I was eager to find out for myself about two folk singers last night. I had heard Pierce Pettis’s music here and there for many years, and I had heard so much talk about Tracy Grammer. So I had the chance to check out both performers at a show last night at Jamin Java in Vienna VA.
Pettis started the show. He jumped on stage, made a quick intro, then jumped right into some songs. He had a nice mix of lively, rocking, bluesy, energetic numbers with more thoughtful, reflective, slower tunes. His material did not have tricky mystical poetry with obscure images and phrases, but his presentation was sincere and gettable. I was someone who didn’t know all his material, and he knew how to reach an audience member like that. He sang with some old-fashioned soul groove, some bluesy growl, some sweet mellow touching stuff. Versatile, down-to-earth, and down-to-business. A very nice guitar picker too, plus he played some Popper-style blues harp. His set lasted an hour, and I would have eagerly listened to a second set. he’s been playing since the early 1980s at least, and his experience shows.
Grammer was the top act. She took the stage and started talking about another artist who was doing one of her songs without her permission. That took about four or five minutes. Then she sang the song, and followed it with two more minutes of complaints. Throughout her set she told aimless stories to introduce each song. The intros were longer than the songs. I checked my watch at one point, and I was amazed that it took her thirty minutes to get through her first three songs.
Grammer sings with a sweet, unexpressive style similar to Karen Carpenter’s. I have not enjoyed her style when I have heard her recordings, but she has a fabulous reputation as one of folk music’s most important artists. I had hoped that her live performances would hit me with intensity, meaningfulness, something that would show me how this reputation was earned. Last night I was very disappointed by an artist who seemed to take her audience for granted. She did not do anything to win over a guy who was not intimately familiar with her material or stories. Some of my friends are devoted fans, but I was not among the converted-and-saved last night.