More on Rock the River

Amber Rubarth wasn’t the only star of the show. In fact, the bigger name—though utterly new to me—was Joe Purdy. He is the real thing, clearly, gifted, serious, and a real River musician. With his dungarees, beard, and crew cut, he isn’t advertising his success. (By contrast, Jay Nash’s producer, who is also in the Low Stars, of that great song from last summer “Calling all friends,” was in an untucked white shirt and jeans like everyone else but, man, even from ten rows back, I could see that they were expensive jeans…)

Purdy’s song “Wash Away” is lovely and simple. Not watching either “Lost” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” I can’t tell you which one it was featured on, but I can see why you’d choose it. And the whole album “Julie Blue,” our other purchase, was recorded during a week on a tiny island up here in the St. Lawrence. We have been listening to it a lot and it’s just lovely.

The other song that Purdy performed was an old Dylan tune, maybe “Sister, Sister”?, which he sang as a duet with Garrison Starr. Their voices blended together like nothing I have ever heard live. It was utterly transcendent.

Garrison Starr came out in her gray jeans, gray t-shirt, and gray porkpie hat, and shuffled over to the mic next to Purdy. He motioned her to join him on his mic. “Are you sure?” “Yeah.” As they sang, their heads bobbed in and up, their lips nearly touching the microphone, and the music of each voice blending into one perfect, plaintive voice, wispy but strong. They went in and out of each other’s voices through the whole song, and if the applause was not as loud at the end, it is only because we were too stunned to move.

She was the other standout for me, and I want to get one of Garrison Starr’s cds next time I’m music shopping. When Amber Rubarth sings “I / like you / a lot / and I guess you know it’s worse than that,” she is disarmingly naked. Star is an utterly different kind of performer than Rubarth. Where Rubarth bares all, Star’s songs were beautiful and ambiguous. Her stage presence is confident and generous; she was the first to really thank Jay Nash for organizing the event and, in thanking him, she paid tribute to his friendship with real feeling. For all that, then, and for all that is interesting, rich, and moving about her voice, I don’t feel that I know her. But I am super interested and I plan to hear more.

And I loved watching Jay Nash host the event, popping out from backstage to watch for a minute and then check the soundboards, popping back up to tell a quick lame joke and keep things moving as performers searched for cords and plugs and tripped over the shoes that Amber Rubarth left behind onstage. His songs were strong, folk-pop, great tunes. They don’t stand out for me as my favorites, but I want to hear more, so he’s on the list for the next trip to the store.

Chris Pierce was a big teddy bear most of the night, coming out and adding depth and fun with his harmonica, but he brought down the house with a couple party songs at the night’s end. His James Brown influenced “Change Yourself,” was fun and so naughty—If you don’t like me the way I am, well, change yourself! Ha. You tell them. Eliza Moore’s Enya-y violin playing was not for me, much as I loved what she added as a side player on other songs. And there were a couple other performers who were fine, but not mind-blowing. A woman came out and sang a new song, the love song she would want written to herself and it was so utterly hyperbolic, about crossing seas and turning over every blade of grass and overcoming all kinds of impossibilities that I felt squirmy with embarrassment.

Finally, I do want to single out the utterly adorable Joey Ryan, though: tall, skinny, young, with a huge mop of hair, his song “Cloak,” about how, since you’ve been around, honey, your love is like a cloak, was so sweet and adorable and he had a great, sexy stage presence, like the young James Taylor. But then, as my mother-in-law and I both noticed, he was also a lot like my husband years ago and, I suppose, like my husband, he’ll one day age into having a little more flesh and a little less hair. Both ways are nice, but it’s fun to have a little glimpse into the past.

So there. If you, like me, are at a loss for some new music, three more new names: Joe Purdy, Garrison Starr, and Jay Nash.