Concert Review: Girl Blue / Reese Fulmer & the Carriage House Band / Jimi W @ The Hangar on the Hudson, 05/06/2023
TROY – The Hangar on the Hudson in Troy transformed itself into a listening room when hosting three local songwriters and their bands on Saturday, May 6th. While I’ve been to The Hangar before and found the venue to be a fun place to dance and rock out, I was shocked by how similar the vibe was to a coffee house on Saturday night, showing that the venue is flexible enough to host various genres without missing a beat.
On Saturday, Girl Blue and her band headlined, with Reese Fulmer and the Carriage House Band also performing a set. Special guest Jimi W. opened as a solo act, although Jimi graced the stage throughout the night with his guitar. The three musicians presented a gourmet meal of music for listeners, each with its specific flavor. The music bill was enticing, and I’ve been anticipating the show for weeks.
Jimi W. opened with his solo songwriting. He may be familiar to you as a powerhouse guitarist and vocalist from his band membership in Dark Honey, and I’ve also noticed he collaborates with Girl Blue during her quieter acoustic sets. More recently, we saw him perform as a soloist at Dorn Space in Gloversville, and I was struck by his similar sound to the national band Dawes. His solo act provided our appetizer of sorts at The Hangar, and I was once again taken aback by his original yet familiar vibe. He reminds me of other musicians, but he also is unique in his voice and beautiful imagery.
His song “Hardly Any Loneliness” pushed the limits of authenticity, leaving a first job and a group of friends. Other highlights of his solo set included “Mona” and “Don’t Judge.” What I found interesting about his music was the common voice in his lyrics that seemed wise beyond his years. “Dyin’ Ain’t Easy” closed his set with heartache and longing. I loved the lyric “I’m burning all my bridges back to you,” reminding me that sometimes that is the only way to stay away after leaving someone you loved. His guitar playing echoed the Avett Brother’s folk sound and emerged with Jimi W’s own sage sound of wisdom. He isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, with lyrics that seem to tell stories of hurts woven together through carefully painted images.
He was joined by his fiance and long-term partner Arielle O’Keefe (Girl Blue), whose piano and quiet singing seemed content to let Jimi’s vocals shine during this set. And he really did shine, singing out about friendship, love, and loss. Jimi W’s solo work can be heard on most streaming platforms. He’s also playing a set at our Nipperfest on July 22nd, which Jim and I both felt was the absolute right decision after hearing his rhythmic guitar playing and heart-centered vocals again on Saturday.
Reese Fulmer took the stage next and – to my absolute delight – opened with “San Francisco.” Fulmer and The Carriage House Band recently won an Eddie Award this April and had a magical sound on Saturday. His band rotates musicians, and the combination of talent on stage was unique as it was massive. Katie Weissman joined Fulmer on cello, the musician who also recorded with Fulmer on his recent EP. The Buffalo native was passing through Albany and fortuitously was able to join the band for this live performance.
Weissman wasn’t the only surprise. James Gascoyne (yes, from the Eddie award-winning string duo Drank the Gold, which I am a huge fan of!) was on standing bass and offering vocals to the band. Jimi W. joined on guitar, leaning in with some playful riffs. And Reese had soprano mandolin player Chris Bloniarz, who we recently saw playing with his band, Honeysuckle. Bloniarz’s strings made my heart ache, especially on the last song of the set.
The combined talent created a synergy that was palpable across the room. The band’s united sound in “Long Black Car” shifted the sound into a deeper, soulful place. With a bluesy baseline and Fulmer’s velvety singing, the song pulsed through the room like blood through veins.
Fulmer’s set danced through the second course of music without a single misstep. From “Ohio” to “Not Now, Not Forever,” Fulmer had the complete focus of the audience on him. I was holding my breath through my heartbreak/favorite song, “All the Summertime Sunshine,” trying to remember that the song itself is a celebration of the beauty of the last moments of someone’s life – and to be celebrated.
Fulmer’s explanation of his songs were briefer than in the past, and he seemed to be under the same spell as his audience that was cast by the talent on stage. He shared that some of the songs he’s written serve to help him come to an understanding of something, a philosophy or aspect of self, and I realized in that moment that I often have the same experiences with his lyrics. His song “3AM,” written in the middle of the night after a long night of working, spoke to me about the sense of timing. “Sometimes I’m alive at the right time” is the exact feeling I get some days, with both gratitude and wonder.
