CT.com Presents: An Evening with DAS Musicians
May 18, 7:30 p.m. doors, $10, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main St., Hartford, thewadsworth.org.
Last year's Connecticut Music Awards was the kind of unifying event the state's fragmented music scene sorely needed, and its aftershocks are still being felt.
Presenters looked out at the Bushnell audience at the state of Connecticut music — and it was good. Chip McCabe, host and mastermind, wore a tux and repped the metal bands. Musicians bounded onstage and gave humorous/inspirational/embarrassing acceptance speeches, in the best possible sense. Three nominated acts — Hannah Fair, Little Ugly and Ceschi and David Ramos — entertained everyone. Before long, everyone shuffled out and headed to post-game gatherings. It was grand.
Inspired by that night's sense of community, Bridgeport musician John Torres, 29, who was nominated in the Best Singer-Songwriter category, decided — win or lose — to try and meet his fellow nominees, with the idea of putting a show together.
"I ran into the musicians at the after-party and just asked them all to come to my studio in Bridgeport," Torres told the Advocate. "I said, 'Why don't we do a little tour? Try to get some shows in certain places?'"
The collective, now known as DAS Musicians (an inside joke Torres didn't have clearance from the other members to explain), performs Saturday night at the Wadsworth Atheneum's Aetna Theater in Hartford. Its members — Becky Kessler (who ended up winning), Kate Callahan, Jennifer Hill and Fair — should be well known to music fans in the state (hey, you nominated them).
They're currently down to four; Fair recently moved to Vermont and won't perform on Saturday. They've only played one gig together so far, at Bridgeport's Acoustic Cafe back in January.
Torres said they'd like to play Norfolk's Infinity Music Hall, and also in and around New London and Fairfield. He hasn't quit his other projects — that isn't the point. It's not an exclusive operation. His main project these days is Oh, Cassius, a duo with vocalist Meredith DiMenna (who also fronts the psych-country act Tomorrow Tomorrow) that's soon to be a full band. DAS Musicians lets him dust off his solo material, and also to crawl inside the songs of musicians he admires.
"Jen Hill — I'm a huge fan of her piano playing," Torres said. "She evokes a kind of Fiona Apple/Tom Waits vaudevillian aesthetic... Vocals full of drama... With Kate [Callahan], I feel a moral obligation to do right, that there is the possibility that everything will be okay... And Becky Kessler: to look at her, you'd never think she's a singer. Then you hear her, and you feel like you're hearing a 54-year-old black woman. She cuts right through you with her voice. Her songwriting is badass. It's excellent. I'm a huge fan of Becky."
That night's trip to Hartford for the CMAs, it turns out, was galvanizing. "I haven't spent a lot of time in Hartford, being from Bridgeport," he said. "Being a nominee was so exciting... I was kind of blown away by the quality." And McCabe, Torres said, a marketing specialist for CT.com and the Advocates, deserves the credit. "He made something that people wanted to be a part of. And the networking opportunities: that's where the real magic happens. You get to compound the momentum you have with what they have going."
On Saturday, each singer-songwriter will do their own half-hour solo set, with all the members on stage for a song or two per person. Learning each others' material involves sending out mp3s and a single day of rehearsal before the show, and other members' tastes usually determine the song choices. "If I have an existing song, a song, say, Becky Kessler really likes, we'll do that one... This is an experiment."
"There's a mutual respect and excitement about music and being in a musical community," Torres continued. "[The other members] knew each other before but weren't really connected... Once we got together it gave us a huge cohesive feeling. That was really lacking in Connecticut."