(ASBURY PARK, NJ - February 11, 2009) -- It's hard to believe that Rick Barry has been hosting the "Night In Progress" shows for an entire year. What started out as a dare from Saint owner Scott Stamper, has become one of the best nights of music in the area and remains as fresh today as it was the day the show made its debut.
The idea behind the show stemmed from Scott Stamper daring Rick Barry to set up a show with entirely new music. Apparently, he felt Rick's show was getting a little stale. Well, not only did Rick take him up, but he invited other songwriters to take the chance and the series was born. Songwriters seem to relish the opportunity (and challenge) of playing brand new songs in front of an audience of music fans and those in attendance get the rare chance to see true works in progress. In fact, I'm pretty sure "Works In Progress" was the original name behind the show. I'm still not sure why the name changed as Rick's song with that name is like the show's theme song.
The show's first anniversary was celebrated at The Saint with an impressive lineup of some of the biggest artists to perform throughout the last twelve months of the series. The lineup included Glen Burtnick, Bob Burger, Alex Brumel and Janel Elizabeth, Allie Moss, Dylan St. Clark, Val Emmich, and Arlan Feiles. In addition, Kyle Swartzwelder from Delaware was on also on the bill as the featured artist - another one of the many artists Rick Barry has regularly invited from outside the area for Night In Progress shows.
Since there were so many artists scheduled, the opening setup was more like a writers in the round than usual. The night kicked off with Bob Burger, Rick Barry, Alex Brumel and Janel Elizabeth all sharing the stage and taking turns playing new tunes.
They each played a mixture of songs originally written for their night in progress show and another brand new tune.
Highlights in this round included Bob Burger's brilliant, "Piano at the Bottom of the Elevator Shaft" - one of the best songs he's ever written in my opinion and Alex Brumel and Janel Elizabeth with "I Don't Know You At All".
Rick attempted to play the gracious host, but stuck his foot in his mouth when he said, "Most of the artists have CDs available tonight. Probably none of the shit they played tonight..." He then caught himself and added, "I don't mean to call the songs shit."
"What shit are you going to play next Rick?" replied Alex Brumel.
Rick then proceeded to screw up the opening to "Works In Progress" song, as he seems to screw up every month during these shows.
The featured artist of the evening was Kyle Swartzwelder from Delaware. For the second night in a row, an artist mentioned feeling like a bit of an outsider at The Saint. That was strange, but I guess there is definitely a certain type of music fan that both appreciates original music and actually comes out during the week as opposed to solely on the weekends - so, I can see where people might feel a bit as if they're on the outside looking in among the regulars. If we start hearing artists mention something like that on a Saturday than we might be in trouble.
Swartzwelder played a mix of his regular set and a couple of brand new tunes to keep in the spirit of the night. His songs were good with several different styles from upbeat to folk to almost spiritual soulful. He blurs the line between rock and country with songs containing wonderful, short but powerful hooks like:We've got tomorrow
But it never seems to come
Oh, where does the time go?
"Like the others I have many CDs for sale tonight. Well actually I have one CD and many, many copies for sale," said Swartzwelder.
"As a songwriter, and I think the other songwriters in the audience can attest to this, we are all depressed. It's the nature of the game," he later added.
His guitar reminded me a bit of the sparse instrumentation of Alexei Murdoch, but he was definitely more cheery than Alexei. In fact, it's refreshing to hear a singer-songwriter with optimistic lyrics. He may have thought some of his songs were depressing, but he'd be the poster boy for optimism if he lived around here.
The next group on stage included Glen Burtnick, Allie Moss, and Rick Barry.
"God bless Rick for putting this together and forces songwriters in the area to actually start and finish things. Nobody procrastinates more than me!" admitted Burtnick.
It's funny how throughout his career, songs that Burtnick were still working on always sound more folk than anything he ever releases. It's like the unreleased tunes on "So Close You Can Almost Hear". His songs tonight led me to wonder why he never decided to put out a purely folk-based record.
"Originally when you asked me to do this I wanted to have my two daughters with me because I'm trying to put together this family band," said Burtnick.
"Like the Partridge Family?" asked Rick.
Ironically, the idea of the Burtnick's emulating The Partridge Family didn't seem as strange as the idea of Glen showing up dressed as a farmer. "What's with the overalls? That's a good question," said Glen. The audience was never given an explanation.
Allie Moss followed and her voice was absolutely stunning for the second night in a row. Best known for her work with Ingrid Michaelson, Allie will most likely get a lot of airplay for herself once her CD is released later this year.
Rick Barry was up next with one of my favorite songs from the Night In Progress series - "Portrait of a Coward," a song that features classic Rick Barry lyrics such as:The man I relate most to is Judas
Say what you will about the man he was ambitious
The final lineup of the night included Rick Barry, Dylan St Clark, Val Emmich, and Arlan Feiles. Dylan (from The Milwaukees) led off with a story about how the song he first performed at Night In Progress was on the night he and his wife first learned she was pregnant.
"I was like 'you can't be pregnant, we only did it a couple of times,'" said Dylan.
"It only takes one time," said someone in the audience.
"Yeah, well I guess the Irish have never had a problem with that stuff." he replied before launching into the powerful, "Cold Black Heart." He later played "Far Away," a song originally written for Night in Progress but never played. Val Emmich assisted the song on backing vocals.
Val Emmich's set included "Resume" and "Eastern Standard Time", two incredibly catchy songs with rather amusing lyrics that will hopefully show up on a future record.
Arlan Feiles was next and chided Rick about recycling tunes for night in progress, "Unlike Rick, I've busted my ass to come up with new songs for these shows." One song, "Tomorrow's Gonna Be A Better Day" was simply fantastic.
Rick Barry added, "What Beatrice Said" - another powerful number of his. Sometimes you forget just how much truly great material has come from this series. Tonight was not just an all-star lineup, but was pretty much a greatest hits of tunes, which originated from the series.
Night In Progress has helped create a solid community and camaraderie among the area's songwriters while forging a new music scene for music fans who practically eat, breathe, and sleep music. The show truly has been a success all around. For many of us, it becomes a must see just as the old Writers In The Raw series was. Like WITR, Night in Progress has begun branching out with shows in other areas. Hopefully, the show doesn't get stretched too thin and remains something special wherever it is held.
It's funny, but the chance to see Rick Barry perform solo might become one of the true highlights of Night In Progress. With his EP getting rave reviews from most critics, the number of solo shows might dwindle greatly over the next few years as Rick concentrates on band shows. Rick and I have had many conversations about this over the years; to me, his solo work is like the truth in a needle being injected into a heroin addict. It's raw, powerful, and addictive. And it'll be sorely missed. I guess that's just another reason to see the Night In Progress shows.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.