By: Derek Jung
Acclaimed progressive folk singer-songwriter Ryley Walker returned to Cincinnati for the first time since his much talked about performance at Midpoint Music Festival in 2015 at Woodward Theater. Performing for a crowd of about 35 people, the trio wasted no time slipping into some long, heavy jams. Those jams would be the focus of the set, and the ebb and flow of each song relied heavily on the mood set by the intro jam. In that way, the night was spent covering the highlights from their latest release, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. I was very impressed to hear how their songs have evolved in a live setting to fill every nook and cranny of the audible spectrum. Songs like "The Halfwit In Me" were transformed by the jam into a wall of sound using guitar triplets from Walker and the second guitarist. The jazz-styled drumming led the way and I found myself mesmerized by his fluidity of playing. The chorus of "Roundabout" popped much more so than on the album version, and it highlighted the quiet/loud dynamics of the song structure. I was happy to hear that Ryley's dry humor translates well from his lyrics to his live personality as well. The band cracked a few jokes in between songs, and Ryley boasted his love for the giant Bearcat Pizzas from Adriatico's.
I was a little disappointed that their set was only around 45 minutes long, but with a smaller crowd on a Monday night, I don't blame them for keeping it short and sweet. Hopefully we will hear some new material from Ryley this year.
Check out a live performance of "The Halfwit In Me" from the World Cafe below.
By: Derek Jung
I've always had a soft spot for mellow singer-songwriters. Something about going to a show and relaxing in a coffeehouse-like atmosphere is refreshing - even without the caffeine boost. I've had my ear to William Fitzsimmons for the last few years. I missed the chance to see him the last time he was in town at Thompson House a few years ago, so I was happy he was coming to a familiar venue on this tour.
Fitzsimmons' style is similar to how Iron & Wine sounded when he first started releasing albums. Most of the songs are slow, acoustic guitar picking with soft, almost whispered vocals lending to the melancholy lyrical subject matter. For how sad his songs can be, Fitzsimmons' on stage personality is friendly, gracious, and self-aware of the image that his music has given him. To combat this depressing persona, his set was filled with light-hearted jokes that left the small, but engaged audience smiling. At one point between songs he declared that "[he'd] like to slow things down right now...by falling asleep". He also brought out a custom, handmade double neck guitar which he admitted to realizing that he "looked like an asshole" whenever he played it, but he was proud of making it and it sounded good. We also got a rousing rendition of "I Want It That Way" by The Backstreet Boys, which was an unexpected treat.
Even with tables and chairs set up, the room felt pretty empty; I counted around 40 people total that weren't security or theater staff. But Fitzsimmons didn't seem to mind, and put on a wonderfully intimate show filled with old songs to new ones that, according to him, haven't even been recorded yet. One of those new songs, he explained, was about his newly discovered grandmother on his father's side. His father was adopted and only recently was William able to track down his father's birth mom, who turned out to be a drug addict and mother of five who passed away in a motel room. These new-found emotions were channeled into the track and I really enjoyed hearing the back story and how it connected with the lyrics.
About halfway through his set, the show in the main theater next door started, with jam band Aqueous's guitar solos and drums bleeding through the walls and creating a noticeable distraction for what was previously a completely quiet room. It got so bad during one song that Fitzsimmons stopped and said "This is the part of the song with the guitar solo" and just didn't play anything for a few seconds, listening to the sounds coming from next door, before chuckling to himself and continuing. It's understandable that an artist would quickly get annoyed with this, but I was impressed that he brushed it off, jokingly saying that next door was "the exact opposite" of what he was playing. It continued to be a distraction for the crowd for the rest of the show; I was standing towards the back of the room, and people were constantly glancing back, as if they were expecting the jam band to be right there.
For the encore, Fitzsimmons brought opener Jake Phillips out to play some songs with him. They came down on the floor in the middle of all the tables and asked everyone to gather around while they performed 3 or so completely unplugged songs. It was a very cool, albeit hard to hear (over the noise next door) end to an otherwise pleasant experience.
After thanking Jake one more time, Fitzsimmons played the last song by himself in the middle of the floor before thanking us all for coming and walking off. It was an enjoyable performance, marred only by the double booking of the theater. If Fitzsimmons comes to your town, do yourself a favor and have a nice, relaxing evening with a very talented storyteller. You'll be glad you did.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: