Attending a concert is one of the most beautiful things a person can do. Not only are they immensely enjoyable, but they also present the opportunity for lasting memories and jealousy-inducing stories for those who were not as lucky. This review houses one such story.
This past October, I had the opportunity to see Iron & Wine perform in his first West Virginia. visit. Needless to say, I was giddy. Not only is Iron & Wine one of my absolute favorite musical acts, but it was going to take place at a remote venue in my home state. The venue is called the Jerry Run Summer Theater and it is located in Cleveland, W.Va. Now, when I say this place is remote, I mean, remote. It most certainly is not a dinner and a show kind of venue; this theater is located nearly 40 miles off the beaten path, and nearly 60 miles from any cell phone or GPS reception.
When I arrived at the Jerry Run, I was curious and excited. Simply by viewing the theater, I knew right away it was going to be an intimate evening. After hearing a fabulous opener play amazing bluegrass and folk, Iron & Wine’s manager explained why we were here: Sam Beam, who embodies Iron & Wine, was dusting off some old songs that had rarely or never seen the light of day, and wanted to create his newest album, Archive Series: Volume 1, with them. We were the lucky chosen ones to be the first-listeners.
All in all that night, Sam would play seven songs that had long been buried, tell stories, and take requests. He explained that they also would be documenting the evening and were unsure what form it would take later on. Recently, the footage of that night surfaced online as a short film titled Dreamers & Makers are my Favorite People, and it was offered as a download along with a bootleg of the audio from the show that night. After viewing this film, the feeling of meaning in small shows and doing what you love washed over me. I was reminded how important our stories are, and I want to focus the rest of this piece on how wondrous an intimate evening of music with strangers can truly be.
Sam Beam walked out on stage after the most brief and sincere welcome I have ever heard. The applause of the close to one hundred people roared through the tiny theater and alone on the stage, center of a mural painted on the removable barn door back walls, was our storyteller for the night. After a few words and a thanks for coming, he picked up his guitar and asked the greatest question a musician can ask a room full of fans, “What do you want to hear?” We all knew that by asking this simple question we were in for a great night of room favorites, and with the exception of the tunes he came to play, he spent the next almost two hours crooning songs that have been some of my favorites for years now. He opened with a song called Upward Over the Mountain, and minutes into the evening I had tears fill my eyes. The music was sincere and honest and the people in attendance had risked being lost in the West Virginia hills for days, just for the chance to hear him sing these songs. Behind me, I overheard one of the town locals say something about how she had never expected to see this many out of towners here, but she was glad she could be a part of something so extraordinary. It was a magical evening and one that will not be soon forgotten by the travellers or those who call Cleveland, W.Va. home.
As Sam Beam continued to ask for requests, the crowd had no shortage of suggestions. They ranged from songs that were featured many years previous to songs on his most recent album Ghost on Ghost. One of the more recent songs played was a track called Lovers’ Revolution. He expanded the original track timing by adding improvised lines and parts of verses and gave the audience a new song and experience. It was shortly after this song that he began the set he had come to play. Songs few had heard before and by his own admission, some that maybe were lacking the finesse of a now established songwriter. One being a song called Your Sly Smile, that he made fun of for giving a song such a stupid title. As he laughed, he moved on and played the song, showing everyone there that you can appreciate where you come from even more if you can see where you have been, and accept that sometimes it may embarrass you. It was a good song, and its funny how one person’s early start can sound so polished to a listener. At the close of his archive set, Sam Beam returned to asking for requests, but not before playing Communion Cups and Someone’s Coat from Around the Well, unprovoked. Its interesting how fate at a folk show happens; his opening song, this song, and his closer are by far my three favorite Iron & Wine songs, which is why I believe intimate shows provide people with their destinies, even if they had no idea it was missing. That night he closed the show with The Trapeze Swinger, an epic of a song that begs remembrance once we are gone. For years, it was only played live and was infamous for being a near 10 minute song, sometimes much longer. It was the perfect way to shake hands with those who had come so far to hear someone else tell their story and share their dream. As we stood and applauded his final thanks, it was clear we would all leave touched by a great night.
Standing in the foyer of the theater, my wife and I were ushered upstairs by Sam’s manager to say hello. After thanking him and struggling to find the words to say to a hero, he signed our travel book and wished us safe travels. The whole experience was fabulous, and to see how humble and sincere he was made it even better.
Obviously, I am a fan of intimate shows and the power that they hold. The night I experienced is something that could never be felt in an arena, at a more corporate style concert. When you go to that style show, and often pay way too much to be there, you are rewarded with nothing more than a live performance of a CD; a set list so rigid that the show in New York City is the same as the show in Los Angeles- a show with no personality or life of its own. Within the confines of a small show, you are rewarded with personal interaction, with seeing the story in the artist’s eyes, and you share that reward with the few people who surround you. I highly recommend to anyone who has not heard Iron & Wine’s music to go online and spend $4.99 to download the film and live album. It’s a great place to start, and you won’t be disappointed.
I would like to thank WV Public Radio, Joni Deutsch, and her show A Change of Tune (10PM on Saturday nights) for setting up this opportunity for us to be in attendance. Thank you for bringing the power of music back to the grand state of West Virginia.