By: Erica Fasoli
Last Saturday, the folksy tunes of Gregory Alan Isakov resonated throughout a packed, dimly lit room at Park City Live. The show sold out in a matter of days after tickets became available to the general public, a testament to the size of Isakov’s following here in Utah. I saw Gregory Alan Isakov last year at Red Rocks in Colorado. The combination of cool air, folksy/moody music, and an incredible view made for a night to remember. And although Park City Live didn’t quite compare to the atmosphere and ambiance of Red Rocks Amphitheater, the intimacy of a small, packed venue brought a whole new life to Isakov’s show. Folksy riffs from guitar, bass, and banjo, accompanied by lyrics that Isakov would refer to as “sad songs about space” resonated through the venue all night long.
Patrick Park opened the show. The LA-based singer-songwriter released his newest album Here/Gone this past April after a five-year hiatus to raise his newborn son. He kicked off the show with a stripped-down set. The simplicity highlighted his vocals. With just an acoustic guitar, he played some fan favorites like “Five Alarm”, “We Fall out of Touch”, and “Something Pretty”. The crowd filled in early and before we knew it, Gregory Alan Isakov and his band took the stage. They started the night with “Chemicals” and “Southern Star” as the crowd screamed out, “we love you, Gregory”.
Gregory Alan Isakov is well known for his musical ability. The horticulturist-turned-musician has made his marked on the indie-rock and folk worlds over the years. His fifth, and newest album, Evening Machine, was recently nominated for Best Folk Album at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. But, what really impressed me throughout the night was the musical ability of his band. Heavily string focused, the Americana-folk band made a mark on the crowd. Jeb Bows wowed with his incredible violin solos and Steve Varney stole the spotlight at times with his backing vocals and guitar and banjo riffs. They played classics like “San Luis” and “Amsterdam”, as well as the more upbeat “This Empty Northern Hemisphere”.
About halfway through the set, Isakov paused and said, “we didn’t know if we could get away with playing some acoustic songs…” as the crowd cheered loudly. With a smile, the band switched over to acoustic instruments and crowded around a single microphone at the front of the stage. They played “Wings in All Black” and joked around about the explicit lyrics in “Saint Valentine”. The crowd sang along to “All Shades of Blue” and they each took turns in the spotlight on the mic.
Then, the band went offstage, leaving Gregory Alan Isakov on his own with a guitar and harmonica. He told the story of writing the next song for a very famous movie. Through a laugh, he said, “It’s called Amish Murder and it’s on lifetime television”. He went on for well over two minutes describing the plot of the movie and how hard he had worked on the song. He paused, smiled, and said “they didn’t even use the song. But I put it on the album anyways”. As the crowd laughed he played the harmonica, easing into a solo, acoustic version of “Time will Tell”.
One of the differences between the two performances I’ve seen was Isakov’s demeanor. At Red Rocks, he was practically flawless musically, but he seemed quiet and reserved. His interactions with the crowd where mainly ones of thanks. Don’t get me wrong, it was an incredible show, but this time around we got a bit more insight into who Isakov is as a person. Maybe it was the size of the venue or the pressure of a legendary amphitheater, but he seemed much more relaxed and comfortable on the stage this time around. We got a unique glimpse into his personality as he joked and told stories about his life during pauses between songs. He definitely has a dry, dark sense of humor. It showed when he decided to play us a song that he had written just a few weeks prior. He told a morbid, yet weirdly touching story of burying a sheep in a ditch behind his farm after his flock had been attacked by coyotes last month. The comical, and also disturbing, part came when he described accidentally miscalculating the depth of the hole he dug, leaving part of the sheep’s leg sticking straight out of the top once he’d filled it back in with dirt. The audience laughed at his delivery and he went on to play a song that he wrote while staying up late to keep watch in case the coyotes came back.
The band joined him back on stage and they picked the tempo back up playing “Buried in the Waves” and “The Universe”. They rounded out the set before the encore with “Liars” that left the crowd wanting more. When they came back out on stage to end the night, we joked that he must have taken a shot backstage because it was the most lively and animated we’d ever seen him. As Isakov said, “This one is really long and it’s got a lot of words, but if you know any of them sing along”, the intro to “The Stable Song” started. The crowd cheered, swayed, and sang along. They wrapped the night with “Caves”, a classic and one of the most popular of Isakov’s music. Isakov laughed and joked throughout the final song with Steve Varney, who played guitar, banjo, and backing vocals, making for a great end to the set. You could tell that Gregory Alan Isakov really enjoyed the night. And, as I looked around the room at the smiling facing in the crowd, it was clear that everyone else did too.
Dark, Dark, Dark
This Empty Northern Hemisphere
Was I Just Another One
Wings in All Black
All Shades of Blue
Time Will Tell
Buried in the Waves