This weekend we asked Shane Danaher, Nick Jaina and photographer Bobby McHugh to catch some of the first annual Portland Folk Festival and report back here. We didn't try and ask them to see everything—that would have been silly. Instead, each of them attended at their own pace and wrote about the festival in their own way. First up is an essay from Jaina. Second, digestible observations from Danaher. Last but not least (and strewn throughout the piece), a slideshow from McHugh.
~NICK JAINA on the PORTLAND FOLK FESTIVAL~
Before I list some of what I saw at the Portland Folk Festival this weekend, I just want to offer my own definition of folk music.
The word 'folk' has lately come to mean almost the same thing as the word "acoustic," i.e. someone strumming an open G chord on their Martin guitar. But when I think about folk music, I think of a friend of mine who lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It's a town with a professional football team, as you might have heard, and if you're going to live in that town it would be really convenient to also like football. My friend doesn't like football, though. She likes folk music. Sometimes she contacts nursing homes and offers to come in and play folk music for the residents and try to get them to sing along. A lot of the people in these nursing homes have Alzheimer's disease, and most of their days are filled with worrying about the haze of forgetfullness they're trapped in. But when my friend comes in and plays songs and they all sing along, the residents forget about forgetting for an hour. She picks the most basic songs that we all know from childhood so that everyone can join in: "You Are My Sunshine." "She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain." "Oh Suzanna." And these people who can't remember the basic facts of their own life stories know the words to these songs and can sing along. So you could say that folk songs are songs that everyone knows the words to, even people who can't remember their own children's names. That is a powerful kind of music. It occupies a place deep in the brain, nestled down close to the knowledge of how to position your legs to stand upright, or how to chew your food and swallow it. That information isn't going anywhere, no matter how much a disease ravages the brain. To get something lodged so deep, a song would have to have been sung to you over and over by your parents, who learned it from their parents when they were kids. Songs that you don't know the origin of. That's folk music. It's the music that is the background of a culture, like the recipes for soups and the quilts that grandmothers make that get folded up and put in oak chests.
I'm intrigued by the futile idea of trying to put all music into two categories, so let's go ahead and say that all music is either folk music or pop music. Both types of music are equally important, like being asleep and being awake. And maybe you could say that most music starts out as pop music and the really good stuff endures and eventually turns into folk music, like the way things migrate from our waking life into our dreams. For example, the Beatles wrote pop songs about fifty years ago. Those songs made fathers mad and daughters happy. Those songs shook up everything around them. Everything about that music was, at the time, edgy and threatening and dangerous. And now, you don't think of those songs as dangerous. They are almost becoming folk music, the kind of songs that you could play in a roomful of people and expect everyone to know the words to. Pop music has leaders and visionaries, because pop music has to always be moving forward. Folk music doesn't have leaders. It has followers. It doesn't have to go anywhere. It's already there.
Portland just had a pop festival a few weeks ago. The defining pop moment of that festival for me was on the stage outside of Rotture at midnight on Saturday when the band Hockey stood up and sang a perfectly tight and instantly loveable set. The lead singer looked like he had just stepped out of an '80s poster that was hanging in a twelve-year-old girl's bedroom, his red cap slightly askew as he sang, "Tomorrow's just a song away, a song away..." I have bad night vision and I was a hundred feet away, so in my mind he looked just like License to Drive-era Corey Haim. It was perfectly pop in the way that it made me vascillate betwen the two thoughts, "This is good for the kids," and simply, "This is good."
Folk music doesn't have leaders. It has followers. It doesn't have to go anywhere. It's already there. -Nick Jaina
And this weekend we had the Portland Folk Festival. Some people might have thought it was extraneous to have this festival, coming in between PDX Pop Now! and MusicfestNW. This Folk Festival was the idea of Amanda Stark, a woman that I was married to for a good part of the last decade. She has always admired the Vancouver Folk Festival in Canada, a mid-July affair staged on the beautiful Jericho Beach Park. Amanda originally wanted to stage the Portland Folk Festival in a large park, too, but the insurance fees were too expensive, so she ended up working with Slim Moon and Chantelle Hylton-Simmons to have a few shows in a different neighborhood each night over one weekend. It worked suprisingly well, especially considering that just a few months ago Amanda was telling me the whole festival was going to be scrapped and attempted again next year.
