March Madness 2: Living Room Concerts

We don’t have too many gigs up in my neighborhood. Not in the manner of those I became accustomed to in New York City, the kind where you head to the happening local rock club to see the latest hipster band perform in front of an audience of taste-makers, yourself hopefully included amidst same. (Hey, you’re living in NYC; surely you’re a taste-maker by default?) A lot of what we have up here in the Catskills conforms to convention: singer-songwriters, blues acts and reggae bands, tribute shows to the greats, the occasional famous name from yesteryear, and jam bands galore. But at least the venues are intimate. And they don’t come much more so than the Great Room at the Emerson Resort, which is barely 2 miles from our house, and where, after my hard day’s skiing with the teenager on March 1st, and with the snow still coming down, the wife and I braved the slippery roads for an appearance by folk legend, Woodstock resident and Homespun Tapes’ founder Happy Traum as part of the Emerson’s ‘Spotlight on Song’ series.

John Sebastian and Happy Traum join Owen Biddle and Adrien Reju at Emerson Resort “Spotlight on Song” series

It turned out to be one of the most unusual (indeed, one of the performers called it “wacky”) shows we had attended in years. The seating consisted of massive sofas and arm-chairs, with side-tables for drinks. A fire crackled in the corner. Our drinks waitress was a highly gifted local musician, moonlighting briefly before a major European tour. (In other words, so-called professional musicians do not necessarily earn a living at their craft.) Other well-known local musical luminaries nestled into their own armchairs. A warm-up slot by host Doug Yoel soon gave way to a stellar performance by the instantly engaging, newly relocated Brooklynite Adrien Reju and her (6-string) bass-playing partner Owen Biddle, erstwhile of the Roots, who were joined for a cover of Melanie’s “Brand New Key” and Reju’s own “Two Sounds” by Traum and the evening’s unannounced guest start, John Sebastian.

Adrien Reju and Owen Biddle, newly transplanted to the Catskills, performed Reju’s “Two Sounds” with guest musicians John Sebastian and Happy Traum.

When it came time for Traum’s own set, he and Sebastian played a number of blues songs that harked back to their youth in the Greenwich Village hey-day of the very early 1960s, delving into the catalogue of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee and the Reverend Gary Davis among others. Sebastian alternated between guitar and harmonica, Traum between 12-string and 6-string. I sat back with a Red Hook IPA, nectar for the soul after a day on the slopes, and counted my blessings. Sure, we’re not in Brooklyn any more, as must have been especially evident to Reju and Biddle. But at that moment, taking in the quality music, fine company and relaxed atmosphere at such intimate quarters, would we really want to be?

Sebastian and Traum perform some old-fashioned blues for an intimate audience at the Emerson ‘Spotlight on Song’ series.

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October 2021