A night of folk finds footing in politics

Opener Louis Ledford dedicated a song about entitlement to SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh on the eve of Kavanaugh's sexual assault hearing

DAN RAY SEPTEMBER 28, 2018

On Wednesday, September 26th, Louis Ledford took the stage at Conor Byrne Pub in front of exactly 20 people, which I know because he sat down, counted each one of us, and then said, “good; I never want to play for a room with more than 20 people in it,” in a tone that was neither contented nor displeased.

Ledford, a middle-aged gentleman with a graying beard, then started in on his set, a lilting string of very solidly written folk-americana tunes. Dylan is unquestionably an influence on Ledford’s music, from the slow rasp of his drawl to his sometimes strikingly political lyrics.

In introducing his last song — which seemed at least semi-improvised and hovered somewhere around eight minutes — he asked the audience if they had ever known someone who was just incredibly entitled, before then dedicating the song to Brett Kavanaugh on the eve of Kavanaugh’s sexual assault hearing. At the end of the ditty, he passionately discussed the importance of voting, especially when you have complaints about our country.

That made me feel about the same way as being physically counted by a performer: not necessarily uncomfortable, but definitely surprised, like a dog chasing a squirrel only to catch it and realize it’s a chipmunk.

Unquestionable, though, is Ledford’s songwriting talent. His songs don’t so much have beginnings, middles, and ends, as soft strings that pull you slowly from one end to the other. A talented musician who transitioned between playing piano and guitar during the set, it was apparent Ledford had the material, gusto, and skill to keep playing all night if the venue had let him.

He asked; they didn’t. Next up was Dusty Santamaria + Moira Ichiban, a duo originally from Portland that now resides in Death Valley. Santamaria and Ichiban, who describe their music as “avant-garage,” are probably the only people in the world who can pull off avant-garde cool without any lick of pretension: Ichiban wore a dress she found during the Halloween season at Goodwill that had masking tape over a hole in the butt with the quiet confidence and grace of an elder tribeswoman.

A tall, slender woman with a blunted bob and short bangs, Ichiban stood confidently behind her drums: a snare and an upright bass drum she played with a stick. Her playing style is primitive yet new and provoking, and her vocals meld sweetly into the mix behind them. Santamaria, an artsy fellow with free-flowing hair, was stationed next to her, guitar in hand.

Both Ichiban and Santamaria were fantastic performers; they just returned from a European tour, and the experience shows. Not only is their music compelling, but the aura they give off through their music is inescapable. And, their hearts are clearly in it. Toward the end of their set, Santamaria gave a plug for their merchandise, but followed sincerely up with, “nothing makes us happier than sending art home with the people.”

It’s difficult to describe their music in its entirety, but the word that comes closest is “inclusive.” The swell of their songs literally make you feel like your body is opening up to the world outside. And, in the quite literal sense, they invited audience members to play a tambourine and maraca throughout their entire set, and they also brought up two women in the audience who had sung backup vocals on the album to sing the final tune with them (one of whom, Kristin Allen-Zito, also performed a song with Ledford).

Local artist Amethyst de Wolfe was the final act, and she took the stage with a three-member — guitar, drums, and bass — backing band. De Wolfe is fairly similar to fellow Seattleite Whitney Ballen: both are female frontwomen to otherwise male bands, both sing a indie-folk with a ghostly sound, both have impressive songwriting skills, and both are tiny humans.

Where de Wolfe falls short is her energy on stage. Ballen uses her size to her advantage, in that her confidence is so much more striking when coming from a maybe-five-foot-tall woman in front of this band with three big men. De Wolfe — also paired with three decently sized males — and her band just seemed mismatched; while de Wolfe’s rolling melodies are beautiful and her songs bring your body to movement, her stage presence is meek. Her band, however, looked like they could recite jazz standards in their sleep and sight read an opera perfectly.

At one point, she even complimented her guitarist by saying he plays “fancy guitar, all the parts I can’t play.”

What’s compelling about de Wolfe, though, is that her mid-song presence and her between-song presence are completely different. While she’s playing, she’s in it, and it’s fun to go along for the ride. But, the second she’s done, she slips back into sounding like she doesn’t think she actually belongs on stage. The dichotomy between the two is certainly interesting, but de Wolfe’s music is good enough to pull a crowd in on its own. She just needs to own that.