It was a dark, cool evening in August of 2012. It was First Friday, so many people were afoot in the Five Points neighborhood where the RiNo Art District opens it's doors to the many city-dwellers who enjoy this popular summer activity. This Friday in particular seemed perfect for a acoustic-folk jams in an intimate setting. The Meadowlark's basement entrance was glowing red on the corner of Larimer and 27th Street. The red light had an attractive quality to it for anyone who had happened by, as was the case with two unknowing gentleman who thought they were at the Larimer Lounge.
The scene was humming with sound check wrapping up and conversations drifting from the back patio, but you never know what you are walking into when you descend the staircase and enter the quaint underground lair that is the main bar and venue of this avian-labeled joint. As I waited for a friend's arrival, I got word from him that he was close by, just "under a blanket of lights." The night was getting more intriguing with these poetic riddles, and I wondered about what it meant for the rest of the evening. What it meant immediately was that I shouldn't always try to read between the lines, as this friend in particular was simply on the wrong side of town. But it did set the tone for some thoughtful wordplay, similar to the music we were about to enjoy from the talented and lyrically-savvy group of performers on the night's bill at the Meadowlark.
The night humbly began with The Belle Jar, of which the singer Ryan James let us know that we would be party to an acoustic set due to their missing drummer, JJ Chamberlain, absconding to the My Morning Jacket/Red Rocks show for the night. Luckily there was a cajon, and I say so not for any lack of percussion in the group but for the fact that it really added to the performance and feeling of the evening. Anthony Ruptak, another performer from the evening's lineup, volunteered to take on cajon duties for the first few songs after which Ruptak drummer, Anthony Carroll, took his place. Cajon: it's just a fun word to say (or read, even). With excellent timing, Ruptak made a great addition to the four Belle's on stage. An occasional ukelele here and there, and sweet sounds of
Hearing the difference between the acoustic instruments versus their album version of most of the night's music from Fall Systems Go, I'd have to say that we were witness to a sonically delightful evening that may not be your typical Belle Jar experience. The album's first track, "Little Red Thread," is buzzy and a bit fast-tempoed on the recorded version, but live and with the cajon keeping a steadier beat, the notes and the vocals stretched and lingered for a moment while the audience soaked it in. It was like the Meadowlark's basement was a little oak casket, and the Belle Jar's music was pouring into our ears before the aging process began. The finished product would most likely give hints of relaxed head-bobbing and toe-tapping, and would be most suitably paired with a blanket of lights I think. James made mention of a new album in the works and possibly out as early as October. "I can't do anything without a deadline," he told the crowd. So send him a text in the next few months and make sure he's staying on top of it.
Next up was Max Winne, of the Maykit. You may have noticed that I had posted an interview with Winne earlier this week. As the small room of the Meadowlark filled, Winne forged ahead with some quieter acoustic jams. The Maykit is sometimes joined by two additional members, as they were the last time I saw them perform at the Hi-Dive, and tonight was just Winne. Similarly to a blanket of lights, a blanket of noise was covering the cozy Meadowlark and muffling the sounds of Winne's heart-strings. It's hard when you struggle both as an audience member and as a performer to try and ignore the conversations, the clanking glasses, the squeals and high-pitched laughter of those in the immediate vicinity that just don't give a damn what you are doing. Similarly, I imagine that those lucky musicians that go out busking have the same experience. While there was little banter in between songs, Winne was a champ and played through his set giving little heed to the milieu of distraction in front of him.
Anthony Ruptak came on stage next, accompanied by three bandmates whom he referred to as the band that might be known as the "Midnight Friends." Ruptak's set list was written on his hand and with a quick introduction he began the evening, immediately grabbing the attention of all the small basement bar's various attendees. Ruptak's on-stage ensemble were very attentive and didn't miss a beat. One exuberant female onlooker upped the ante for audience participation by coercing another to occupy the large tract of space in front of the Midnight Friends with some fancy footwork. From that point on, participatory clapping, dancing and tambourine-playing ensued. Ruptak's multi-faceted singing prowess was an easy crowd-pleaser, and the cello of Julie Schmidt added to the audible voracity that the Midnight Riders offered that evening. Ruptak's songs make you want to sing along, like any good folk song should, but also have a timeless quality to them as if someone pulled out the sepia-toned filter on our evening that had already set out with the feeling of being under a blanket of lights. Should you have a chance to catch Ruptak and friends, I would not suggest missing them; I would suggest dropping whatever other plans you may have and see them play instead.
Serious Moonlight was the evening's final performance and helped set the close the show with a bang. "This might be our last show", said singer Alan Andrews jokingly, quickly followed by something about boners. Six band members filled the stage area, and the room filled accordingly as they began to play alt-country tunes reminiscent of what one might hear from the hey day of Saddle Creek Records. The trumpet and slide guitar, and sometimes the melodica, all added to a full and rich sound that was intoxicating. Forty minutes later, the bar was on it's feet and loudly protesting the end of the evening's Serious Moonlight. The evening had turned cloudy with a small chill in the air, as I made my way homewards; there was no blanket of lights, but it was but a small detail to the perfect evening of local music all-stars at the Meadowlark that Friday night.