Cold night, warm music

Tom Pilcher

Last Thursday night as the snow piled up outside, students piled into the Underground Coffeehouse for an evening full of performances from nearly 20 student musicians. Organized in part by Becca Shorr and the Lawrence University Coffeehouse Committee, the event brought together both Conservatory and College students on stage for a night of Lawrence’s finest singer-songwriters.
LU Live favorites Cara Wantland and Andre Juan opened the night with a catchy, laid-back acoustic tune that referenced Plato, reminding the crowd of that communal freshman studies experience. Wantland sang most of the song with Juan tackling guitar duties, and the two served as an energetic opener for the rest of the night.
Playing songs that had been written that day seemed to be a theme for the night, as Fatbook lead singer Harji Bedi played a song he wrote that morning, and Tom Beneke mentioned how he tried to write one that morning to no avail. Bedi’s upbeat, reggae-influenced song featured acoustic guitar, harmonica and a looping pedal that he used to record and loop his own backup vocal harmonies at the end of the tune. He also used a pedal to put a simple drumbeat behind the song, which made the song stand out from standard acoustic guitar and harmonica songs.
Instead of playing a tune he wrote that morning, Beneke played one inspired by an unusual experience he had riding a Greyhound bus on which he sat next to a friendly, misfit teenager named Tim who was traveling to Tennessee to meet his father for the first time. Beneke’s lyrics referenced the runaway multiple times, and his folksy, blues-influenced guitar fit the tune’s theme well, making for another interesting performance. Beneke has played in the coffeehouse numerous times, and he was a crowd favorite at the LU Live competition earlier this year.
Piano player Nikko Benson also stuck out from the rest with his clever, theatrical tune called “Queen of Spades,” which he explained is an extended lyrical metaphor based on the card game of Hearts. Besides being very clever lyrically, Benson’s song stood out musically with his tuneful, melodic piano lines. Benson has performed in plays this year as well, and one could hear and see the theatrical influence in his style, which was very enthusiastic and expressive.
Perhaps the most unique performances of the night came from Sturdy Beggars lead singer Liam O’Brien. As O’Brien made his way up to the stage, a tuba player followed him. O’Brien followed Beneke and admitted that he did not have a cool story about the song he was going to play like Beneke did, adding that the tune was really about nothing at all. The rambling nature of the song and the tuba player’s bass line during the chorus reminded me of the Beatles song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” another song with no readily apparent lyrical message. Whether or not O’Brien’s song was about nothing did not seem to matter, because his clever lyrics, atypical instrumentation and good delivery more than made up for it, and the crowd thought so too.
With so many songwriters, this article can only present a partial snapshot of a night filled with great talent. Event organizer Becca Shorr played a song on piano midway through the night, and Rich Jones, Kim Vachon, Amanda Martinez, Brendan Peters, James Antony, Jacob Wright, Vince Dyer, David Broker, Diana Sussman and Isaac Schwartz also played songs during the night. The night highlighted Lawrence’s large, diverse group of singer-songwriters, and due to its success, Becca Shorr plans to host another similar event next term as well. The Coffeehouse Committee’s next event is Saturday, March 7 at 9 p.m., with a performance by indie rock group The Felix Culpa with opener Isaac Schwartz.