There’s something unique about seeing a musician perform solo. Performers fronting bands tend to banter between songs; they’ll joke with the audience or issue standard platitudes thanking the venue or reminding people to tip the staff. But when an artist is separated from the comfort of backing musicians, the chatter becomes more personal — where the songs came from, how they make them feel, why they write.
That experience was multiplied at Ritual Café last Friday, during “Women Writers in the Round.” Taking turns performing were Hath No Fury’s Jen Allen, Peace Love and Stuff’s Lavonne McRoberts, Kat Darling of The High Crest and Patresa Hartman of — as she self-effacingly put it — “nobody.”
Performing mostly acoustic and completely solo is the act of making oneself singularly vulnerable. Removing herself from the safety net of a larger band, or even just the reassuring comfort of another voice to harmonize with, each woman took her turn at the mic, performing what were often intimately personal songs of love and loss. And as they performed, the stories unfolded: Darling, writing about the loss of a parent; Allen and her song about “the slow and complete destruction of a relationship”; Hartman talking about the simple, real fear of performing live; McRoberts writing a song inspired by witnessing firsthand, girls in war-torn villages missing limbs, but with sense of self intact.
After a somewhat nervous start, all four women performed beautifully. Darling’s “Stay” and McRoberts’ “I, I, I,” were probably the strongest individual performances, while Allen’s efforts were enough to make one wonder if she might be better served shelving the pop rock act for a while and concentrating on solo work. But the real revelation of the evening was Hartman. The evening’s humble, self-deprecating host also showed herself to be a charming performer and an adept songwriter. CV