In addition to their music, what makes this gathering so special is the humanity, connection, joy, and presence The Watkins Family exudes.
The spirit in the room feels festive and light. It’s a gathering of good friends, who’ve come together to celebrate and share stories, songs and laughter. The dynamic interaction between those on stage is shared with all in attendance. The musicians have a long history with each other, but they make sure to let the audience in on their inside jokes. With their presence and openness, The Watkins Family unites us all.
Their music carries a similar inclusive, dynamic, and evolving energy. Thanks to the tone The Watkins Family sets and Largo‘s no-cell-phone policy, it is a completely immersive experience. You can get lost in the sound, hear how each note plays off the other, and the way the instruments and voices work together, each elevating the other. Rather than simply play their part, the musicians listen to and accompany each other. It is a live music experience in the purest sense. Created in front of you, the songs feel different each time they’re played. The Watkins Family Hour is a monthly residency that has spanned more than a decade, yet the show is still refreshing, unique, and anticipation for the next one never wanes.
The dynamic atmosphere is balanced with a sense of history and tradition. Whether you’re attending your first Watkins Family Hour show or your thirty-first, it feels as though you’ve been there since the beginning. The Watkins Family transports you to another time and place, where all there is to do is enjoy music and our time together.
There are no computers, fog machines, nor fancy lighting rigs. You may feel like you’ve been invited to a family gathering at one of their homes, especially when Sean and Sara sing while standing beneath a homemade snow machine, getting doused by white flakes. Last night, The Watkins Family reminded us not to take things too seriously and to embrace and express our childlike spirit. With the snow machine and humorous elves, they also gave us the gift of another inside joke and ”you had to be there” moment.
There’s music, comedy, and last night, there was snow. You can’t Auto-Tune this and it won’t translate in virtual reality. The Watkins take you on a journey which, like life, is ever-changing and more fun to navigate with music, a sense of humor, and surrounded by family and good friends.
Watkins Family Hour is the perfect show leading up to the holidays. With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, Sean and Sara Watkins’ sheer talent, along with a healthy dose of murder ballads are welcome reminders of how blessed we are to be alive.
Once a month, for a decade now, The Watkins have been bringing their guitars, fiddles, and friends to Largo for what has long been one of my favorite shows in LA.
They often share the stage with some other people you may recognize, including Fiona Apple, Dawes, Jackson Browne, Van Dyke Parks, and John C Reilly. Yet, Sean and Sara are the foundation of the show and even if no on else were to join them on stage, they’d still have one of the best shows in town.
To play the way these siblings do requires that they actually listen to each other, constantly. It’s as if the universe has simultaneously presented them with a brilliant gift and ever-present joke – you’ll make great music together, but you have to get along. Perhaps that’s why the only detectable sibling rivalry seems to stem from their sense of humor. The murder ballads are balanced by Sean and Sara one-upping each other with witty observations. Their snarky sense of humor showdowns are a testament to how much they respect each other, as family, as musicians, as friends. Eventually, one of them acquiesces, “Ok, that was good!” and they jump into the next song.
The Watkins Family band is unparalleled: Benmont Tench on piano, Sebastian Steinberg on bass, Don Heffington on drums, and Greg Leisz on steel pedal guitar. It’s worth attending this show monthly, for the musicianship and camaraderie alone. Throw in a lot of laughs, some special guests, frequent surprises (dancing bears and such), and the perfect venue, The Watkins Family Hour is an exceptionally worthwhile way to spend an evening.
Last night’s show was no exception. Although I attend The Watkins Family Hour monthly, I’m always moved – as if I’m experiencing it for the first time – by how uplifting The Watkins’ shows are. The shows vary significantly from month to month, but some things are consistent: beautiful voices, blended with remarkable musicianship and laughter.
The next Watkins Family Hour takes place on December 19th at Largo. Sadly, it’s the one show this year I have to miss. Luckily for you, that means there will be a couple extra tickets available. I highly recommend you get tickets in advance and round out 2012 with what is sure to be an amazing and memorable evening.
For those of you not in LA – and those of you in LA who would like to re-live some of the shows – there are 7 free podcasts of The Watkins Family Hour at iTunes. Episode 7, recorded on an iPhone due to a power outage, is the show I wrote about here. It remains among my favorite lifetime experiences to date.
Thank you for another wonderful year, Watkins Family. I’m still campaigning to have a “Season Tickets” package available for purchase.
Ben Harper played a special benefit show at The Mint in Los Angeles to raise cancer relief funds for Babette Ho, wife of legendary Dogtown and Z-Boys / Zephyr surfboard maker Jeff Ho. Harper was joined by numerous special guests, including: Jackson Browne, Joan Osborne, Tom Morello, and Tal Wilkenfeld.
It was a brilliant night of music and community; an evening that cannot be summed up in words. For now, here are some videos from the amazing benefit show last night. I hope to add more insight later. Then again, you kind of had to be there:
Huge thanks to The Mint, Ben Harper, all the participating musicians, and the amazing community of fans who were there!
The secret’s gonna get out. I might as well be the one to tell you. . . But know this – I have been to several amazing events at this venue and have yet to write about it (and I tell you everything!), precisely because it really is one of the best kept secrets in LA.
A little while back (and more than once) – Ben Harper. A couple weeks ago – Brett Dennen. Tonight – Jackson Browne. Whenever it happens, whether you know their names or not, you will be treated to great musical talent at The Stronghold. The ones whose names you don’t know are often as spectacular as the ones you do know. As Jackson Browne said (in reference to his surprise appearance), “Welcome to The Stronghold – where anything can happen.”
Browne was phenomenal. He played a handful of songs including “My Stunning Mystery Companion.” Each song turned into a jam session within this intimate house-party setting. Also outstanding – Steve Postell, Amalia K. Spicer, Debra Dobkin, Shannnon Moore, Tariqh Akoni on guitar, Peter Adams on keyboards, and Mark Gorman on bass. It was a perfect night of music.
Great talent at The Stronghold
Now imagine you’re a teenager (unless you are a teenager, in which case you don’t need to imagine) and you climbed out of your bedroom window, sneaked over to a barn on a neighbor’s property and stumbled upon all of these great musicians jamming. You glance over at your friends and the stylish people in perfect-fitting denim, and give each other knowing looks – “this is where it’s at.”
The evening winds down as the morning approaches. You say “goodnight,” scurry back home, and slide back into your bedroom, undetected, just 2 hours before your alarm is due to go off. The next morning not a word is spoken, but you know – and those who were there know – you were just part of something very special. That’s what it’s like at The Stronghold, and you feel it the morning after.
Without going into much more detail because I think you get the idea, it is important to mention that everybody at The Stronghold is exceptionally nice. They’re not scary-nice, nor what-can-you-do-for-me nice, nor I’m-high nice — they are simply genuinely kind, good people. When a venue’s team treats people well, they attract a generous and respectful audience, exceptional talent, and loyalty amongst both performers and fans.