Sea of Bees
On Thursday, the shows were downtown. I went to Backspace, where Sacramento's Sea of Bees played as a duo. That venue always feels like the student union at college, with its sticky all-ages smell and awkwardly-placed banks of computers. And there is a treehouse above the soundboard that perfectly blocks the view for most of the potential audience. The lead singer Jules has a voice that sounds both fragile and focused. The payoff is in the choruses when she goes up high and it sounds like she's screaming but the volume stays the same. It's like she has a compressor in her throat that regulates the volume. Something about those high notes make me see a beam of white light, in that tickly way when you've hit your funny bone or are about to sneeze. Like everyhing is just a little too overwhelming, but it's still contained. Not to split hairs, but her songs are probably more in the realm of pop music, especially when her bandmate Amber played an air organ while sitting on the floor, while Jules also sat on the floor singing the soft chorus of a song, "It won't be long before I lose my mind..."
On Friday the festival took place on Alberta Street. I went to the beautiful new Alberta Rose Theatre to watch Tragos Amargos, who usually go under the name Y La Bamba. The distinction between the different names used to mean something when they had different members and songs in each, but now both bands have exactly the same people and play exactly the same songs. It's like seeing someone you know check into a hotel under a different name and wondering what's going on. Even if it's just to throw people off the scent, it worked in this case. They had recently done a month-long residency at Laurelthirst Pub, but they were much more effective in a room with great sound and people quietly sitting down. I walked in during my favorite song, a duet between Luz and Paul that starts out with the line, "Now your setting sun is falling right in place."
After Tragos Amargos, I debated with my friends whether we should leave or stick around to see the next act. It turned out to be Celso Machado, a Brazillian guitarist. He walked onstage and said that he had never played in Portland before and was honored to be there. He sounded a bit like Seu Jorge, playing a nylon-string guitar and singing in a dark smooth voice. After a couple songs he put the guitar down and picked up a water bottle. He did an entire piece of music just drumming on his chest, the microphones and the bottle. From there he told a story about playing ballads outside of windows in Brazil to help friends woo potnetial mates, and then played a slow and tender version of "Black Orpheus," a song that I've been working on in my guitar lessons over the last year and which I will now tear from my songbook and never attempt to play again. Celso, in the modern parlance, killed it. Killed everything he touched. Made me and all the musicians who were sitting near me want to give up music, or at least take the next ten years off and practice in our rooms ten hours a day. He ended his set by standing in front of a table, picking up different flutes and playing them to similate bird sounds. He then rumbled into the microphone to simulate thunder and got everyone in the audience to pat their legs and create the sound of a rainstorm. He deservedly got a standing ovation and an encore, even though he wasn't the last act on the bill. He came back out and played a strange samba number where he constantly detuned a string on his guitar while strumming. The string started to get so slack that it sounded like drums beating. He picked up a whistle and somehow played it with one hand while strumming and fretting the guitar. And another standing ovation. I can't remember a performer I've ever seen in my life who completely owned the audience and every moment of his performance to such a degree. He injected humor into the music at just the moment where it was appropriate, and had complete command of every sound he was making.
After the Alberta Rose, I went down to the Alberta Street Pub to watch Lewi Longmire and Annalisa Tornfelt. Lewi looks like a young Father Time and so you trust him when he says that he's going to play a Grateful Dead song and you assume that he's probably considered all other alternatives and this is a really good song even if you think you hate Grateful Dead. Annalisa looks like she has spent half her life with a fiddle pressed up against her ear. Watching two people who are experts at their instruments you are struck by how easy it looks. You think that you could probably just pick up a violin and make it sound as good as that. After all, the movements are so small and simple. But it takes so many years of refining, of starting out with bigger, sloppier movements to get down to the essential little things that make an instrument sing.
I can't remember a performer I've ever seen in my life who completely owned the audience and every moment of his performance to such a degree. Nick Jaina on Celso Machado
On Saturday, there were no particular grand revelations as Mamadou and Thomas Mapfumo, two groups of African origin, played to an unfortunately sparse Wonder Ballroom. It was the kind of music that could've benefitted from more people moving and screaming and dancing. Dance music, especially Folk dance music, is put in a difficult position when there isn't that critical mass of people who transform it from a presentation of music into a sharing of energy, as the hippies might say. This show was probably just a matter of the ambition of the festival exceeding the potential audience that could possibly show up for the first year. Which is not anyone's fault. It's admirable that the Folk Festival was trying for so much.
