Despite all my pretensions to music snobbery, I have not once seen a show at Common Grounds (well, not since Line Camp, and that doesn’t really count, does it?). I’ve driven to Austin and Dallas—and even once flown home to Arizona—just to see acts like Sufjan Stevens, Toro y Moi, and Jeff Mangum. But I never did make the five-minute walk from campus to see one of the many performers who have come to Common Grounds during the last three years.
On Sunday night, I made my first pilgrimage to the Common Grounds stage. Waco band Lomelda and Greensboro, North Carolina bands Lowland Hum and The Collection played back to back (to back) at the coffeehouse/concert space, offering a spectrum of musical delight to an assorted audience of coffee bean roasters, candlemakers, and kale farmers (I don’t really know the profession of any member of the audience. I am sure each is a deeply kind and multi-faceted individual).
Although I had been invited to several Lomelda concerts and listened to their Late Dawn Inheritance more than once, I had never seen the band live. Now reduced from a trio to a duo, Lomelda retains a captivating stage presence—although I’m sure most of you already know that, since you probably saw the band before I did. Hannah Read has an unconventional and unpredictable singing voice which simmers above and below the staccato drumming of her bandmate Zachary Daniel and her own thrumming guitar. A breeze blowing through the humid Waco evening during their final song perfectly complemented the band’s raw but contemplative energy. North Carolina band Lowland Hum took the stage next.
I had interviewed Lowland Hum before they arrived in Waco, so I was already familiar with the band’s sensitive affability. Lauren and Daniel Soanes of Lowland Hum have been married for three and a half years and have been playing together for most of that time. Although they did not look at each other frequently onstage, they were perfectly in sync, perhaps even more so than on their record Lowland Hum. Indeed, when Daniel began to improvise, Lauren followed him without hesitation, so that it was impossible to tell that the song had not been previously recorded. The band also collaborated with the audience, opening up for questions between songs, taking a photograph of us with a cutout of the pair on vacation, and handing out lyric books to allow us to follow along with the music.
Their music, when they weren’t improvising or taking questions, is alternately triumphant and somber, dwelling on stark images and prolonged harmonies. It is always somehow comforting, even when it deals with growing up on “Rolling and Rolling” or separation from a mother on “Odell.” Perhaps it is comforting because the band is so vulnerable with its audience. When complimented, Daniel seems genuinely grateful, even taken aback to be receiving words of kindness. His improvised song was inspired by the sense that he was doing the “wrong thing” onstage, a feeling which brought him back to elementary school bullies telling him he was too skinny and his ears too big. Daniel and Lauren treat their audience like real people and not faces in a crowd, and the audience came to see them as authentic as well.
The twosomes of Lomelda and Lowland Hum gave way to the seven-piece which took the stage last. The sprawling band, appropriately called The Collection, lit up the space with banjo-driven harmonies and a buoyant onstage camaraderie. An accordionist, a guitarist, a clarinetist, a trombonist, and the banjo player crowded the stage, but the limited space didn’t keep them from dancing merrily to their raucous, folksy music. And during the finale, The Collection were joined onstage by fellow musicians The Oh Hellos in a fitting conclusion to the band’s celebration of community and, you know, collections.
So, do I regret missing three years’ worth of Common Grounds concerts? I’ve passed up Jon Foreman, MuteMath, Sondre Lerche, and other bands that I probably would have driven (but not walked) to see. And, no matter how much I like the outdoor space for studying, it is much more intimate, much more intentional (to use a word in the Common Grounds jargon) when it is being used to connect artists with audiences. But there is a part of me that’s glad I waited until my senior year to make the trip. The mellow and unpredictable stylings of Lomelda, the emotive harmonies of Lowland Hum, and the joyous camaraderie of The Collection have fittingly ushered in my senior year, my last year of firsts. But still, maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long, and maybe you shouldn’t either.