On what could be considered the snowiest night of the year, my friend and I set out on the trek from our small city suburb all the way to 30th Street Station. Having never been to World Café Live, it took a bit of finding which was needless to say quite difficult in blizzard conditions at night. But in the end, the café and the sweet bluesy-folk of Willy Mason could not have been a more perfect antidote to the wintery storm. It was definitely worth the trek.
Soaking wet and frozen from our journey, the soft glow of the multi-colored lighting and the friendly hostess were blended perfectly with the comfortable warmth of the café. Seated close to the front at a table for two, we had a great view of the stage, which seemed possible from just about every seat in the house.
After a short set from local Philadelphia folk-rock band Vile Bread, Nina Violet, one of two members of Willy’s backing band, made her humble entrance, captivating the small, middle-aged crowd. The singer’s voice, clear and powerful, occupied every empty space in the room. Behind her enchanting lyrics and folk-based melodies was only the soothing, warm sound of her electric guitar. Her set came to close much too quickly, but she certainly left the crowd primed and ready for Willy Mason!
Casually sauntering onto stage with a small glass of alcohol, Willy slung his guitar onto his shoulder and began with no flair or flash, just excellent guitar playing. You would never be able to tell he had recently taken a five-year break from touring. He began with the very bluesy, toe-tappin “Gotta Keep Movin.”
Chatting to the small room, he explained that next song was his observations of his mother’s interactions with his furry childhood friend, Cubby. The simple melody, relatable storyline, and bits of humor in “Where The Humans Eat” entranced the people of the audience.
As the show progressed, the quaint crowd settled comfortably into their seats. Huddled close together close to the stage, it felt as though we were all sharing one of music’s best-kept secrets. Willy continued on, with the addition of Nina Violet on viola and back up vocals to power through “We Can Be Strong,” an early empowering hit, that also got a rousing round of applause from the crowd.
Adding a keyboard to complete the full sound, Willy and company went through many of the songs on the new album and the difference between his old and new sound become more apparent. Though all rooted in folk, the increasing electronic aspect of his new songs were showcased in the background of “Talk Me Down” and “Shadows In The Dark.” Slowing it down, the haunting melody and metaphorical lyrics of “Show Me The Way To Go Home” flowed through the room like a sad lullaby.
He ended his set with three of his most powerful songs from his new album, all exuding different types of power. Finishing with a rousing rendition of the catchy album single, “I Got Gold,” it was clear as Willy exited the stage that he truly left the crowd wanting more.
The great thing about seeing Willy Mason live is the sincerity he brings to his music when onstage in a tiny café like World Café Live. His simple songs with heartfelt lyrics and a clear sense of soul are conveyed so much better live, where he can really put a different spin on the performance of each song. This was certainly true for the three song encore, for which he politely asked permission to play each song. The audience, holding onto his every word, surrounded him in as much applause as about 25 people could muster.
If you didn’t get a chance to see Willy play live this time around, make sure that you don’t miss him next time he is in town, even if it is in the middle of a blizzard!
Gotta Keep Movin’
Where The Humans Eat
Hard Hand to Hold
Fear No Pain
We Can Be Strong
If It’s The End
Talk Me Down
Show Me The Way to Go Home
Shadows In The Dark
I Got Gold
When The Leaves Have Fallen