I first met Chris Smither almost fifteen years ago in a high school auditorium in Bozeman, MT. He was hawking CDs and signing autographs after opening for Joan Baez. My girlfriend dragged me to the show (her father was a big fan of Joan Baez; I however was not sure I wanted to part with $20) and neither of us had ever heard of Chris Smither. Man, we were not prepared for what he brought to the stage. It was all sharp lyrics, a blunt voice, and toe tapping percussion that never missed a beat. Standing in front of him while waiting for him to sign his CD cover he told us he did not mind the road life at all. We have been big fans ever since.
For all the times we have seen Chris Smither perform, last night may have been his most energetic performance since that first time we caught him in Montana. He had a new album to push (Hundred Dollar Valentine) but that was not going to interfere with him playing his bettern known songs. The result was about ninety minutes of songs punctuated only by a few short stories. Among my favorite lines of the night was his introduction to his heavily child focused song I Don’t Know (“perfectly good songwriters become parents.”) After listening to some of his new offerings I am happy to report that this is not at all true for relatively new parent Chris Smither. New standbys Hundred Dollar Valentine and Make Room for Me have the same dark wit and toe tapping fun as the classic offerings Small Revelations and Link of Chain. They also held up well against true musical gems such as Origin of Species (which has the almighty singing “I’ll just sit back in the shade while everyone gets laid/ that’s what I call Intelligent Design) and the incredibly emotional Train Home whose haunting lyrics describe a perfect vision of the living dead. As an artist, Chris Smither is someone who has been influenced by many and influential of many more. Watching last night we could understand why so many popular artists (Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris just to name two) have chosen to cover his work.
Toward the end of the night Chris Smither spoke of music critics almost always describing him as “mildly depressed.” Chris made it clear that he sees himself as more hopeful than that. In a recent interview with Mother Jones (interview by Tim McDonnell on July 30, 2012) Chris also said he will know when it is time to call it quits. I hope that time is far away.
Opening for Chris Smither was the talented Paul Cebar. Never having seen him performed, I was surprised by his mellow persona. Like Chris Smither, Cebar also offered sharp and insightful song lyrics that made you think. I look forward to seeing him again too.
The Old Town School of Folk Music continues to provide Chicago with a music friendly and comfortable venue that serious artists such as Chris Smither seek out. A casual look at their calendar includes coming performances by living legends such as Robyn Hitchcock and The Indigo Girls as well as up and coming artist Joe Pug. To see everything that the Old Town School of Folk Music has to offer, click here: http://www.oldtownschool.org/ For more information related to Chris Smither, click here http://smither.com/