Ah, the world is ripe for discovery. So many places to see, and not nearly enough time to make a big dent in the to-visit list. And I’m not even talking about locales such as Barcelona, Copenhagen, the Amazonian jungle or the Hindu Kush mountains. Let’s leave them for another day and look instead at what’s not far from our front doors.
Last June my wife and I did just that, journeying all of 17 miles from our home to a music venue a short distance from the artsy heart of New Hope, Pennsylvania. That venue, The New Hope Winery, had been at the lower areas of my radar screen for several years. The stars finally aligned correctly and led us there, where we saw Griffin House, a good singer-songwriter. We enjoyed the Winery experience so much, we returned three more times before year’s end.
The New Hope Winery actually is several buildings. One is a wine and gift shop. The music hall is another. A large rectangle, the hall is wood-paneled and filled with cocktail tables draped with red tablecloths. It is a comfortable place, but nothing fancy, and seats around 200. Many musicians who pass through the Winery make their living touring this and other countries. People such as Raul Malo, Chris Hillman (an original Byrd), Dar Williams and Judy Collins. Yet, the Winery isn’t as well known as other Philadelphia-area venues, Sellersville Theater and World Café Live for instance, that present these same or similar artists. In other words, The New Hope Winery could use more visibility.
We took in our first Winery concert of 2015 last Friday when we went to see Nashville-based Kim Richey, who was accompanied by her longtime musical mate Dan Mitchell. Kim sang lead and strummed an acoustic guitar, and Dan handled vocal harmonies, keyboards and, most unexpectedly, an occasional trumpet or fluegelhorn interlude. Kim wrote or co-wrote all of the 17 songs that she performed in her 90 minutes set. She was absolutely wonderful.
Kim inhabits the sweet spot where country, folk and singer-songwriter sensibilities come together. Her voice is steady and lovely, her songs tuneful and literate. Fans of Mary Chapin Carpenter or Patty Griffin probably already love, or would love, Kim Richey. I’ve known of her for years, but never knew much about her or her music. Turns out she was a latecomer to the music game, grabbing her first record contract at age 37 (she’s 58 now). She has released seven studio albums since 1995. The most recent is 2013’s Thorn In My Heart.
At the Winery, Richey and Mitchell worked together pretty seamlessly. Mitchell did a good job on keyboards and on the horns, but what I liked best were the effortless vocal harmonies that he partnered with Richey’s calm but warm voice. Their singing brought a hush to the room.
About half of Richey’s set came from Thorn In My Heart. She sang her chosen songs unhurriedly, and most looked at love and relationships, but from differing angles. On one hand there was Every River , the song’s narrator so in love with her guy that she declares “When the day comes that I don’t love you/Every star will fall out of the sky.” She doesn’t expect to lose love, but for sure her world will become calamitous if she does.
Alas, in the sad sad sad Those Words We Said, calamity has arrived. A traumatic breakup has struck a gal hard. She hits the highway to try and assuage her problems, but she can’t stop thinking about “Those words that wounded like an arrow to the heart,/And keep me drivin’, drivin’.” In New Hope, I totally believed the heartbreak.
Kim Richey is a high-level talent. And she might have a demographics problem. Based on The New Hope Winery audience, I’d think so. The 150 or so folks in the room were middle-aged or older, with the emphasis definitely on older. They were a great audience, clapping long and loudly after each song. But seeing a few youthful faces in the crowd I’m sure would have made Kim’s night even better. If Kim doesn’t have many younger fans, why is beyond me. The millenials who turn out in droves to see smart youngish songwriters like Norah Jones and Conor Oberst would like Kim Richey too. Yes, I’m pretty certain that Kim could use a broader fan base. She certainly deserves one, but she’s not alone in that. The music business is not only tough, it’s tough to figure out.