The house concert got its true start in rural areas where there just wasn’t much else to do except gather at the homestead and make some sort of ruckus. Back in the golden days when PlayStation didn’t exist, people just had to make due with conversation and six-string shenanigans. And now when things couldn’t seem more claustrophobic in our technically dependent existence, its come back to rescue us.
Performers, tired of label and agency bullshit, discovered that they could play in front of small groups with little or no amplification and make their shows count on their own terms. And what could be better than getting your tunes in front of an appreciative target audience, getting fed, lodged and sent along your merry way with a few less CDs in your bag, a feeling of good and a few extra bucks in your pocket? The answer to that question is obvious.
It’s also a certain breed that comes to host these events and they are passionate people that open their private residences. Brenda Wirth has been hosting Rosie’s Café Concerts in some fashion or another since 2000 and she absolutely loves what she does. First utilizing a friend’s house, then an Asbury church as well as now at her own home. She came up with the name Rosie’s after a friend asked her what she called her musical menagerie. Without really knowing, Brenda looked around, spotted her beloved dog Rosie and it’s been the name ever since.
The house concert is supported as much by the fans as it is by the host with patrons ponying up admission fees and bringing various potluck dishes for everyone. If you go to one of Rosie’s events, you’ll see me over by the meatballs—I have to admit that while I was at first an uncomfortable skeptic of a living room show, I warmed up to a memorable night by the people involved here.
Performing at Rosie’s tonight, Abbey Gardner and Anthony daCosta were like some sort of Martian duo that crash landed into New Jersey. Seriously, they’re really above the norm. The unique blend of Gardner’s resonator phrasing and daCosta’s open-voiced chord prowess serves as a solid platform for their individual (and duo) vocal abilities. Their combination of tone, timbre and style mesh effortlessly and the result is something that makes you sit back and go, “Where did I come from?” As a musician I’m always impressed with the people that put study time into what they do, and both here have done well—daCosta started strumming away at 13 with Dylan covers, wood shedding various fingering styles in coffee houses, while Gardner of Red Molly fame has been schooled by some of the best in the Dobro industry.
Both have claimed extensive achievements with Abbey grabbing the prestigious 2008 American Songwriter Magazine First Place Lyric Contest and the 2008 John Lennon Award Winner (folk) for “The Mind Of A Soldier.” And if that’s not enough to make you sit up and take notice, she also covered her backup bases graduating magna cum laude at Boston’s Sarget College of Allied Health Professions. With a style that sits somewhere between Jerry Douglas, Stacy Phillips and Sally Van Meter, Gardner has a promising future as a session player besides her amazing singing and writing talents.
DaCosta is in the same boat as he finishes up his stint at a little place called Columbia University. He was named WFUV New Artist To Watch and an MSNBC.com Top Five Up-And-Coming Young Singer. Last year he was a Folk Alliance Emerging Artist Of The Year nominee. He’s played major festivals including Falcon Ridge, Kerrville, Philly and Tonder (Denmark) and opened for music icons like Loretta Lynn and Dan Bern and released his eigth record, Not Afraid Of Nothing.
Beautifully stark and Appalachian desolate in delivery, the pair launched into material off of their collaborative disc, Bad Nights And Better Days. The disc was recorded in three days and yielded major accomplishments, as these were songs that they used to be afraid to write. Raw, fast and without thinking things to death, daCosta and Gardner make quick work of their fears with this batch.
The two tore it up on tunes like “Let Me Die In Your Arms,” “Better Days,” “Red Barn” (an audience requested number), and “Crazy In Love,” a composition that demo’s Abbey’s sweet and soulful approach to the slide bar and that puts most good ole’ steel guys to shame. The pair touched on their respective recorded projects hitting daCosta’s American Tragedy disc as well as a great rendition of the famed standard, “Tennessee Waltz.” Gardner’s fun-filled “Long Island Cowboy” had daCosta taking a turn at a verse that was clearly meant for a woman to sing and it was the funniest break up of the night. I also liked his “Dolly And Porter” from American Tragedy a lot. A quick classic look at their triumphs, tragedies (by age 25 Parton was light years ahead of Wagoner in everything), and the ultimate bond they shared.
The pair took a short break before coming back with the title song off daCosta’s latest disc, Not Afraid Of Nothing, a title that when announced, had Abbey quipping, “Can you believe he got into Columbia with an album title like that?” These two are effortless in stage banter and it’s infectious. Gardner took a turn with a delicious tune that she said had a true murderous intent (I missed the name) with the slinkiest of progressions and a foreboding line that’s goes, “Aim for her, aim for him, teach ‘em both the price of sin.” The sound of the floorboards creaking under their foot taps and the LCD TV shaking in the background lent a Fellini-esque charm to the process.
The dynamic duo asked George Wirth to come up and do a song and he did “Taste Of The Last Kiss” along with background accompaniment from daCosta and Gardner. Abbey commented on the song title saying, “George took the last great album title,” and perhaps he did, as he’s known for simply choosing smart things for his style and sound. With a voice that I could recognize anywhere, George rolls old school with his Cash/Springsteen phrasing and storytelling rhythms. I look forward to his next release.
The pair finished off the night with several notable tunes like Gardner’s contest winning “The Mind Of A Soldier,” the snaggle-toothed swing of “Honey On My Grave,” “Nothing Left,” and the Red Molly tunes “Jezebel” and “The Last Call” off their brand new record entitled James.
Anthony daCosta and Abbey Gardner are rising quickly within the industry and will one day be known on a much larger scale. But to me, their skill at leaving all of their listeners in an inspirationally better place then when they first walk in to see them is much more important than accolades and stardom. It’s the real deal and they are custom made for the music world. Check them out over at their respective sites at abbiegardner.com and anthonydacosta.com and for more info on Rosie’s upcoming schedule go to myspace.com/rosiescafeconcerts.