A Night of Folk at Whitehaus, Jamaica Plain

Ember Schrag joins Kath Bloom and company to sing together at the Sunday night Whitehaus show.

Half the excitement of living in Boston is the strength of the local music scene, and there’s no disappointment with the established DIY venue the Whitehaus in Jamaica Plain. On Sunday, September 26th the Whitehaus hosted Ember Schrag, Kath Bloom, Glenn Jones and Jaggery to provide a folk-infused intimate music experience.

Though the venue is an actual 8-bedroom house inhabited by those involved in the Whitehaus Family Records, it instantly feels like a home to whomever walks in. Self-made chandeliers of various knickknacks and discarded treasures hang in each room, Polaroids fill the front wall and follow the staircase up while candles melted into the necks of old liquor bottles line the mantelpiece for a warm glow. The room where the bands performed had pillows all along the floor, allowing the audience to sit close to the performers, who were still amplified through a sound system.

The first performer was Glenn Jones, who opened the show with instrumental songs on his 12-string steel guitar. Such a full sound from one man finger-picking an instrument left the crowd awe-struck, listening intently while sitting cross-legged and eyes closed. His intricate, ethnic-inspired melodies provide a dreamy atmosphere that easily lets you lose yourself in the music. It is difficult to pin down his genre, but its seems that he has taken influence from traditional folk, Spanish guitar and even Indian melodies. This infusion of styles in addition to his undeniable skill allows Jones to receive a wide range of appeal.

After Jones, Kath Bloom took the floor: a petite older woman with an acoustic guitar and belt of harmonicas, accompanied by two dapper men dressed in vests and newsboy hats (one on another acoustic guitar, the other on a violin). Bloom is basically straight folk, with a country twinge. She has been making music since the late 70’s but still sings in an emotional, eager to be heard voice. Some of her songs were blatantly catchy, with the violin adding ethereal harmony over the steady strum of the guitars, but others might have had too much of a country twist to be appreciated by everyone.

During this set, Ember Schrag and her drummer and mandolin players joined Bloom and her gang. The girl’s voices blended together beautifully – Schrag singing the higher harmonies and Bloom’s wizened voice strongly singing the lower. The musician’s sound was layered and sincere, with the variety of instruments balancing each other out. Schrag and Bloom clearly had fun in front of the participating crowd, smiling at each other and giving joking nudges when one forgot the lyrics for a line.

Following this, Jaggery came on to continue the soft yet powerful songs. Another difficult band to categorize, their music takes a more classical turn, with Boston-based singer Mali Sastri’s ethereal voice floating elegantly high above the chords. The crowd swayed to the entrancing melodies, again being enclosed in a dreamy quality.

Finally, Ember Schrag went back up to make her voice known individually. She doesn’t even seem to be aware that she is in front of a crowd, but genuinely croons warm, nostalgic songs as effortlessly as talking. She was warmly encouraged by the crowd and the previous performers, providing a comforting, communal ending to the night.

Overall, this concert showcased lots of talent over a variety of musical styles, but there was an present connection linking them all with folk influences and emotional devotion. The warm, traditional music perfectly fit with the welcoming environment of the Whitehaus and the family-like interactions of the crowd.

This show had a mix of local and traveling bands, though all fit into the underground folk experience. The Whitehaus is known for providing this look into what’s happening beneath the radar of most of the music world, and any show here will certainly provide a unique and intimate experience.

Be sure to check out the bands on MySpace and Whitehaus Records for more upcoming shows!

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