“In this era of constant contact, that may be a listening room’s biggest gift-the gift of being there, in harmony with the music and each other.”
By Rebecca Marx
Photo Credit Tony Nelson
Watching the Concert Window live feed of the listening room on the laptop that Warming House board member John Louis was holding, it was impossible to not feel the audience’s anticipation rising as the first official concert at The Warming House was set to begin.
In just a few weeks, I had seen its metamorphosis from a promising space in the midst of a total rehaul, to the warm inviting venue that had sold out its first show in quick fashion.
There is nothing for sure in the music business, and Executive Director Brianna Lane certainly wasn’t taking the sold out night for granted. With the attached Farmstead Bike Shop that is run by Lane’s partner Greg Neis also opening later this month, the couple have put their hearts and souls into the non-profit venue. In fact, in speaking with various volunteers and staff everyone seemed to be emotionally invested in its success.
There is a way for the audience to be involved as well, that is to sign on as a Warming House member for $150. Your membership entitles you to a variety of special offers and the knowledge that you are directly supporting the non-profit and enabling it to keep its doors open.
The listening room itself is downstairs and seats about 30-50 people, I sat in the back row and had no problem seeing the stage, a stage that is rustically appealing with various horizontal lengths of stained wood accented by a beautifully carved and framed Warming House sign by musician/artist Reed Wilkerson (The Japhies).
After opening remarks by Brianna Lane, John Louis and Greg Neis, Pete Miller of We Are the Willows took to the stage with his acoustic guitar and strung together a beautiful set centered around the band’s last two albums: Picture (Portrait) 1 & Part 2. The 2 album project chronicles the some 300 plus love letters that were exchanged between his grandparents during their courtship in the time of WWII. A “concept” album is a tricky endeavor, it can feel overly planned, but We Are the Willows have brought it to a whole new level, providing a window into a time that is lost to us.
Peter Miller’s solo rendition of “Wedding Song”, tells the story of his grandfather’s proposal to his grandmother, one that ended in a refusal. “Of course, it all worked out in the end”, Miller remarked.
Miller possesses an unforgettable voice that floats above you in an impossibly high, but not falsetto range. His vocals combined with the enveloping acoustics of the space resulted in a perfect union of performer and venue. The highlight of Miller’s set was his performance of “The Stationary And The Testament”, it held me in suspense as his vocals lingered over each vulnerable lyric-a total showstopper!
After a brief intermission, during which the audience milled around upstairs and lingered out onto the comfortable front porch, Chris Koza of Rogue Valley took to the stage. Koza made mirth of the fact that his face was bandaged from a bicycle accident earlier in the day, and assured the audience that he was “just fine”.
If Miller’s set had focused on family history, Koza’s was all about places, the Midwest to be exact. A Portland Oregon native, Koza finds himself drawn by a seemingly magnetic to the land of the Mississippi River. His first tune was “Drown”, a song that opens with the line: “It’s a long way down the Mississippi, though it’s so close to my heart.”
“The Healer” featured a dirtier acoustic sound and an edgier vocal style from Koza-one the room ate up. It is a nice thing to hear versatility in an artist and a listening room is the perfect venue to test out new sounds or songs. In Koza’s case, he opted for the latter with a song that he wrote just hours before in lieu of his failed bike ride. It was a humorous and lovely song about springtime in Minnesota, punctuated by cultural-isms that all Minnesotans can understand.
I’ve seen Chris Koza perform numerous times, and without fail I find his stage banter nearly as enjoyable as his performance. He seems utterly comfortable onstage, and the listening room was the perfect showcase for the amiable talent that he is. He even joked that: “You didn’t know what a listening room meant, until you had to listen to my unfiltered thoughts.” The room joined in a community of shared grief over the loss of Prince, as Koza led the room in a sing along of “I Would Die 4 U”.
The Warming House as a listening room is right on. A space where an audience and a performer can connect in an intimate way without the rest of the world filtering in. In this era of constant contact, that may be its biggest gift of a listening room-the gift of being there, in harmony with the music and one another.