Rearrange Me, a concert in which eight Connecticut musicians or bands play short sets of music and cover each others' songs, returns to Hartford's Real Art Ways on Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
This year's performers include That Virginia (Bridgeport via São Paulo, Brazil, musician Virginia Semeghini); Connecticut state troubadour Kate Callahan; Hartford hip-hop artist and educator Self-Suffice; the Sawtelles, a band from Plantsville; Grammy Award-winning vocalist Charmagne Tripp; Angela Luna of Luna & the Lost Souls; Shelton singer-songwriter Lys Guillorn and Her Band; and Zoo Front, an experimental pop/punk band from New Haven.
Julie Beman, who plays keyboards and sings in Guillorn's band (and also Chica Non Grata), is the mini-festival's founder and organizer.
Following last year's example, each musician knows the artist and song they're going to cover, but little else. The audience learns the sequence of performers and cover songs as the show unfolds.
The enjoyment comes from hearing eight terrific local acts performing their own songs. Bonus: watching artists tackle music likely composed in musical styles they're not used to playing, while the original composers look on — smiling, cheering, taunting, blushing, whatever occurs to them in the moment.
Peter Riccio, the Sawtelles singer-guitarist and Guillorn's drummer, performs twice this year. (He participated last year, too, with Guillorn.)
Musicians, Riccio points out, rarely cover artists who are actually sitting in the room.
"For once, we're going to do a cover song and the artist is going to be there," Riccio says. "That aspect, having the actual composer of the song, the original artist, is a rare and exciting thing."
The Sawtelles — Riccio and his wife, Julie Riccio, on drums and vocals — are one of the best, and weirdest, bands in the state. Riccio's guitar tunings vary from song to song; there's no bass anchoring the strings and drums. CDs, recorded at home, are decorated by hand. Peter and Julie, married for 17 years, rarely spend time apart; watching them perform feels like sitting in their living room.
"It was definitely stylistically different than what we usually do," Riccio says of the song the Sawtelles will cover. "There was a challenge in picking a song out of a body of work of the artist, one I thought we could pull off. I didn't want to turn it into a Sawtelles song that it would be unrecognizable to the artist. I think we made a good choice."
The approach to the song is pure Sawtelles, Riccio adds, but the "the integrity of the song is intact, the melody is intact. … That was my goal."
Tripp, a veteran performer, whose hook on Eminem's "We Made You" earned her a Grammy in 2009, learned about Rearrange Me when Beman made contact through Facebook.
"I was totally down," Tripp says. "It was something very different for me. I'm looking for unique performances opportunities at this point in my life."
Tripp's own music taps into neo-soul, jazz and R&B. She's about to launch a new trio project with singer-songwriter Mr. Qwes and DJ Elle-Ce; Rearrange Me will be the group's debut performance.
"Typically I've had a full band, and now I'm transitioning to a little less analog and a little more digital," Tripp says. "I grew up on '80s music and haven't spent a lot of time in the newer R&B. Again, I'm looking for a new creative space, adding the DJ element and the live keyboards."
Upon getting her assignment, Tripp sat down with a dozen or so tracks, eventually narrowing it down to three.
"Then I remembered we only have a 15 minute set, so I narrowed it down even more," she says. "There's one particular song that I really fell in love with, and so after that I worked out a couple of different feels with an accompanist: faster, slower, jazzy, soulful. We worked out a bunch of different ways that we could do the song, and we landed on one that felt right."
The hook, for Tripp, was the chance to step outside her usual creative channels.
"I was excited. It was a genre that I had never been in before. It was very cool to think about what I would do with this particular band's music. I was just excited at the possibilities, listening to this artist and figuring out how to incorporate what I do with what they do. It was exciting creatively."
REARRANGE ME takes place at Real Art Ways in Hartford on Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. realartways.org