Concert Review: Sawyer Frederick @ Caffe Lena, 09/03/2023

SARATOGA SPRINGS–Local Americana and (now) blues musician Sawyer Fredericks played two sold-out shows at Caffe Lena this weekend, topping off his tenth year at the venue with some never-released performances of original music that reflected the ongoing growth fans have grown to embrace.

Jim and I caught Sunday night’s show, which was comprised of two distinct sets. During his first set, Fredericks surprised me by asking the crowd what favorites they’d like to hear and then obliged the intimate crowd with requests. It was a gutsy move and demonstrated his willingness to flex his set list to make sure fans were rewarded and also that he could pull songs from his ten-year musical cannon out without too much thought. His performance of his new song “Lonely Bear,” a song about his father, was particularly satisfying, as was “Farm Song.”

Photo by Joe Deuel

After a brief intermission, Fredericks returned with his new bass slung over his shoulder and a slide on one finger. The humble musician downplayed his abilities before opening with a mind-blowing set that included “Mother,” “Ain’t Too Proud, and “Bad Luck.” Sawyer’s new sound was captivating, and we can’t wait to hear more of his blues inspired originals in the future.

And then it was back to the guitar for “Imposter at Heart” and “Lies You Tell.” Fredericks’ vocal range was highlighted as he moved between pitches flawlessly while highlighting themes of environmental awareness. Fredericks’ guitar technique was equally flawless as his voice; his ability to master quick tempos and quick licks and still manage to appear relaxed as he finessed a woodsy sound from the instrument drew high praise from the crowd. Several times during the performance, I was holding my breath at the ease and almost magical fingerwork demonstrated over his guitar strings.

Fredericks’ encore piece was a cover of Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World,” a song he recently recovered and created a video for using the same artist, Andrew Benincasa, whose work graces the walls of Caffe Lena. I had goosebumps hearing his rendition, especially his use of a slowing tempo for emphasis.

The Fultonville native’s musicianship continues to explore the bridge between Americana music and blues, highlighting techniques from both to finesse his own unique sound. Fredericks’ easy, down-to-earth spirit makes watching him enjoyable as he related to the crowd, many of whom swarmed around him after the concert to chat him up.

Fredericks thanked Sarah Craig, Caffe Lena’s Executive Director, for offering him his first paying gig at the venue when he was just 14 and frequently referenced coming back to that particular stage as home. I want to thank her, too, for nurturing this bright star from a farm an hour outside Saratoga who returns brighter and stronger each year. While many credit the NBC show for highlighting him, Craig seemed to see more than just a voice in Fredericks: he’s a master musician, and we are so lucky he’s ours.

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