Thao and Mirah (R to L)
On Sunday, Thao and Mirah combined their powers at Holocene to a healthy crowd. You could say that individually Mirah is more folk and Thao is more pop. The two of them together enhanced their own uniqueness at the same time that they blended with each other. Thao gesticulates wildly with her hair falling over her face, singing from the heart and throat, while Mirah sings more from her head. But on the last song of the encore they were both dancing together, and every musician in the band was clearly having fun and the whole room was moving. Whether this fits in more with folk music or pop music doesn't really matter. It's not like anyone other than a critic is standing there at those moments thinking about the distinctions between the two. This was one of the most moving and constantly exciting shows I have seen all year, in a weekend filled with captivating moments.
Ultimately, folk music is just another platform to enjoy living in the world. Maybe if we're going to put music into two categories we should shoot for "good" and "not good". This weekend the Portland Folk Festival provided a constant supply of "good"—and that's all that matters.
~SHANE DANAHER presents a PORTLAND FOLK FESTIVAL DIARY~
8:35 pm—The Know:
In a month buttressed to one side by PDX Pop Now! and to the other by MusicfestNW, the question raised by any festival is not so much “what?” but “why?” For the Portland Folk Festival, this becomes even more of an issue as the “what” in question is a titanic undertaking, a festival too large to be a passing distraction and too well-organized to fly under the radar of anyone who has even a passing interest in bands, bars, or New Deal economics (we'll get to that in a second). Boasting four days worth of performances, nineteen venues to house them and over 75 bands and performers, the festival is a bearded, humbly flannelled colossus.
The weekend's festivities are the brainchild of three well-connected Northwest impresarios: Kill Rock Stars founder and industry pioneer Slim Moon, Chantelle Hylton Simmons of Blackbird Presents, and publicist extraordinaire Amanda Stark. They are a cabal for whom lack of ambition has never been a problem. Even in the planning for the folk festival there is a “take no prisoners” attitude of complete dedication. Performances are parsed out into four sections of the city (one for each night), with storytelling sessions and film screenings thrown in for good measure.
The Portland Folk Festival is a titanic undertaking, a festival too large to be a passing distraction and too well-organized to fly under the radar of anyone who has even a passing interest in bands, bars, or New Deal economics.
After kicking myself for missing out on the Folk Festival's first night, and its Peter Yarrow-fronted tribute to Woody Guthrie, I arrive at the Know several minutes into a set from Anna Paul and the Bearded Lady, a Dixieland quartet comprised of three men and one (sadly, un-bearded) woman. The group plays a style of street corner jazz that lifts its affect straight from the 1920s. It would not be too far off the mark to describe it as “jass.”
Though the Know is lightly populated when I first arrive, people trickle in at a regular pace and by the time Anna Paul and company are closing out with a cover of “All of Me,” the concert space is filled to a worthy capacity. As will prove a consistent theme with the Folk Festival, the venue and the bands occupying it are generally in pretty perfect harmony.
Anna Paul and the Bearded Lady, as well as the other groups playing the Know tonight, make the most of their surroundings, playing danceable music from a roughly bedecked stage to a crowd ready to commit itself to an evening of cheap beer and frantic movement. The term “folk” is so nebulous that it can cover a swath of music ranging from Dixieland to bar rock, and as I leave the Know and head down to the Alberta Street Pub, the festival's chief strength becomes apparent: a vastly wide-ranging appeal.
9:20 pm—Alberta Street Pub
Whereas the Know had hosted a crowd of mostly twenty-somethings, the audience at the Alberta Street Pub averages to somewhere near middle age. Every pew, bench, and table is occupied with silent spectators, allowing the solemn strumming of Jim Page's one-man folk act turn the venue into a close facsimile of a place of worship.
Page is a Seattle-based songwriter whose white hair and steel-rimmed glasses are reminiscent of Jerry Garcia and whose straightforward torch songs are born from the same school of thought as that espoused by the aforementioned Peter, Paul and Mary founder, Peter Yarrow. Page throws into sharp relief the fact that one generation previous, folk music was a mostly political beast. In 2010? Not so much.
