I usually like to arrive at shows I’m covering early to get a feel for the evening. In the case of Hello Emerson, I decided to show up even earlier than usual in the hopes of catching a bit of their sound check.
Why, you ask? It was advertised that the band would be performing with a mind-bending 13 musicians, which I felt would truly be a feat considering the Rumba Café has a medium-sized stage. Sure enough, when I arrived I found myself staring at nine unique musicians on stage, and four more waiting for the chance to join.
I sat down with singer/guitarist Sam Emerson Bodary before the show to chat about his newly released record and this once in a lifetime opportunity. He was somewhat aloof at first, as just hours before show-time it seemed as though he was still trying to hem-out the rough edges of the evening.
“We’ve never done this before. I told the rest of the band that this was something I’d love to do… once!” He chuckled nervously.
I was curious to pick his mind on how everything had been put together for the evening, as well as on the new album. After all, it was quite an ambitious undertaking to have 23 different musicians and artists contribute to a 10-track record.
“It took a lot of scribbling, and a whole lot of Google calendar for the mundane details,” he admitted, “I’ve never been in a band before. I just think songs are cool. Dan Seibert (percussionist) did most of the arranging on the tracks. He took my mad scribbles and turned them into of music.”
There was an intriguing level of nonchalance in his tone and attitude. He was seemingly wrapped up in the evening, as well was being entirely blasé about it. It was almost as if this was just another show for him. I couldn’t tell whether he was simply unconcerned or if he were just a naturally phlegmatic person, but just the same, we could not have asked for a more beautiful August evening as the crowd filtered into the cozy venue.
Sam Craighead opened up the evening with a rather peculiar set, singing solo to his own backing tracks with a glass of wine in one hand and a melodica in the other. Ruth Awad was the second artist, and she charmed us with some exceptionally moving poetry from her upcoming book of poems centered on and around her father. The juxtaposition of the two artists was slightly overwhelming to my senses, but there was no doubt the crowd around me was ready for Bodary and his troupe to take the stage.
The initial group that entered featured the three principal members of the band; Bodary, Seibert, and Jack Doran on keys, with Alex Blumthaler on the upright bass, Corbin Pratt behind the pedal steel, and a string arrangement of Stephen Forster (cello) Tristan L’Heureux (viola) and Adam Murray (violin).
They began with the beautiful string opening piece titled Hello. Vocalist Erin Mason joined for Bridge, which featured fantastic harmonies between herself and Bodary. The album had not properly prepared me for the power of Mason’s voice, and I was pleased to see the gigantic smile on the faces of the two singers as all of the musical pieces fell into place. She later admitted to me that her face was hurting after the show from smiling so hard.
The crowd went berserk between Bridge and Straw, which saw the string section fall silent and the remaining sextet of Hello Emerson take over. Bodary later told me that there was no real norm for the band, but that they often played as a trio. His voice cracked a few times as he danced around with his acoustic, even sitting on the infamous stool which was featured in the album’s liner notes.
Travel showcased Bodary’s lyrical genius and more lovely string notes throughout. It is such a sad song on the record, but played live it gained new life with Mason and Bodary making faces at each other as they sang along.
The trio of strings departed the stage with Mason for Uncle, the first song released off of “Above The Floorboards.” Pratt’s pedal steel rang-out throughout the Rumba, which seemed to be even more full than when the band initially started playing. Although I was squished against the front monitors on the stage, there was something about that steel guitar that made me feel more comfortable than earlier.
Before the next song, Bodary told a story about how the band initially started with himself playing solo at Kafé Kerouac, and one by one other musicians came to him wanting to collaborate. The next musician to join on stage was trumpeter Lee Tucker, who had a feisty and jazzy solo on Seagulls. The scene was almost too difficult to put into words with the constant rotation of musicians, but that didn’t make it any less captivating.
The rest of the ensemble departed for Flamenco, a tragic love song featuring only Bodary and his guitar. It seemed as though this was the favorite song of the crowd, as I heard many hushed voices around me singing along. Before the rest of the musicians took the stage again, Bodary surprised us all by pulling the incomparable Sharon Udoh (aka COUNTERFEIT MADISON) from the crowd to play along with Song for the Loyals, a song Udoh wrote for her next release. It was definitely the highlight of the evening.
Bodary told a heart-felt tale about his father before performing Ohio, which was the first song to feature the full horn section of Tucker, Zack Zerkle (trombone), Nick Vermilye (tenor sax) and Vince Gillotti (alto sax). Bodary said that the song had newfound meaning after getting a late night call about an accident his father had been in, and from now on the song would be dedicated to him.
Despite the somber tone, the horn section brought a little fun to the evening, and the Ohio State themed Lake (as in Mirror…) followed suit. Lake shone an especially bright light on Mason’s voice, which almost drowned out the brass quartet standing next to her.
The final song for the night was Won’t Give In, which featured the two singers entirely unplugged and standing at the edge of the stage. It’s a fun and lovely piece that Bodary said was “recorded with one microphone before Erin went to work that morning”. It was a wonderful bow to tie on the end of the night, and the rest of the band came up to take a bow after the song finished.
I was fortunate to have the pleasure of chatting with Sam’s father Dave, who was still sporting a neck brace from his injury, sharing some delicious baklava with me before departing. How he knew baklava was my favorite dessert is beyond me, but it was a nice little touch before I headed home.
As I always say, you never know what’s going to happen when you go to a show in Ohio!
- Song For The Loyals (Counterfeit Madison featuring Sam Bodary)
- Won’t Give In
Hello Emerson – Lake
I don’t want to sign off without mentioning that this evening was put together by Bodary as a benefit to CRIS, and a total of $1200 dollars was raised for the organization. From their website… “Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS) is an independent non-profit organization that serves the growing refugee and immigrant populations in Central Ohio. We have over 60 staff members that hail from more than 15 countries with many languages represented. CRIS is a refugee resettlement agency, meaning we have a contract with the Department of State to directly receive and place refugees in our community. In partnership with Church World Service and Episcopal Migration Ministries, we resettled individuals and families from all over the world.”