Monday, October 19, 2015

Billy, Molly, Dean Branch Out at Symphony Space

"Two Trees, Old Friends" is a song on TREES, the CD from Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly. When they sang it live last Saturday, October 17 at Symphony Space, the audience (well, the adults anyway) listened intently to the lyrics:

Two trees that grew up together 
Two trees that lean on each other like old friends 
Like old friends
Two trees so close they almost look like one
Two trees

As Billy Kelly noted towards the close of the concert, that's the heart of this CD – a concept album about a very specific part of our natural environment, produced by the one and only Dean Jones. The trio are doing a limited tour to support TREES (and in turn, actual trees). Perhaps the only one more excited than my kids about the appearance was Symphony Space's kids program director Darren Critz. He referred to the performers as a "supergroup" and gauged the reactions of the crowd, song by song. Attendance was stunted by the sheer number of children's artists performing around the city and borough on the same day, including the Laurie Berkner Band and an all-day event in Madison Square Park. But those who trekked uptown got a treat, as Molly, Billy, and Dean swapped leads and instruments on virtually every song. "Is this the guitar I play on this one?" Billy asked at one point, momentarily confused by the set order.

My sons were eager to hear individual songs from their respective catalogs, including Molly's material from Lunch Money and Dean's Dog on Fleas tunes. I patiently (and repeatedly) gently indicated how that should be considered a bonus but not to expect it. In fact, they did not stray from TREES and everything was right with the world, at least to my kids.

Symphony Space has a history of booking artists from around the country. Darren stressed that he was initially earnest about geographic parity but said that has become less important for bookings over time. However a resurgence in one area, such as Boston/New England, may result in more than one artist from one locale getting a showcase in any given season. New Orleans-flavored Jazzy Ash is coming up for Halloween, followed by Chicago's Justin Roberts on November 14.

Symphony Space has been a performance haven since 1978. I had seen movies in what is now the Nimoy Theater (which gave me a few unnerving flashbacks by first couple of kid's shows in the room). But to us, it's always been there – first as a venue to take our (then) only son to see Dan Zanes and then as members for multiple shows despite weather or other obstacles. Now it's second nature for the kids to ask at home, "Who's next?" and I know exactly where they mean.

The "Just Kidding Club" is a great value for Upper West Side families (it was more challenging for us, coming from Queens mid-winter). We've seen Billy at the Long Island Children's Museum. In fact, when my older son asked, "Don't you remember me?" Billy replied, "I remember everyone who comes to my shows. You were wearing a red shirt." And my son stoically replied, "It was orange." We've also seen Lunch Money in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (aka the "main room") and at the lamented Kindiefest. The elusive holdout was Dean – we'd missed his solo and group shows at various venues. Although he did not sing lead on any number, he added solid (production) support and showed why so many musicians have entrusted him with their material.

Darren wrote a recent article about why live performances are important for children. Usually such lists are subject to much eyerolling. But I agreed with his four simple tips. In fact, my kids are the ones who usually push the boundaries, wanting to see more and more things when there is simply not enough time in the weekends. But I continue to make the effort, because as much as they enjoy the shows, I enjoy them as well. And I relax when I see how much they enjoy the music in the moment. As much as they are brothers, they are also two trees and it's a pleasure to see them so entwined by their mutual love of music.... two trees, so close they almost look like one.

The upcoming Just Kidding Club schedule is here.

You can find information about future performances by Billy, Molly, and Dean in support of TREES at their dedicated website.

Download the music from these videos (and the rest of the CD) from Bandcamp.
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