by Holley Dey
A young woman with plaited hair stood by my left shoulder and I turned to ask her a question. No answer. Her eyes were fixed on the festival stage and the singers who had gathered at the center mic. Honestly, their harmonies sounded tentative and unpracticed to me. It didn’t seem to matter, though, to the woman by my side or to hundreds of others who stood with us on the grass in Burlington, Vermont. The crowd was focused and fully invested in the performance. Alternatively, they were stoned……but no, I choose to believe that they were connected to the music. Let’s move on.
In the months that have followed, I’ve given some thought to the intimate connection that sometimes develops between audience and performer in a live music setting. It seems to transcend the music, the notes and the melody. I think it may have more to do with finding a common ground with the artist, identifying with an emotion or experience that is reflected in the music. I watched the crowd in Vermont quietly mouth the words as the band delivered the encore in an often shaky three part harmony. It just goes to show that connection doesn’t need a perfect performance; in fact, I think it is the small imperfections that encourage a sense of shared humanity. Lyrics lapse, drumstick drop or missed note – it needn’t matter. Connection doesn’t need an award winning melody either, but it helps if the music comes with feeling.
Last year I traveled to Boston for a New Year’s eve performance at Club Passim where the size and casual setting of the venue were conducive to a warm interaction. The opener that evening was a singer-songwriter who is known by a single name – Flynn. Flynn is a rock star who discovered early that the trappings of fame and a major label record deal were not a good fit for his style and personality. Originally from Ireland, he arrived in the United States with guitar in hand, ready to conquer the American music scene. He co-founded the band “Cliffs of Dooneen”, a Boston based band that arrived on the national stage with a smash debut album, The Dog Went East and God Went West (BMG/Critique 1991) and a Billboard top ten single, “Through an Open Window” (video). Cliffs of Dooneen was a constant on MTV, and on tour shared the stage with bands such as Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. Still, the band members drifted apart and an unfortunate accident and lengthy recovery set Flynn on a different path.
Today, Flynn enjoys a diverse career. He is a solo recording artist, an engineer, a producer and composer. His original song “Human” was recorded and used over the end credits of the Farrelly brothers film “Stuck on You”, as performed by Cher and Flynn (video). His music is heard in a variety of films, on television and on Broadway (Super-Man Live!). From his recording studio, he has engineered and produced a number of projects, including Ellis Paul’s recent holiday and award winning family albums. His most recent solo album, Flynn LIVE, is a compilation of performances from venues across the United States, and includes acoustic renditions of some his best known songs.
At Club Passim, Flynn was just as charming as his live album suggests that he would be. His songs were open and honest stories of life and love in America, imbued with a subtle emotion and wry humor that I found immediately relatable. And then there was his guitar play, both energetic and dynamic, that commanded attention and an immediate, involuntary smile. In that room and on that night, there was a welcome sense of community throughout a lively acoustic set that ended too soon. I connected, and hope that you will, too.
Before you watch a video from that holiday evening, I’d like to say a few brief words. I was not stoned or otherwise impaired during the filming of this song. It was a then new camera and it took most of the night for me to adjust to the camera’s weight. Oh, believe what you like. My hand steadies a bit as the song begins. Struggle through the first minute or two, though. The story is important to the song and your connection. In the comments, tell me – what prompts you to connect with the artist in a live music setting?
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