Mark Erelli

May 2019 Newsletter

May 2019 Newsletter

I've written many times before about my background in science (I have a master's degree in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology). As a musician, it's always been a curious detail, briefly touched upon in interviews or trotted out in an introduction as I waited to take the stage. Occasionally, I still meet someone who floats the idea that scientific inquiry and aesthetics are opposing forces. Or, plainly stated, doesn't knowing all about something prevent you from simply enjoying its beauty?

I have never understood this notion, so counter to my own experience. Growing up, I had an amazing high school biology teacher (Leo Kenney) who harnessed my love of playing in the woods to encourage my scientific curiosity. He taught me the names and ecology of the plants growing in my backyard, and took me wading through local wetlands in search of native reptiles and amphibians. This naturalist training generated layers of additional data on top of the trees and ponds that non-scientists simply saw as "the woods." I found that the more you know, the more you realize how little you know--there is always another mystery, another question waiting to be asked.

As I got further into music as an adult, my artistic appreciation evolved and deepened in a similar fashion to my scientific knowledge. I had a notion of what made a "good song" in high school, but once I started playing guitar and trying to write ones of my own, I was nearly dumbstruck at the beauty and power of their artistic expression. I became fluent in chord changes and compositional structures, extra layers of knowledge mapped onto what I'd previously simply seen as "a song," and it only made me love them more. You could know exactly how a great one was put together, and never be able to repeat the process in quite the same way.

Added to all the musical knowledge I've acquired is the arcane data I've mined from liner notes over the years. Who plays which instruments and with whom, various interpretations of the same song by different artists, minutiae about recording techniques, studio lore, and more. All of this extra awareness has made music more multi-dimensional for me, and it's impossible to imagine loving it less knowing all that I do. On the contrary...there is more to love!

Knowing more about something does not reduce it, but rather enriches our engagement with it. This is true for science, music, and I'm hoping it also holds true for other things. Like marriage. Especially since I just took a last-minute gig on what was supposed to be a rare Friday night off (see May 3rd below).

INDEPENDENT MUSIC AWARDS: As they say, 'it's an honor just to be nominated.' I know that to be true, as "By Degrees" got a nod for an Independent Music Award in the "Social Action Song" category! I've been invited to sing the song at the awards ceremony in New York City next month. Wish me luck!

2nd SHIFT MUSIC SERIES: I curate a musical series at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation in Waltham MA and there are two shows left in the spring season. Come out to see Peter Mulvey (May 9) and Jennifer Kimball (May 23). Lots more great artists and shows coming in the fall so stay tuned!

MP3 of the MONTH: Covering songs is another great way to add a layer of data that deepens and enriches my appreciation of a piece of music. It was through trying to cover a Rose Cousins song that I gained an even better sense of just what a badass she is, marshalling maximum emotional impact with a spare, almost impressionistic musical palette. This month's track is a cover of Rose's "Freedom," recorded at our annual "Under The Covers" show at Club Passim last December. You can download it for free for the month of May on my Bandcamp page. Enjoy!


Fri May 3 - Passim, Cambridge MA - 8 pm
I guess there was a last-minute cancelation and so the club tried to salvage the date by attracting some 'local talent' to step in and save the day. Enter myself, Zachariah Hickman, Dietrich Strause and Dinty Child. It's like an assemblage of the Folk Avengers, except no one dies and no one grosses over a billion dollars (even if we sell it out on short notice). Shoutout to my wife for giving up what had been a rare Friday night off with her husband.

3rd Annual "Songs Of Hope & Conviction"
Sun May 5 - Infinity Hall, Hartford CT - 5 pm
The Shinolas, Connecticut's sideman supergroup, puts on this annual shindig with the local chapter of Indivisible to raise money and spirits to support political action and community engagement. It's a great cause and features The Shinolas backing an impressive array of guests like The Winterpills, Jonathan Edwards, Al Anderson, Kerri Powers, Dennis Brennan, and many many others. Yours truly will hold down electric guitar duties for the evening, as well as sing a couple songs of his own.

Thu May 16 - O'Shea's Olde Inne, West Dennis MA - 7 pm
Always great to pay my annual visit to this fantastic Cape Cod haunt, a true listening bar. I've got family in the area, so it's always a great vibe in the house. This time back I'll have the smooth and suave (smauve?) Jake Armerding accompany me on fiddle and mandolin. There'll be nothing folkier and funkier happening for miles around.

Fri May 17 - The Cabot, Beverly MA - 8 pm
Well, it's finally happening. I'll be opening this show for one of my musical heroes, Richard Thompson. I've loved his music since I was in high school but I've never met him before. Closest I ever got was seeing him once in a California airport. I couldn't even say anything to him, I just let him disappear into the crowd. Every time I listen to him, I want to both furiously dedicate myself to better mastering my craft and...quit. But don't worry, I don't think I'll quit.

Sat May 18 - Palace Theatre Spotlight Room, Manchester NH - 8 pm
I don't believe I've ever played in Manchester before, so I'll bring along Jake Armerding (fiddle, mandolin) to help me make the best of first impressions. There are two separate performance spaces in this theatre. Make sure you come to the right one. If what you're seeing feels like a production of A Chorus Line, you're in the wrong room.

Fri May 31 - Passim, Cambridge MA - 8 pm
I know, I know, wasn't I just here? Yes, but that was a last-minute thing. THIS is the real show I've been working on for months. Miss Tess (!) kicks off the night, and then I'll be joined by a full band I've never played with before, featuring Zachariah Hickman (bass), Dave Brophy (drums) and Andrew Stern (guitar). I've got a bunch of new material to test out so you're in for a pretty novel experience if you come out. But make sure you buy your tickets quick, there are only 21 left.

Sat June 1 - The Egremont Barn, Egremont MA - 8 pm
Last time I played here it was off-season, and after the show I went around the room and shook the hand of each in the small crowd that came out. But here's the thing: I LOVE this room and really want to be able to visit it regularly. If you've never been, it's a funky slice o' the Berkshires, arty and hip and in the middle of nowhere. It's a destination venue, but well-worth the trip. As an added bonus, Rachel Sumner (formerly of Twisted Pine) will kick off the evening.

No official sideman gigs this month...I'm busy! But you never do know where I'll pop up next. (HINT: it's a good bet I'll pop up at that Peter Mulvey show in Waltham on May 9th)

Not a lot of my own shows on the horizon for summer. I will be joining Josh Ritter's band for his European and Western US tours, and if I do other stuff on top of that I'll never see my family. There'll be the occasional gig that pops up, I'm sure, but nothing officially on the schedule right now. I'll be back to my own stuff in the fall, so fear not.


updated: 3 months ago