Concert Review: Joe Purdy & Amber Rubarth @ The Hamilton (1/30/18)

Joe Purdy & Amber Rubarth
Joe Purdy & Amber Rubarth (Photo Credit: Adrian Elliot)

‘We play things we love – things that come from the mud, and not a lot of people would come out for that. So we thank you.’ – Joe Purdy

Waiting ardently for the show at The Hamilton to begin, those that chose to skip The State of the Union address in favor of an evening of music, were greeted with a few minutes of film footage from the just released American Folk.

Amber Rubarth and Joe Purdy are the stars of the film, and not coincidentally they are just the performers the full house came to witness.

American Folk is about music, but more specifically the ability to come together after a crisis. It follows the journey of two strangers (both folk musicians) traveling to New York together after 9/11.

And bless your heart, both Amber and Joe are folk musicians in real life! They recorded together or solo the vast majority of the American Folk – Original Soundtrack.

The film footage over, they bunched together center stage and played an intimate eight songs with just their voices, guitars and one backing bass player. Okay, occasionally a harmonica. Then they each did short solo sets, before coming back together for another seven songs.

Fresh off playing it on Good Morning Washington, they dubbed their second song, “Moonlight”, the ‘peppy song of the night’. Then came the NY themed “The Faucets Are Dripping” with a fair bit of silly lyrics.

What was clear early on, as they sang and strummed and told stories, Joe likes making jokes, Amber is the quiet one, and they both love music, that they craft themselves and of other songwriters. They performed plenty of covers. Every new song was a chance for Joe to tell a story, and enthuse how this melody is his favorite of all time, or this songwriter was his favorite of all time, or at least until the next song. He just loves music!

They ended the first set, where both exclaimed when they played “So Long, Its Been Good To Know Yuh” the previous night, it went terribly. So they wanted to do the same for us. Joe and Amber confabbed for some time, plucking and searching for the right note and assuring us they’d forget the lyrics, when at last Joe blurted ‘Yes, that key!’ Ready to play, the bass player then halted the proceedings to get his own bearings. When the last note of Woody Guthrie’s song played, not a soul had any right to venture the experiment went terribly. ‘I’ve sung this song, but I’ll sing it again.’

Amber remained on the stage alone and performed five songs, including two from her most recent album, Wildflowers in the Graveyard. The first song was the plaintively affecting “Wishing Song”, where she sang so earnestly her voice would crack. Then a cover of “Losing My Religion”! Later she observed since a piano was on stage, she might as well use it and a tell a story to boot. Before she become a musician, she tried her hand at chainsaw sculpture, and did it for four years! Deciding that was long enough, she picked up the guitar and started singing. The song “Rough Cut” is about that journey, and about what cuts us the most, defines us.

Then Joe came on for six of his own songs, and many were laden with witty lyrics, but with an undercurrent of rebellion and protest against the political system. His latest album, Who Will Be Next?, also came out recently. He started the set proclaiming ‘I don’t mean to ruffle feathers, but I do.’ A few times he prefaced a song with ‘This is the one that usually makes people leave.’ Well, no one left, and in the times we live in, his voice is one of purposeful asking, ‘How can we be better?’ ‘How can we be better to ourselves and others?’ One such song laced with witty lyrics, “Heartbreak in the Key of Roger Miller”, was also a protest song of a type, but directed at a women. He finished his solo set with “New Year’s Eve”, which he wrote after having a long, revealing conversion with his mother, and one he planned to play until it comes true. ‘And I hope that my words will not tear us apart, but to bring people closer instead.’

Coming closer together again, Joe and Amber played a few more songs before pausing 30 seconds and saying this is now the encore (and not leaving, because who wants to leave).

They ended with two classics, and Joe noted how much he loves the Cowboy bass (he just loves the Cowboy bass!) of “Me & Bobby McGee”. The theme throughout the evening, of wandering and seeking, appropriately coalesced into a cover of Peter, Paul and Mary’s “500 Miles”. If my math is correct, we enjoyed the gift of 26 songs over 2+ hours. That’s a folking lot!

The first action you should take after reading this review, go to the theater and catch American Folk. They say it was playing at the Angelika Pop-up at Union Market (but you may have to search harder).

The second action is to pick up a copy of all the albums; the Soundtrack and both their latest solo albums.

Finally, take a moment to say something nice to your neighbor. Be kind and speak with courtesy and curiosity, not hate or anger.


(Note: Many of these are covers; or even renditions of other versions of covers, so they are not all attributed.)

Set 1
The Faucets Are Dripping
Red River Valley
Someone Singing with Me
The Last Thing On My Mind
Catch the Wind (Donovan cover)
So Long, Its Been Good To Know Yuh (Woody Guthrie cover)

Amber Rubarth solo set
Wishing Song
Losing My Religion (R.E.M. cover)
As We Walk Into the Night
Rough Cut
The Maiden and the Ram

Joe Purdy solo set
My Country
Heartbreak in the Key of Roger Miller (I think)
Cursin’ Air
Cairo Walls
Maybe We’ll All Get Along Someday
New Year’s Eve

Set 2
Storms Are On The Ocean (Carter Family cover)
Mr. Engineer (Tony Rice cover)
Crystal Chandeliers And Burgundy
Red Headed Stranger (Willie Nelson cover)
Like a Summer Thursday (Townes van Zandt cover)

Me & Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin cover)
500 Miles (Peter, Paul and Mary cover)

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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