It might be a generational thing, a hangover from twenty years worth of habitual cynicism—but whatever the cause, moralizing is not on the agenda for most of the Folk Festival's participants. Jim Page is an exception. He sings a song about Ghost Bikes and the trouble of fossil fuels; he sings about the origins of Seattle's permanent tent city; he sings about friends who died in the Vietnam War.
Towards the end of his set he plays a song called “Everything Is Round.” Before starting in on it he mentions that it was recorded as part of a compilation meant to raise funds for one of R. Buckminster Fuller's original geodesic domes.
It might be a generational thing, a hangover from twenty years worth of habitual cynicism—but whatever the cause, moralizing is not on the agenda for most of the Folk Festival's participants.
10:17 pm—The Star E Rose
Although there is a decent crowd in attendance, it is clear that Scotty C.'s tribute to Vic Chestnutt has failed produce the same pull as either Jim Page or Anna Paul.
The three-piece band plays to about fifteen people, including a festival volunteer who steps out occasionally to check his text messages and a photographer who sits in nervous agitation through two songs before making a dash for the exit.
Scotty C.'s tribute band isn't bad by any stretch, and it doesn't lack for source material. Vic Chestnutt was a true American curio, a songwriter whose lifelong battles with depression and partial paralysis make for some amazing material, regardless whose hands it winds up in. However, tonight's trio approaches that material with a somewhat messy conviction. Add to that the Star E Rose's unfortunate dearth of liquor, and the performance winds up feeling lackluster.
In between songs Scotty C. points to a tin carafe by the front of the stage. “That little silver thing is called a ‘tip jar',” he says. “Feel free to come up and use it.”
The crowd remains seated.
10:47 pm—The Know
Back at the Know, Portland's Fenbi International Superstars have fomented a welcome frenzy. The six-piece borrows its twin loves for gypsy punk and throaty sing-alongs from the likes of Gogol Bordello and Flogging Molly, and like both those groups FIS realizes that the essential element in that witch's brew is a palpable sense of fun, though a talented fiddle player doesn't hurt.
In either case, Fenbi International Superstars have both.
From the skinny drunks skanking in front of the stage to the sweaty, head-bobbing throng crowding the back, there is an energy permeating the Know that isn't too far removed from that of a grange hall punk show.
Fenbi International Superstars hit their marks exactly, executing accordion flourishes, scissor kicks, and back-of-the-throat odes to drunkenness with a fine balance of exactitude and slop.
My only note from the show is a near-eligible monograph that, after close inspection, reads, “Gypsy-punk fiasco.”
8:45 pm—Mississippi Studios
Duover receives the award for the Festival's “most pun-y” name, and also throws into relief a problem that is quickly emerging in covering this type of event: Duover consists of a guy, a girl, and two acoustic guitars. They play what can be described as (obviously) folk music. However, to give the pair that little credit is a kind of cheap. Their rhythm guitars bounce off each other in a manner such that they wind up sounding like half an orchestra. The harmonies that Rebecca Rasmussen layers on top of her bandmate Nathan Jr.'s healthy melodies are unobtrusive, artful, and thankfully confident.
Like the term “indie,” “folk” suggests a variation on a theme, and Duover provides an excellent example of exactly that.
9:30 pm—Mississippi Studios
I'm pretty sure this entire festival was created with Dolorean in mind.
Al James' music is folk in the nebulous stylistic sense but also in terms of its resolved spiritual exhaustion; its comfortable, perfected execution; its nonchalant mastery of a form. With a new album on the horizon (The Unfazed), the five-piece is in top shape, and tonight it has an audience whose excitement is at a similar pitch. About the Northwest United States there are sprinkled a decent number of die-hard Dolorean fans, and a good few of that number are in attendance. As the band plays through its set, it becomes apparent why.
“Beachcomber Blues” and “Hard Working Dogs” are executed with the thick, mind-meld precision that makes the whole band sound like a single living thing, loping tiredly towards some distant goal. There is dedication and restraint in every line of James's songwriting and at no point does it seek to bite off more of a musical or thematic chunk than it can chew.
James pauses between songs to deliver deadpan jokes. He borrows a phrase from Damien Jurado in declaring Portland's June-to-September interim to be a “jacket summer.” He mentions that his guitarist has recently played the “Beaver Grass” festival in Corvallis, and that if nothing else the Portland Folk Festival has at got that event beat in terms of moniker.
