I am a homebody and an introvert, and my default setting is to do what is easiest and most comfortable. Too many times have I skipped a party or social gathering because my social anxiety was flaring up and the idea of being in a new place around new people was just so overwhelming that I just could not. It happened more in the past, it still happens. So anytime I find myself trying something new, it feels like a miracle. It helps to be trying that thing one-on-one with a trusted friend or family member.
And on Tuesday night, I tried out something new again – because stretching one’s levels of comfort is a constant process. The Boy, as you know, loves him some Phish and jam bands in general. But while he’s discerning in his tastes concerning those bands, he is a deep diver, and loves to know all about them, and things related to them, and related acts. Early in our dating life he took me to see the Trey Anastasio Band at the 9:30 club, which was…good? An experience? I wrote last year about seeing Mike Gordon’s band at the Lincoln. But for a while, he’s been talking about this pianist called Holly Bowling (more on her in a moment), and so when her tour came through DC, he wanted to get tickets, and I put on my big girl pants and ventured out to a new locale in the city.
The Hamilton – location for that night’s concert – is like three things in one. It’s a nice long wooden bar with a pretty good selection of beers. It’s got a restaurant. And then, descending some light-up stairs at the other end of the facility, there is the venue. It’s not enormous, but it’s fairly new (the entire space opened in late 2011), and it’s gorgeous. You can tell that someone put a lot of thought into the space. It is roomy, but still intimate, and decorated in a very cool way with portraits of famous musicians hung throughout the space. There are three rows of tables for seating in the main area, with another section closer to the bar, and some standing room. The bathrooms are also very nice, which is hardly something you ever get to say about a music venue.
My favorite part is that this is one of those venues where you can sit down and EAT during a show. The service is to your table, and there’s an interesting and eclectic menu available downstairs which runs the gamut from pizza to sushi, with cocktails, wine and beer available, along with water which is already on the table (so convenient!). And it’s all suprisingly good! When you want something you put your be-shaded Alexander Hamilton sign into the holder at your table, and a staff-member will come by to take your order. At the end of the show, you get a bill, as it’s all been rung up like a bar tab during your time there. Very convenient. I enjoyed a super-delicious margherita pizza (nearly all by myself), and had been eager to try out their chocolate pudding (with pieces of Oreo in it!) but the order never went through and so we were chocolate-less at the end of the evening – the only downer.
But Maggie – tell us more about this Holly Bowling person! Ok. As the Boy has informed me, she is a classically trained pianist who became YouTube/Internet famous when a few years ago she got the idea in her head to transcribe a particularly well loved Phish jam for piano (The Tahoe Tweezer from 2013). That is, she took a 35 minute song-exploration (!) for a four-piece band (!!), and turned it into something one person can play on the piano (!!!). She was meticulous, and fans loved it. The video has more than 90K views on YouTube, and Holly began a career re-imagining and reinterpreting beloved jams from both Phish, and recently the Grateful Dead, who are the subject of her new album, Better Left Unsung. For more information on Holly and her process and how she came to be known, I recommend listening to the episode of the podcast “Under the Scales” on which she appears.
So this show was really geared more towards Phish and jam band fans who are also interested in classical piano (fascinating to see who in this area belongs in that Venn diagram), but I’m only sort of half in that group, since the piano part is of more interest to me. But what really impressed me was how I was able to really hear the musicality of these pieces which previously had mystified me. Hearing them one one instrument made it possible to hear different movements in the jam, because familiar refrains would keep coming back, and eventually wrap things up. It was really nice. Holly also did some really fascinating things with the piano to produce different kinds of noises which I have never seen before, but really impressed me. By working with the inner strings using different tools and props, she made her instrument take the place of entire bands and gave it sounds that I’ve never heard before.
It was a fun evening. I was definitely tired at the end (it went longer than we expected), but it was worth it. While I enjoyed trying something new in a comfortable way, the Boy got to enjoy an artist he’s been excited to see in person for a long time. His joy in hearing how she interpreted the music was infectious. So if you have the chance to see Holly Bowling and you’re not afraid of 30+ minutes of piano jams, do it. And if you’re in the DC area and have the opportunity to go to a show at the Hamilton, do it – you will not be disappointed.