Singer/ songwriter Rachel Garlin is the special musical guest, at a fundraiser concert and party for the Arts Coalition of Asbury Park this weekend.
By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit July 28, 2009)
A few seasons ago, a young singer-songwriter by the name of Rachel Garlincrisscrossed the country by van on a little tour — playing clubs and coffeehouses; stopping in at small radio stations and colleges; taking her down-to-basics, intimately scaled songcraft direct to her fans with the help of social networking tech — in other words, all the things that an indie recording artist needs to make happen in this D.I.Y. age.
What made this trip a little different than most is the fact that the van was a bio-diesel, essentially powered by french fry grease — a voyage that made her something of a highway Heyerdahl, a polyunsaturated Marco Polo. Maybe even a heart-smart Earhart (since she herself is not powered by french fry grease). In any event, the tour gave birth to a song (”Alternative Fuel”) that wowed ‘em at Sundance, and got its creator a spot on radio’s most sought-after breaker of hits, Click and Clack’s Car Talk.
Then again, you could say that the LA-based Garlin has navigated her way through four indie albums and a tireless touring schedule in a manner that’s always been alternatively fueled, quietly assembling a fanbase from pockets of the greater popular culture — the gay community, NPR listeners, weirdos who like songs — in a way that’s made her a truly bicoastal, underground phenom. Now, “underground” sounds like such a grungy word to attach to something that sounds so positively angelic — but those sweet sounds are the icing on a layercake of sharp, socially-minded lyricism that can be expressed through lament and longing (”Crooked”), the plainspeak of commitment (”Neighborhood Bar,” “I Have I Will”) or with greasy good humor.
This Saturday, August the First, Rachel Garlin returns to the Jersey Shore, for a public-invited fundraiser house party hosted at a private residence on Deal Lake known informally as Hany’s Place (not to be confused with “the old Haney place” from Green Acres; it’s pronounced hahn-eez and by all accounts it’s a gorgeous piece of property). Scheduled for 7pm and located at 1115 Sunset Drive, the open-air affair begins with cocktails furnished by Max’s Liquors and Bacardi, and desserts catered by Asbury Park eateries Restaurant Plan B, Il Pavone Gelateria, Taka, and Munch, plus Baker Boys of Ocean Grove, Wegmans of Ocean and Sonnier & Castle of NYC.
It’s all for the benefit of the Arts Coalition of Asbury Park, the folks who bring you the monthly Collide-A-Scope art happenings, and who describe themselves a “a coalition of artists, citizens and cultural organizations dedicated to the promotion and advancement of the arts through collaboration, advocacy, and education.” While that pretty much nails it, it’s a bit on the dry side if you ask us.
We’ve had the pleasure of working alongside some of the ArtsCAP crew on local projects, and we kid you not, these people fulfill and transcend the “mission statement” in ways that have genuinely helped Asbury Park become a place of energy and idea$ that can claim real bragging rights over (insert name of your town here). These are the guys who go ten steps ahead when everyone else is figuring out who sits where at the conference table. The guys who finance things out-of-pocket when the budget is blah, the guys who assemble volunteers and set the bar high enough so that it (hopefully) inspires everyone else to catch up.
We’ve even seen the nonprofit organization’s president Brett Colby — a crazy-talented, classically trained singer — deliver a star-quality performance on an outdoor stage, only to be seen moving sawhorse barricades and tidying up the street five minutes later. Whether you know it or not, whether you even live in Asbury Park or not, you could stand to benefit from what Brett, vice president Dennis Carroll and the rest of the ArtsCAP membership does. In fact, every town on the map could use a little ArtsCAP, or something very much like it.
While this mix of artists, attorneys, civil servants and businesspeople have made some great progress, they of course haven’t turned things around all by their lonesome — although their laserlike focus and reality-based set of goals have been a valuable guideline to the Powers (and the Dollars) That Be. It’s also true that not everything they touch goes gold — there are differences of opinion, projects that fall short of expectations, and, like pretty much anyone trying to make anything happen these days, a near-lethal lack of lucre.
Which brings us back to this Saturday night. Red Bank oRBit spoke to “the property known as Garlin” in advance of the weekend fundraiser. Here’s how that played out.
RED BANK ORBIT: So I understand that the owner of the home where you’ll be playing is a big fan of yours, who offered ArtsCAP use of the house, and even made arrangements for you and your partner to travel from LA to Asbury. Ginny over at ArtsCAP calls him ” a heaven-sent benefactor.”
RACHEL GARLIN: It’s the second time I’ll be performing there; this time the owner decided to make this a bigger sort of event for the ArtsCAP people, who I’ve been getting to know through the process of putting this event together.
We’ll be setting up on the porch, myself and two other musicians — Ben Wisch, who produced my last record, will be playing keyed instruments, and I’m also bringingBen Wittman on drums.
I guess you could call it a house party, but on a larger scale. Is this a sort of event you do with any frequency?
It is, yeah. I do a lot of house concerts — all the singer-songwriters are doing them these days. It’s become an important part of the mix, along with clubs and coffeehouses and festivals. The people who host them promote them throughout the community, and word gets around pretty well.
Things these days are much more do-it-yourself — with the help of a generous community spirit, of course. I perform at a lot of fundraisers and benefits, and you find yourself relying upon the kindness of strangers a lot of the time. The whole journey has been pretty interesting — it becomes about seeking out new experiences, new people, new places.
Well, musicians of your generation, who didn’t grow up with the whole big-record-label way of doing things, have some interesting ideas on how to navigate your career. You seem to be doing all the things you should be doing as far as your online presence — but I think that the smartest performers out there today are the ones who use the tech and the networking to enhance the live performance; to identify where the fans are and bring your act directly to them…
Live performance is the one thing that won’t ever change, regardless of what happens in the music business. It’s a completely human experience, sharing music that way — it’s probably more important than ever.
There’s an intimacy to the musical experience now — people want to feel connected to the songs they’re hearing, and for the artist it’s about making connections with people, whether you’re in the room with them or chatting online.
One way of getting your music to the people is to drive it there in a van powered by french fry grease.
That was back when I was living in New York — I didn’t own any vehicle, but I got the opportunity to do the tour with the bio-diesel van, which got a good amount of attention and served as an inspiration.
I’m back in LA now, and I’m looking into how best to travel when I take it on the road. That’s a real paradox for singer-songwriters — we’re always dealing with social issues, environmental issues, and then we’ll burn millions of gallons of petroleum in the process of getting our music to the people.
Well, it looks like a really sweet set-up for Saturday’s show, with cocktails and fancy desserts for an opening act. You seem to have a lot of fans around Asbury, and your shows should all be as friendly as this one.
Thanks. It’s a real midsummer’s community-oriented event. It doesn’t get any better than that!