Fulmer is a songwriter whose lyrics expose parts of myself to me that I often cannot put language to, and for that, I’m both grateful and mystified.
Fulmer closed out with “No Gospel” and “Leaving a Dream,” which showcased the band members as much as they did Fulmer. And that’s one thing I really enjoy about Fulmer’s live performances. I know his songs and even sing along with the lyrics at this point because I listen to him so much. But each time I hear him live, the music is different because the band members are different — and bring capacity for greater variety within the beauty of the songs.
Girl Blue‘s set was next, and much like when we transition between courses in a gourmet meal, I found myself needing to cleanse my palate a bit after that rich middle course from Fulmer. Also, an Eddie award-winning songwriter, Girl Blue (aka Arielle O’Keefe), is a local treasure in both the vocal control she demonstrates and how she writes songs with emotion at the center of her storytelling. Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Girl Blue’s songs and have compared her to Alanis Morissette in her ability to express passionate rage and despair. She’s my go-to when I want to jump and fully experience my inner rock star (read: when I’m home alone cleaning after a hard day at work).
Girl Blue was on stage again with some incredible talent. Joined by Jimi W on guitar and vocals (he was jokingly called “Big Man on Campus” by Fulmer earlier in the night for participating in all three sets), James Gascoyne on electric bass and vocals, Joshua Marré on slide guitar, and Josh Morris on drums, Girl Blue’s band spiked the rock energy into the folk sound of the night as she opened with “Six Moons.” O’Keefe is able to straddle a number of octaves, and the song showcased her vocals beautifully while also punctuating the start of her set with an alert to the listeners: you will be moved to experience some emotion tonight.
Reasons I love Girl Blue include the fact that she is aware of how gender plays in female development, and isn’t afraid to call out how social expectations impact how women grow into themselves. And while she isn’t afraid to admit the challenges of facing this, her songs also offer support in overcoming these limits to finding genuine authenticity of self. By naming feelings and then using the music to help listeners find the emotion of which she speaks, she takes listeners through the thrills of love, heartbreak, anger, and back to self-awareness again in a way that is useful. After listening to a song, the emotion of that song was fully expressed, understood, and, dare I say – integrated.
“Lolita” does this so soulfully while dancing through lyrics about moving through female development. “Everything I do / I feel closer to some kind of new life” are the lyrics that expose how yearning to grow is part of being and becoming, embracing feminine parts of self. Just a note: that song is the current theme song for the NPR podcast 51 Percent.
“Bad Habits” faces the duality of loving someone even when you don’t like what they’ve done. The song’s last lyric, “You’ll always have a place in my heart / It doesn’t matter what you’ve done,” speaks to unconditional love — even when it can’t be realized in a relationship. “Hot Teens in Love on TV” remind listeners that it is hard to compete with the unrealistic world of social media, but how much better real love is. These songs all speak to emotion, with the lyrics matching the vitality in the harmonies, helping the listener to feel all of this through every cell of their bodies.
But my favorite new song of the night was what she referred to as “a little love song” called “The Best of Me.” Maybe it is because I’ve shifted in my life away from anger and despair in love toward a more accessible, happier love, but this song lifted my heart. Rarely do you hear songs about love that speak to healthier relationships that make us long to be our best selves; this song did that for me. It also made me smile to see her glance at her fiance a few times with an awareness that she so clearly has found joy – as well as comfort – in loving him.
Closing with “Braced for Impact,” Girl Blue masterfully told the story of how love often teaches us to anticipate pain — rather than look for joy. There was a brutal honesty in its telling, but also a hopefulness in the sound of the music that accompanied the words.
With the concert over, the room again was filled with human voices talking and sharing ideas. These songwriters certainly had given us so much to think about: how to connect to others, how to connect to self, how to love, and how to be human; all were themes through the night. Jim and I drove home excited to share how each performer impacted us, shifting our sense of selves tonight and also united us a little more through shared experiences too.
Quite possibly the best concert of the month (dare I say year?), I disclosed to Jim my sadness that it was over. He reminded me that Fulmer and Girl Blue would share the Caffe Lena stage on May 21st in their free event, “Singin’ in the Streets,” also sponsored by Nippertown. I’ve marked it in my calendar, as I’m sure it will once again be a rare event that manages to take me paradoxically both far away from life for a few moments and also closer to it, within the music.