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Hold the last note out

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When Lui Collins sent me the CDs I'd ordered a couple weeks back, she included a postcard showing her upcoming concert dates. Several were in California. She's not playing at the Freight this time around (hmph!), but she had concerts listed in Davis, Aptos, and Palo Alto.

Unfortunately, the Palo Alto one was crossed out (but see final paragraph below), and Davis is a bit too far for me to drive for a concert, even a Lui Collins concert. And Aptos, a friend told me, was somewhere way to the east of Santa Cruz, along twisty mountain roads.

But then Kam told me that Aptos was actually just beyond Soquel, and I looked at a map, and it seemed to be pretty close. So on Thursday, I called the number listed for the concert, and left a message.

Then I looked up the venue on the Web: Artvark Cafe. And found that it was a house concert.

I've never been to a house concert before. The idea kind of put me off—sounded like I'd be too much on the spot, in close quarters with a small group of people I didn't know. And 7:30 on a Friday night is a difficult time to get to Aptos, if you live in Mountain View and work in Redwood City, since it's a long drive through rush-hour traffic along the Screaming Freeway of Death (a.k.a. Highway 17).

And the site says that you have to send a check in advance if you want to attend a concert, so I figured I was just out of luck.

But then the woman who runs the concerts called me back and said that if I would promise to be there, she'd save me a seat.

I got approval from my manager to leave work early (the original plan was for me to spend the afternoon working in a cafe in Santa Cruz, to avoid rush hour traffic), thought about it overnight, and called back this morning to reserve a space. The place seats about 50; it was a benefit for a good cause; I haven't seen L.C. perform live in a couple years.

Today, unfortunately, started out badly (with a very unpleasant email from a co-worker, blaming me for various things that mostly were not remotely my fault), and got worse, or at least messier. Lots of argument and stress over a ridiculously trivial issue that's been hanging over my head for weeks now; when that finally got resolved, I discovered that a whole bunch of bugs had been assigned to me, and I felt I needed to go through them before I could leave work (for reasons not worth going into here). I went through them, and learned that a couple of them were particularly intractable—didn't at all conform to the usual kinds of documentation-related bugs we see—and it took quite a while to figure that out. When I had that all resolved, a new one got assigned to me that took half an hour of looking things up and speculating before we decided what to do with it.

The result of all of that was that I didn't leave work 'til after 4 (I'd been planning to leave by 2:30 at the latest), and I still had to get gas. I was stressed and unhappy and expecting those feelings to get worse for the next couple of hours of driving through rush-hour traffic.

Only it didn't happen. There was no rush-hour traffic. Minimal traffic on the way home; stopped for gas; back on the freeway, and everything zipped along. There were about three places where traffic slowed to a crawl for about five to ten minutes, and then it went back to full speed. All the way to Santa Cruz. I was in downtown Santa Cruz under an hour and a half after leaving work; with no traffic, and not stopping for gas, it would take about an hour.

By the time I got to Santa Cruz, my mood was much improved. Didn't hurt that the sun was out.

I really like Santa Cruz, even though downtown has gotten kinda yuppified. I ate at the Saturn Cafe, largely for nostalgic reasons (though I do rather like their veggie burger), and wished I had time to see Santa Cruz friends. Then drove over to Aptos. Found the house with no difficulty. (Though there was an unfortunate bit on Highway 1, when I noticed a terrible stench in the car; opening the windows didn't help. It eventually developed that I was behind a big truck full of manure; things got a lot better when I got past the truck. I'm sure there's some kind of life lesson to be learned here, like "Things are a lot better when you're not right behind a big truck full of manure.")

A little awkward going into the house (this is someone's house!), but not too bad. One moment of major embarrassment, when I opened what I thought was the bathroom door only to find that it was in fact the room being used as a green room, where L.C. was preparing. I think she was fully dressed, but it was still very embarrassing.

But then the concert started, and all was wonderful.

I wish more of my friends shared my tastes in music. I have some overlap with plenty of friends' tastes; some like bluegrass, some like the few kinds of light rock I like, some like a cappella, some like the eclectic bits of other stuff that I like. But very few of my friends have any interest in acoustic-guitar-and-voice singer/songwriters, anywhere in the broad category known as folk. I don't like taking most friends to folk concerts, because the most enthusiastic response I can expect is "Huh, that wasn't too bad," which always dampens my enthusiasm.

But this kind of stuff accounts for most of the music I like most, and Lui Collins is one of my favorite performers. (I never know whether to call her Lui or not; seems presumptuous, given that I don't know her, but using her full name is awkward, and Collins sounds over-formal.) I mentioned already that I love a bunch of her songs (too many to be worth listing, especially for people who've never heard her); what I didn't mention is that I also love watching her on stage. She has a marvelous stage presence: at once completely professional and completely at ease. A great infectious smile; entertaining stories about the songs; a voice that easily fills a room without any apparent effort on her part. (Twelve years ago, Susan R. and I went to a concert of hers somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania; the opening act that preceded her was fine, but inexperienced. And then L.C. came on, and we realized within seconds that the main thing the opener had been lacking was stage presence.)

And at tonight's concert, in an audience of about 50 people in a large suburban living room, I was in the second row, with nobody sitting in front of me. The stage was just a wooden platform, maybe eight inches high and six feet square. No amplification used or needed. Very cozy.

She sang my two very favorite songs of hers ("Blessed" and "The Wildflower Song"); didn't sing a couple of my second-tier favorites (such as her setting-to-music of Jane Yolen's lovely sweet poem "Two Pterodactyls"), but sang plenty of other stuff I liked. And as always, invited the audience to sing along on a lot of stuff, which we enthusiastically did. A very very nice concert.

She sometimes recites her poetry onstage; that has the potential for awkwardness, but I like her poems. One of the poems tonight talked about being unable to stop grinning when spring came. That's what some of her songs do to me: make me grin uncontrollably, like warm sunshine.

I drove home singing, grinning so hard it brought tears to my eyes.

On the off chance that anyone reading this lives in the Bay Area and likes folk music, it turns out that Lui Collins will be performing in another house concert in Palo Alto this coming Wednesday, 4/17. See her concert schedule page for contact info. If you don't like this kind of music, you won't like her; but if you do like this kind of music, I highly recommend going. If you're not sure whether you'd like it, try the RealAudio clips at her site; you can even hear part of "Blessed." (I'm not sure how much, because RealAudio player for MacOS X isn't out yet.)

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