Concert Review

The Phoenix Summer Folk Festival @ Modified Arts: That's All, Folks.

When I think of folk music, I think of older, fogey-er guys and gals who strum slowly and sing about wild horses and flowers . . . But the Phoenix Annual Summer Folk Festival at Modified Arts, presented Thursday by River Jones Music, made folk cool again.

For a Thursday afternoon in June, the fest attracted plenty who didn't mind planting themselves on Modified's unfurnished wooden floors.

The most interesting moment of the afternoon came when young Michelle Blades was setting up for her set. A couple of guys toting merely a guitar and tambourine came in and gave in impromptu performance right in the middle of the place, leaving Blades a bit confused and at times, impatient, as she seemed to wonder when she would get to start playing.

Despite their not being on the bill, the two mystery men stunned the audience and provided one of the glowing moments of the day.

As for Michelle Blades, her set started with an improvised, a cappella tune that eventually got everyone in Modified clapping their hands. The song was followed by a bunch of ditties she played on ukulele as she sat on the edge of Modified's 10-inch-high stage, entertaining the hushed crowd who hung on her every note. The audience ate up Blade's cute high jinks, from singing a song in Spanish, to singing a song in gibberish. 

An earlier act featured the likes Steff Koeppen, who personified piano forte on her keyboard. Her backing violinists also got in on the action, leading the crowd in a rousing foot-stomp for the finale. This was overheard about Koeppen: "She sounds like an American Kate Nash." I just had to agree, as she got the audience subconsciously swaying with her flowing music.

Marlene O'Connor followed Koeppen and had the misfortunate of being the least-effective act of the afternoon. She wasn't bad by any means. In fact, I found her flawless finger-picking and contralto voice to be pleasantly soothing. However, not counting the obligatory claps and "woos" at the end of her songs, most of the audience seemed more interested in their cell phones and people-watching. At times, the peanut gallery chatter even overpowered the mic'd O'Connor.

There was one gem of a moment in between songs when O'Connor asked, "Is anybody else, like, ridiculously warm in here?" After hearing a roomful of yesses, she pleasantly mused, "We can suffer together in true folk fashion."

The You and Me Thing injected much-needed energy into this balmy Phoenix afternoon. The foursome jammed so hard that a few of those once sitting on the ground got on their feet and danced their toes off. 

The You and Me Thing exuded magnetism, drawing more people from the outside than the previous acts -- and keeping them there. Their mix of '70s garage rock and B.B. King R&B was both toe-tapping and smile-inducing.

Most of the young crowd seemed fresh out of high school -- while the rest looked as though high school was either in their immediate future, or a distant memory. But as the night got older, so did the audience.

Starting at 6 p.m., the show was piped through to via their Silver Platter program -- a very cool concept, especially for those who couldn't make it out to the event and happened to be near a computer.

Critic's Notebook

Last Night: The Phoenix Summer Folk Festival at Modified Arts

Better Than: The battle of the bands my high school got three people to sign up for.

Personal Bias: I've always loved me some acoustic.

Random Fact: The photography on the walls of Modified made for a great between-set diversion.

Further Listening: All the bands and artists mentioned above have MySpace pages.

By The Way: It was the birthday of one of Steff Koeppen's violinists. Happy birthday.

One More Thing: I knew this was my crowd when I spotted two guys in John Lennon shirts that I happen to own. 

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John LaBarbera