|Waiting for the Concert to Begin
Ithaca’s music scene, to me, leaves much to be desired. I was thrilled, then, when Dan Smalls Presents announced that Iris Dement would be performing on August 20. I’ve listened to her for a long time – I remember when I lived in Utah that I was vexed because I missed her concert. Since then, she hasn’t performed in a place where I’ve lived or could easily drive to. Several weeks ago, I got our tickets, and I was very excited leading up to the concert last night.
Perhaps it was the traffic. George was irritated because of the mile-long jam along State Street and my insistence we backtrack and go the back route (Giles to Hudson to Aurora to State). I had just awoken from a nap I required due to the long faculty meeting earlier in the day. This is to say, we weren’t at our best.
This is the first time we’d gone to a concert at CMSA, and I was so reminded of the design of the rooms on the University of Chicago campus. Things felt very familiar. And, it was a good turnout, which surprised me a little. But the crowd was weird. George said everyone looked like an old, worn out professor. Since this is Ithaca, most of us in the crowd probably were professors. While we expect our students to behave, we don’t always behave ourselves. A case in point was the man behind me. What a cocky little SOB. Arrogance oozed from him. He’s so important, in fact, that he didn’t think it rude to talk to his companion for most of the show or to get up and down incessantly, though it disturbed those of us around him.
Garrison Starr opened for Iris Dement, and she was funny, though I’m not sure the crowd understood all of her Bible Belt humor. I certainly did, though. Particularly endearing was a young fan, maybe 8 or 9, who was at the front of the house and over the moon she got to see one of her favorite singers live. Starr’s music may have been a little too country for George, but I did like her set, so much so that I bought a CD. (I’m actually surprised I haven’t encountered her music before.)
Iris Dement shortly took the stage. When she walked by us, George whispered that she had entered the building right in front of him, and he thought to himself, “I hate when women were cowboy boots with short skirts” not knowing that he was maligning our headliner. (Full disclosure – I wore cowboy boots with short dresses when I was in college, and I still would today if I found vegan cowboy boots I liked.)
That George likes Iris Dement at all is surprising because she has the twangiest voice around. (I think he had listened to and liked her music before he and I met.) Even knowing how tangy it was, I was startled to hear it live, though it only took several seconds for me to settle into the rhythm. She played the piano for the first several songs, and her playing was lovely. Between-songs chat was interesting, and she revealed that she had extreme stage fright, one time even having a panic attack preventing her from performing.
Maybe halfway through the set, the P.A. system malfunctioned. At first, I didn’t even know what it was. Initially, I thought it was the scratch of the air conditioning system. But the static worsened and worsened, and though the sound manager tried to repair the issue and though we all tried to ignore the interference, it was very grating, to the extent my head started to hurt. Towards the end of the show, it was obvious even a veteran performer like Dement was shaken by the environment. She kept asking the sound manager to just turn off the P.A. system (her mother taught her that projection was a key skill of “real singers”), and it seemed that he acquiesced only when the audience started murmuring, “Turn it off!” Though Dement can project, it was still difficult to hear her voice, especially where we were sitting towards the back of the auditorium, and the chatter of the rude man behind me was enough to make anyone want to start a rumble. Finally, a woman turned to him and asked, in not so nice a way, “Can you keep it down, please?” I think we all were very appreciative, and I was glad it wasn’t me who did it. After all, I watched the new episode of Louie on Tuesday.
By the time Dement finished her last song, I think everyone wanted to leave. People clapped, but not the encore producing applause that you usually get at concerts. And, there wasn’t an encore. Although it made complete sense that everyone, including Dement, was ready to end the evening, it was a surprise. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a concert before without an encore.
As we walked to the car, George and I discussed the evening. George felt that the energy of the crowd was negative. I’ve been to some good concerts (and bad), some great ones, and then a few where the energy of the room is so positive and focused, it makes the performer even better than he or she would usually be. This might be the first concert where there was actually this bad energy. I don’t blame Dement – she’s a great musician, and I’m sure would give an awesome concert under the right circumstances. But these circumstances, well, it was a disappointing date.