He also calls attention the fact that the festival is, beyond all other designs, a labor of love. “No one's getting rich off this,” he says, and that's true, but so far it's been a great success in every other respect, even if it's falling short on the monetary front.
Al James mentions that his guitarist has recently played the “Beaver Grass” festival in Corvallis, and that if nothing else the Portland Folk Festival has at got that event beat in terms of moniker.
10:42 pm—White Eagle
In another example of the festival's deft talent for booking, the White Eagle hotel and bar has been graced with the exactly correct sort of act: a bar band.
Yoyodyne is a three-piece, fronted by songwriter Johnny Keener, and it plays a loose variety of slacker-rock that throws in a half-measure of honky-tonk to add to its repertoire of comfortable jangle. McMennamins has endeavored to create an atmosphere of casual reverie in all corners of its empire and as the crowd alternately listens to Yoyodyne and chats around their tables, it becomes clear that this mandated has been pretty close to fulfilled.
11:20 pm—Wonder Ballroom
The eleven o'clock hour presents one of the problems that has been emblematic of the Folk Festival: the presence of two excellent acts, separated by geography but united in a single time slot. My choice tonight is between Kimya Dawson at the Wonder Ballroom and Damien Jurado at Mississippi Studios. Rather than bike my way once more up N. Mississippi., I opt to trek down Russell to the Wonder to see a set by a woman who is, arguably, the national face of modern folk music.
If Jim Page's songs about the injustices of homelessness and the thoughtlessness of war were emblematic of the Baby Boomer concept of “folk,” then Kimya Dawson's intensely personal, willfully amateurish tunes are the torch songs of a generation whose birth dates fall somewhere between the mid-'80s and mid-'90s. It's odd to see Dawson in a post-Juno world as she's always played songs that were designed for house shows, songs that were meant to be as personal to the listener as they were to their creator. Even after being ushered into national fame, the barn-nouveau setting of the Wonder Ballroom seems an uncomfortable place for Dawson to ply her trade. But even if there's dissonance at hand, it hasn't caused a dip in quality.
Dawson makes no secret of the fact that she has a limited range, both in terms of style and technical proficiency, but the brilliant thing about Kimya Dawson is that she leans on these shortcomings until they become strengths. She plays “The Beer,” “Underground,” and “I Like Giants” with a near-tearful conviction that makes them seems like they were written backstage a couple minutes before she came on.
Halfway through her set, tourmate and collaborator Pablo Das comes out to perform a trio of songs. They are in a similarly minimalist vein, autobiographical and bearing the acoustic shadow of punk rock. Yet, when he's halfway through his performance I start becoming antsy for Dawson to return to the stage. She's charming and smart and it's a real challenge not to like her. There's something vulnerable about her lyrics, something that can even make a half-filled Wonder Ballroom, in all its gloomy cavernous-ness, feel almost uncomfortably personal.
Dawson mentions that she has a double LP coming out titled Thunder Thighs. Like so much of her identity it's an in-joke, and it feels good to be in on it.
9:00 pm—The Doug Fir
Despite showing up in a summer rife with festivals, and featuring shows that unfortunately overlap each other, the Portland Folk Festival has mostly steered clear of attendance problems. Even though Saturday night's Kimya Dawson show was well below capacity it still claimed a decent turnout. Tonight, however, those miraculous gears seem to have gummed up.
I show up at the Doug Fir a couple minutes before nine and MBilly is nowhere to be seen. Neither is anyone else, for that matter. There are maybe a dozen people spread throughout the Doug Fir's basement, huddled around candles in the far corners or seated lazily on the steps leading to the dance floor. No one has made an effort clear these people off, apparently deciding that the fire danger is minimal.
There is a wedding reception taking place in the Doug Fir's parking lot, and the ghost of Top 40 hip-hop seeps down into the concert space, which is silent except for a track of ambient music playing at low volume over the house speakers. It's an eerie scene.
MBilly takes the stage at nine-fifteen, after waiting for a few more onlookers to trickle in. Frontman Will Helfrich jokes that the crowd is, “Here for Mirah and Thao, right?”
Though those words will prove prescient, MBilly nonetheless gives its set a thorough effort and plays equal to anything else seen at the festival. The group performs tonight as a three-piece, with Helfrich's songs backed by Alia Farah (of The Alialujah Choir) on keyboard and Aaron Pomerantz (of Weinland) on lap steel.
