The packed Holly Near concert last night at the Barns at Wolf Trap was a coming home for me. The last time I saw Holly was in the exact same venue about ten years ago. The 90-minute non-stop concert only skimmed her successful career as a singer/songwriter, but what a concert it was!
Holly’s band was composed of members Songwriter/composer John Bucchino on keyboard (whose has been with Holly for 28 years), Jan Martinelli on bass, David Rokeach on drums, and Vocalist Andre dos Santos Morgan. All of the band members’ musical expertise support Holly’s talents in successfully connecting with the audience, but each are also given the spotlight throughout the evening to illustrate their own achievements with their instruments and/or voice. Andre performed superb harmonies with Holly during the set. Three individuals took turns in sharing the responsibility of signing during the evening.
The Barns is a perfect venue for the intimate theatrical experience. For tonight’s performance, the proscenium stage was set up with a stage bathed in soft red lights and a blue background draped on the back wall. There was no bad seat in the house. The crystal clear acoustics were perfect so you could understand every word spoken and/or /sung.
Holly’s concerts are so heartwarming as she weaves in historical events as part of the evening’s play list. And, speaking of the play list, those 90 minutes flew by as she performed 19 songs. Seven of these songs were from her latest CD – Peace Becomes You: “One Good Song.” “Because of a Drum,” “Peace Becomes You,” “We’re Still Here,” “I Aint Afraid,” and “She Just Wants to Dance.” About half of the songs Holly sang were ones that she personally composed. Yet, she wasn’t afraid to share songs from other songwriters which were made famous by her compatriots like Odetta’s “Sail Away.” Holly performed “99 Miles to LA,” originally recorded by Johnny Mathis.
For Broadway lovers, you would have enjoyed the rendition she performed of Lerner and Lowe’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face” as the nurturing chords of Holly’s voice provided a moment for the audience to ponder. There is no way that Holly could skip over theater; after all she played Eliza Doolittle in a high school production of My Fair Lady and also played in the Broadway production of Hair. Despite her early theatre career, she knew as a social activist she wanted to share her gift of song in a more loving way.
At one point in the evening, Holly apologized to all in the room for her crib sheets on her music stand stating, “I thought I’d lose my voice before my mind, but it’s actually happened in the other direction.” This sharing of personal stories and events brought a sense of shared empathy – knowing that some of her audience were suffering from similar challenges. Holly’s songs are about everyday events that we can all identify with. “Peace Becomes You” speaks to standing on a picket line for a living wage.
“Somebody’s Jail,” which I enjoyed the most, focused on the recent Feb. 14th event when one million women were commemorating a world-wide ‘War on Women’ when their sisters were killed or injured by their boyfriends or husbands. What could be more appropriate than discussing the gun issue at one point and later incorporating equality issues with regards to immigration. And later, she sang Eric Schwartz’s “Hattie and Mattie,” a story that conveys that love between two older women, and focused on Marriage and Equal Rights. With his permission Holly modified the lyrics and the spelling of the title and made the song hers. Holly’s songs are a natural evolution of a performer who believes very deeply about the importance of social action and provides the opportunity for America to “Wake Up!”
One audience member shared his story with me about the time he sat in Glen Echo Park to hear and experience Cris Williamson, a pioneer of the Women’s Music movement. In the middle of this 1972 concert, Holly Near was introduced and began to sing. This was her first appearance in Washington, DC, when Holly was relatively new on the women’s circuit at that time. He remembered how the crowd just adored her, and since that night, he has followed her career religiously, because she moved him so much and touched his soul.
The concert concluded with popular songs “Harriet Tubman” and “Study War No More.” It was the perfect ending to the performance. Some of the audience hesitated a bit before leaving the venue. I presume it was their way of saying “We’re Still Here” and they weren’t quite ready to call it an evening.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Holly Near performed for one-night only on April 11, 2013, at The Barns at Wolf Trap -1635 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. If you missed it, check out Holly’s website. For upcoming Wolf Trap events, check out their website for tickets, or call (877) 965-3872.