts to emulate him when Smither was 17. He said a lot of his contemporaries were "closet" Hurt fans and that they "didn't have a prayer" when it came to approximating the bluesman's style and talent on guitar. Someone from the audience yelled, "You do Chris."

And they were right.

But that was only half the equation. The guitar playing was simply the clothing Smither used to dress up the characters he delivered to the stage for the receptive audience - and characters they were. He dragged out ghosts and thieves, lovers and ex-lovers, tears and laughs from the costume closet - all in the service of his play- a production of life. Every song had soulful singing, nimble fretwork and clever rhyming. (So clever actually that I became distracted trying to anticipate the schemes).

Smither told funny stories of broken dreams, loves lost and seemingly stolen automobiles all delivered with the timing and wit of a comedian and had the audience chuckling. Then he would transition seamlessly into an achingly sad story about his father or his own failings, then jerk some tears with a poignant rendition of Dylan's "Desolation Row."

In between each song Smither told a story about the song, its subject, where he wrote it, or somebody in a Hawaiin fruit shack unknowingly singing one of his numbers. He recalled a rather funny anecdote about a prim elderly woman who approached him after a show in Ireland and said that it would mean a great deal to her if he would sign her "record" if she could only "figure out how to open the f**king thing." This story and Smither's declaration that the Irish at his show were "determined to have fun" delighted my Irish friends in attendance Saturday. Smither effectively functioned as a master storyteller/narrator for our journey through his life.

Smither's father once bemoaned that Chris couldn't write any nice simple love songs, just a bunch of "dysfunctional ditties." Resigned to that fate, Smither delivered them in succession to his approving audience. As a consolation to his father's assessment, Smither chose his "favorite in the world" of those love songs that others write, gracing us with an encore of J.J.Cale's "Magnolia."

      Chris Smither

Troubadour. Soulful singing and clever rhyming, laughter and tears, punctuated Chris Smither's performance before an approving audience at the Common Fence Point Music Series. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY JUDY TATE