Musicians Grow up at Open Wings, Broken Strings
It’s been 12 years since I first saw Rachel Leigh Cook walk slowly down the steps to greet Freddie Prince Jr. in She’s All That, as Six Pence None the Richer played softly in the background. But to this day, I still catch myself pretending I am her, taking my time to walk slowly down the steps each time I descend. Unfortunately, like Ms. Cook, I have tripped myself up more than once, and unfortunately, Mr. Prince Jr. has never been standing at the bottom of the steps to catch me. Be that as it may, Kiss Me became the iconic song of a generation, shared between friends and lovers for most of 1999.
Last night though, at the State Theatre in downtown State College, I (along with approximately 350 other fans of the 90s music genre) was taken back in time at the Open Wings, Broken Strings tour, featuring lead singers Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer (center), Emerson Hart of Tonic (right) and Ed Kowalczyk of Live (left).
***And for those students who were born post-1990, Live is the name of the band.***
The Open Wings, Broken Strings tour is meant to bring fans and musicians together in a setting that allows music enthusiasts to get to know their favorite artists and to take an up close and personal look at their favorite songs. Stripped down to a single guitar and a single voice, each artist’s sharp intake of breath feels like your own, every foot tap mirrors the audience’s, and every string reverberation echoes within your soul as it echoes within the hollows of the guitar.
As we sat in the audience, witnessing first hand how these three artists have not only grown older but also grown up over the past 15 or 20 years, we took our time to really hear the lyrics. Instead of love songs written for the girl that got away, words are now inspired by the beauty and charm that children bring to life.
Nash’s song Just a Little was penned for her 7-year-old son, Henry:
I wonder, why, just a little, I’m always wanting something more
Life is a riddle, I wish I had the answer for
Love breaks your heart, to teach you to be strong
I die, just a little, so I can live a little bit more
“He’s actually not really that little. He’s actually enormous,” she said, causing the audience to laugh hysterically.
“No, not like…no, I mean,” she said, attempting to clarify her last statement as the audience continued to cheer. “I mean, like, tall,” she finished, smiling and shifting her weight uncomfortably.
Hart, known for the hit song If You Could Only See also had his fair share of over-sharing.
“My 3-year-old daughter is really coming into that age where… I mean… she’s kind of a jerk,” he said, jokingly.
“Wait until she’s 12!” an audience member called to him, causing him and the crowd to chuckle.
“So we’re in the car and I will start singing along to a song and she says ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy! That’s a girl’s song. You can’t sing that.’” Hart said in a child-like, sing-song voice.
Hart then turned around on stage and pretended as if he were looking at his daughter in the car before glancing back at the audience mischievously.
“And I think ‘You don’t have a Grammy.’”
Regardless, he loves his daughter and wrote the song “Lullaby” for her while rocking her to sleep at night.
Their new songs are not just about their children though — Hart discussed his inspiration for Cigarettes and Gasoline, which focuses on his childhood relationship with his father aboard a lobster-catching boat in New Jersey.
“When I was 10 years old, my father was killed, but it took a lot of years for those feelings to come out,” Hart said before he began crooning to the crowd:
Cigarettes and gasoline
Morning seas they call to me
I’m pulling line in the early light
Kowalczyk, arguably most well known for I Alone performed the finale section, arriving in a collared shirt buttoned to the top and a dark suit, which contrasted sharply with his former persona as the lead singer of Live. (In fact, the last time I saw Live play, I’m pretty sure Kowalczyk had his shirt off by the start of the fifth song.) With his shaved head, he looks similar to Dr. Evil — and I half expected him to drop his guitar and bring his pinky to his lips — but the only evil thing about him is the unfair way he is soooo good at performing LIVE (pun intended), even after 20 years.
“I love it when you wrote a song when you were 19 and you still care about them and they still matter,” said Kowalczyk.
“That’s a beautiful thing,” he added, before launching into the hit song Beauty of Gray, which is, according to Kowalczyk, still relevant today:
This is not a black and white world
To be alive
I say that the colours must swirl
And I believe
That maybe today
We will all get to appreciate
The Beauty of Gray
Just because Kowalczyk is 20 years older though doesn’t mean he’s lost any of his youthful exuberance.
Before performing The Distance, Kowalczyk looked directly at the audience and explained why he loves playing solo.
“You don’t need a drum kit on stage to shake your money maker. In fact, this is how I do it at home,” he said, before turning sideways and bouncing his butt up and down and shaking it left to right.
Regardless if some of the artists’ hair might be thinner (or in Kowalczyk’s case, no hair at all) or some of their bodies might be heavier, their music transcends generations and has managed to survive post-1990 while other bands and singers have fizzled out.
Looking back on the show, it’s clear how vulnerable the artists were to every moment that could potentially go wrong. There was no backdrop to distract from poorly chosen attire, no back-up band to cover a wrong chord progression. Here at Open Wings, Broken Strings, music is heard as it is meant to be heard — the singer, the instrument, and the feeling that words and melody can combine to make something magical.
And to be able to draw in a crowd 20 years later, one which remembers every chord change, every pitch note, even every word… that, my friends, is a talent.