When Haley Heynderickx was onstage at Mississippi Studios this past Friday, performing her lovely folk-pop songs for a capacity crowd, she often looked like she was trying to keep the audience at a remove. She kept her head pointed stage left, eyes often closed as she sang when she wasn’t sharing sly smiles with her sole accompanist, bassist Matthew Holmes.
In spite of appearances, the singer-songwriter was paying close attention to what was happening around her. As Heynderickx began a song that she described as being about “living in Portland and having six roommates,” a strange scraping noise came up from one quadrant of the room. She halted the song and asked for the lights to be turned up and asked after someone in the crowd. Assured they were OK, she started right where she left off. The affected person, overcome by exhaustion or drink or other intoxicants, was gingerly helped out of the room by friends.
The moment shouldn’t have come as a surprise. In her recorded work, Heynderickx has revealed herself to be a keen observer of the world around her. The lyrics on her 2018 album I Need to Start a Garden are rich with detail and emotion. And from the sound of the new material she played during a three-night run of shows, all of which sold out, her reflections are only growing more intricate and poetic.
An early favorite on that front is a song called, if I heard her correctly, “Sorry Fahey.” Named as an apology for approximating the sound of American primitive guitar deity John Fahey, the tune had a bouncing melody and references to waistlines and coastlines as personal boundaries. I didn’t hear Heynderickx ripping Fahey off so much as placing her work within the lineage of our city’s folk greats. As anyone in the audience this past weekend would attest, she deserves to be there.