Stray Birds and Caitlin Canty: A Cold Night, Sweet Hug and that Tall Bass Player

SBIts Saturday night before Thanksgiving 2013. The wind whips through the trees, occasional snow flurries fall from the sky over the village of Hastings-On-Hudson in the state of New York, and inside the Unitarian…whatever it is (please don’t call it a church)..building; there is music. Sweet, sweet music.The Common Ground Community Concerts‘ series, eleven or twelve seasons strong, is presenting Caitlin Canty tonight, along with headliner The Stray Birds.

Caitlin, who I walked up to after she left the stage, told her I loved her and gave her a big hug…before dropping forty bucks on all her albums and EPs, which caused her to instigate a reciprocal hug…is (currently in 2015) promoting a new album produced by Jeffrey Foucault. Visit her website and get to know her.

The Stray Birds, whose debut album last year was well-written about (there are lots of posts on our site) and played heavily on radio, particularly by stations in the NPR universe, far exceeded the expectations I had. As much as I love the album, I couldn’t imagine how three players could reproduce the recorded beauty, precision and collaboration in a live setting. But this was a quite magical, stand out performance, shared by maybe a hundred people in a small room. And it reminded me a bit about Al Pacino’s speech in Any Given Sunday.

“Now I can’t do it for you.
I’m too old.
I look around and I see these young faces
and I think
I mean
I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I uh….
I pissed away all my money
believe it or not.
I chased off
anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately,
I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That’s, that’s part of life.
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
I mean
one half step too late or to early
you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast
and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in every break of the game,
every minute, every second.”

Like a football team, this trio of stray birds have practiced and created not just songs, but movements within the songs that make three instruments and three harmonious voices sound as if there were three hundred. While they each learned their craft in the classical environment, they also grew up in homes with parents who exposed them to folk, old time, bluegrass and blues, which pretty much makes them the children of the children of Woody.

The tall bass player.

Within this particular world of acoustic music, with none or only meager financial subsidies from the record labels, hardly any record stores left to visit and only pods of festivals for the tribes to gather, our minstrels are left to traveling from town to town. Playing their hearts out, they rely on the generosity and hospitality of their promoters and audience. And it is the ritual that between sets and after the show it is hoped for that you’ll make your way to the merch table…where goods are sold and an opportunity to connect with the artist is available.

Many musicians find the idea of “business” an emotional draw from the “creative” process. How many times have you been to a gig and hear the performer almost be apologetic about selling their work, or simply mumble into the mic letting their voice trail off? And to those I say…get over it.

Caitlin Canty came prepared with her Square credit card reader and a small case of product. She mentioned her albums in song introductions, quite organically. She said she’d be at the table selling her music at the end of her set, and so she was. And the tall bass player with The Stray Birds, he used humor and personality to let everyone know that they had something new to share. Or rather, sell. An EP…five tracks….called The Echo Sessions. And the result was that after the encore, instead of retreating to their green room (actually the Sunday classroom for grades 1-3), and feasting on squab and champagne, they mingled, gabbed, smiled and sold their product.

Recorded in a single live session on October 8th of this year, at the Echo Mountain Studios in North Carolina, this beautiful five song set of carefully chosen covers can be checked out here, and of course there are links to iTunes and CD Baby. The band writes on their website that this recording is “dedicated to the people who inspire us to sing our way through life. These songs came into our lives as echoes. Whether through another artist’s recording or someone’s rendition in a kitchen, they made the long journey from their writers’ hearts to ours. May our voices be another echo in the lives of these beloved songs.”

I listened to my copy on the way home, and have replayed it a few more times as I sit here after midnight writing these words. There will be a new album forthcoming (it came), but in the meantime we have these five songs to hear and savor.  Check the website.

Here’s a video of the Stray Birds covering Townes’ “Loretta”, which is on The Echo Sessions.