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The Fifth Course

House Concert Report: Catherine Feeny

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I've been to a lot of house concerts. They're quite popular among the acoustic music appreciators in Modesto, CA and surrounding communities, so I thought I knew how the evening would go. Since our band leader, Seņor Tim, was the host, I figured we, Seņor Circus, would get up and do 4 or 5 songs before the main attraction, Catherine Feeny, would take over. But my expectations were wildly inaccurate, and pleasantly so.

After the potluck dinner (yummy vegetarian foods, mostly) We convened for the performance which was kicked off by Catherine Feeny and two other guys I had met roaming around the house. I figured they were her manager and boyfriend, or maybe one was a sideman. Wrong. All three comprise equal parts of a band they call Come Gather Around Us. And it was this band that opened the evening's musical performances.

All three members (Catherine on guitar for songs she wrote, Sebastian on guitar for songs he wrote, and Michael on a Fender Rhodes and a Hohner button/key accordion) sing beautifully and they have worked out some amazing 3 part harmonies. Think CSN when they were young and hungry, turn Graham Nash into a girl (not a huge stretch for some of you! ), and then add a pinch of sugar. I have never heard three people sing together better.

After the first 4 or 5 songs a Master of Ceremonies appeared out of the assembled audience. Willie T, from the band Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit served as our Emcee. (Look up that band, they are very cool.) At Willie T.'s behest, Stephanie (a former member of Seņor Circus) and her boyfriend got up and performed a very old-timey sounding song. They did well and were rewarded with generous applause. At which point Catherine and her friends retook the stage and performed a few more tunes.

Then Willie T pointed at Seņor Tim and asked for a song. So Tim, Dennis (bass), Damon (trombone), and I scrambled to the stage. We played a sing-a-long song written by Tim, but we performed it in a different key that we had practiced, so I stayed off the mandolin mostly, and worked on getting the vocals right. Despite the lack of instrumental cohesion, they asked us to do a second song which went over much better for me. We played it in the same key we always do!

Come Gather Around Us resumed the stage once again and played some more tunes. A songwriter from Austin TX was spotted in the audience, and came up to sing a song about meeting a 95 year-old man who had fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Come Gather Around Us resumed the stage once again before taking a break. During the break, Sebastian took me and Damon aside and showed us the chords for one of Catherine's songs. I think it's called "Cowboy Blue," a 4/4 tune with changes on the 1's: Bminor, A, G, F#7 and the chorus was Bminor, D, G, F#7.

The first tune back from the break was the song Sebastian had showed us, so he asked me and Damon to join the rest of them on stage. Come Gather Around Us became a quintet for one song. Damon and I got to take breaks over the progression. Loads of fun, very flatering, and a bit of a challenge. Having never heard the tune before it was performed by the 5 of us (Sebastian didn't try to sing it when he showed us the chords), I was trying to find a tonal center for the song in my head from the moment I learned the chords to the moment I took the break.

I never actually found it in my head. I heard rather than thought up the dominant 7 in the F# while in the middle of the tune on stage, and decided instantly to use it as a fulcrum in the solo, hoping that B with a blues scale (flatted 3rd and 7th) would work. It did. They liked it. I was just happy I didn't crash and burn or cause a train wreck.

Damon's solo was awesome. I love playing with him. Music teachers are the BEST band mates!

After a few solo turns by Catherine, Sebastian, and Michael and a couple more tunes by the band, Willie T opened the floor for what turned out to be a song circle with a some occasional extra accompaniment by me and Tim when requested. Seņor Circus did another song, Willie T regaled us with a few of his stellar tunes (his wife on harmonies too), and I tossed in a plaintive end-of-love song of my own.

Finally, with Michael and Catherine about to fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, we got Catherine to sing "Hurricane Glass" to end the evening. I like that song a lot live; not so much on the video. Not sure why!


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  1. JeffD's Avatar
    Sounds like a lot of fun, with the possible exception of the "yummy vegetarian food", a contradiction in terms in my opinion.

    Here in upstate NY we have had a culture of house concerts as well. A network of musical friends that trade off hosting a concert of some musician or folkie band travelling through on the way to a larger venue. I have had a few concerts in the fireplace room down stairs, stuffing 25 some odd folding chairs down there in front of a little make shift two person stage. More like a home made coffeehouse concert, with a coffee and pastries break at intermission, upstairs in the kitchen. Often there is the after-concert jam with the guest musicians and our home grown jammers shaking the pictures off the wall and disturbing the parakeets generally.

    Live music in the intimate setting of a private home - it doesn't get much better.

    Some really great moments.