Helfrich's songs are best when they lean on his talent for storytelling, such as in “Mild Mannered Man,” and by the time MBilly finishes its set, the audience, now grown to about thirty people, gives up honest applause.
This is how good Laura Gibson is: at ten o'clock the Holocene is populated with passionately chatting huddled groups, spread at random throughout the venue; at ten-oh-two all eyes are forward and no dares to speak above a whisper. Without any introduction, without anything by way of fanfare, Laura Gibson has started to sing.
Though she begins her set with only her voice and an acoustic guitar, Gibson later invites roommate/accompanist Matthew Reubenberger to play percussion on “Spirit” and a couple her other more bombastic tunes. In the laconic world of Laura Gibson's songwriting, the bar is set pretty low as to what qualifies “bombastic,” but there is still an arresting quality to whatever she does. No matter what she's playing, Laura Gibson's music sounds important. She is about as far removed from one of Woody Guthrie's romantic hobos as a person can be, but when she covers a song by that folk progenitor, it still makes the audience shudder.
Gibson mentions that she performed with Peter Yarrow earlier in the week as part of the Folk Festival's tribute to Guthrie, inadvertently impressing upon her mother the idea that she was in fact a “real” musician. By the time Gibson closes out her set with a hypnotic sing-along, she has already made a similar impression on everyone in attendance.
Laura Gibson is about as far removed from one of Woody Guthrie's romantic hobos as a person can be, but when she covers a song by that folk progenitor, it still makes the audience shudder.
11:10 pm—Doug Fir
The Doug Fir has filled out since MBilly's set, and though there is still plenty of standing room, Loch Lomond launches its set to a respectable crowd.
A violin has to be ditched early in the proceedings due to some tuning issues, and Ritchie Young claims slight emotional distress over having recently watched Ken Burns' The War, but the sextet is in top form otherwise. Loch Lomond performs its customary musical chairs in regard to instrumentation and executes the flawless dynamic calisthenics that are its strength.
The group rolls through “Wax and Wire” and “A Field Report” without so much as a hiccup, and by the end of it I'm wondering why they haven't been playing more shows around town lately. Seriously guys. Get on that.
The odds are stacked against Celilo, and it's really too bad. The group is one of my favorites of the festival, and tonight it feels like they've gotten a short shrift. Starting a half-hour late isn't helping them, and neither is playing to a venue full of people that seem to have better things to do with their time.
The crowd at the bar is nearly drowning out the group's increasingly ragged vocals; the doorman is playing video games on his iPhone, supremely disinterested in the band that's performing fifteen yards behind him.
In a scene thankfully atypical of the festival, the band is competing tooth and nail for attention and being only narrowly rewarded. Celilo does its part, but its music is better suited to grimier climes, and I mean that as a compliment.
“Street Sweeper Suite” is jukebox-worthy gold and the group would fare better with an audience willing to nod sorrowfully along to its half-timed chorus. Instead, the five-piece is shouldered with playing melancholy bar rock to a bar full of optimistically buzzed white-collar workers. Good folks, all, but not really the “folk” of the Portland Folk Festival.
There's a risk of generalization here, but the crowds at the Portland Folk Festival have tended to be older than the festival crowds at some of Portland's other great musical summits. The Folk Festival audiences have been willing to offer devout attention to the performers they've paid to see, and those performers have rewarded them in turn. The Portland Folk Festival is a more expensive, but also a more comfortable, affair than PDX Pop Now!. Its lineup has disproportionally represented the acoustic guitar and the plaid shirt, but these things are sort of Portland's trademarks.
The festival opened with a screening of the documentary Roll on Columbia: Woody Guthrie and the Bonneville Power Administration. That film outlined one of the great New Deal-era works projects, an undertaking that not only reshaped the Northwest economic landscape, but also imbued the region with some of its essential mystery. In 1941 Woody Guthrie took the initiative, wrote a series of songs, and created a Northwest culture. He imagined it as something rustic, proudly blue collar, and playfully seditious. On Sunday night Laura Gibson covered Guthrie's “Hobo's Lullaby” to a sold-out crowd at the Holocene. She didn't make it past the first chorus before people started singing along.