Music lovers of all ages are patiently waiting inside the auditorium of Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts this Friday, May 27, 2022 evening for a concert of Americana music by North Carolina’s Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters. The group is currently on tour promoting its latest album, 2022’s The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
Anthony Sylvester, trustee of the Gia Maione Prima Foundation, welcomes the audience to tonight’s show. Explaining that Amanda Anne Platt did a master class on songwriting for the students at the Grunin Performing Arts Academy earlier in the day, Sylvester acknowledges that he and his wife traveled to see Platt in North Carolina before deciding that she would be the initial presenter in the Foundation’s series of master classes and concerts.
Sylvester introduces Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters — Amanda Anne Platt on acoustic guitar and vocals, Evan Martin on drums, Rick Cooper on bass, Kevin Williams on keyboard, and Matt Smith on electric guitar and pedal steel guitar. Platt greets the audience joking, “This is my first time in Toms River. You guys have some funny left turns up here, but we like it!”
Platt and the Honeycutters open tonight’s show with a ballad from The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea entitled “Open Up Your Door.”
As Platt fingerpicks her acoustic guitar, she sings in her sweet soprano voice, “Can you help me find my song tonight?” as Kevin Williams softly accompanies her with chords on the keyboard and Matt Smith’s adds the crying sound of his pedal steel to the song’s wistful arrangement.
Drummer Evan Martin counts off another number from the album entitled, “The Devil.” Opening with “We were sitting in the backseat of your Chevy Cavalier/Tom Petty on the stereo, you whispered in my ear,” Platt tells a story about a young woman who gets married to a man who soon strays.
Williams provides vocal harmonies and Smith’s pedal steel guitar rings out on this rockabilly number which has the crowd responding with applause and cheers as an audience member calls out, “Great song!”
After announcing, “We never know if you want to hear new stuff or old stuff,” Platt and Co. perform another selection from The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea entitled “Dallas.” Guitars strum in sync and Williams’ tinkling piano adds to the mood on this slow country tune about Platt’s “old friend” — her band’s tour van, which caught on fire — as heads bob in time to the beat.
Talking as she tunes her guitar, Platt reveals, “This is another song about fire off the new album.” On “Burn,” Smith’s electric guitar is featured in a twangy line that accompanies Platt’s vocal as she cries, “What good’s a roof when the walls are caving in now?/We gotta burn it down,” painting a picture with her lyrics and music on this country swing tune.
After introducing band members Matt Smith and Kevin Williams, Platt and Co. perform “Eden,” where Martin keeps a steady drumbeat and Cooper sings harmony on this driving number about “living in the heartland somewhere between the mountains and the shore.” The group follows up with “The Guitar Case,” a slow country rocker about the challenges of touring on the road where Platt sings with emotion, “Can you see that dim light shining?/You better keep on driving/It’s been a real long night/You don’t want to know where I’ve been.”
Platt announces, “Another oldie here,” as she introduces Evan Martin and the group launches into “Blue Besides.” Starting off with Martin’s syncopated drum beat, Smith plays guitar runs alongside Platt’s heartfelt vocal as she wails, “Love ain’t ever black and white/It’s pink and gray and blue besides,” on this driving number.
Revealing, “Some people react strongly to this next song. My dog attacked a baby rabbit — which wasn’t like him — and it got me thinking about nature,” Platt performs another selection from The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea called “Rabbit.” Platt and Martin sing in harmony on this slow, mournful story song in 6/8 time which features Matt Smith’s crying pedal steel guitar.
The musicians depart the stage leaving Platt to perform two solo numbers with just voice and acoustic guitar. On the first, “Forget Me Not Blue,” she gives a raw and authentic performance on this intimate ballad as she pleads, “Love is a flame, grief is a candle/God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Joking, “I’ve been practicing a whistle solo for that one, but I wussed out,” Platt talks about the songwriting workshop she did earlier in the day with the students of the Grunin Performing Arts Academy. Declaring,“The kids are gonna be OK — I was taken aback by the level of talent,” she provides the backstory to her next number disclosing, “This song is about a woman losing her husband.”
Platts voice floats out, entrancing the audience on “Learning How to Love Him.” Fingerpicking her guitar on this bittersweet love song, she cries, “I spent 42 years learning how to love him/Buttons on his shirt and supper in the oven,” bringing several audience members in the house to tears with her vivid lyrical imagery and musical talent. The crowd responds with whistles and applause.
The other musicians return and Platt announces, “We’re going to do some oldies here,” as she and the band launch into the country swing number, “Jukebox,” where Cooper and Platt sing in harmony. Martin’s locomotive-like drums start off the next selection, “All You Ever,” where Platt decries, “All you ever needed was someone to tell you you were right,” Williams plays a honky tonk piano solo, and Smith follows with slides and runs on a pedal steel guitar solo.
Platt strums the acoustic guitar intro to “Carolina” before the band joins in on this rhythmic country tune. Three-part harmonies ring out on the song’s “Oh Carolina, oh Carolina/You know I love you in my way/But please don’t try to save me/I’m heading for the interstate” refrain.
Platt and the Honeycutters follow up with “Birthday Song.” With it’s rock drumbeat, Platt and Cooper harmonize on the “Every time it gets colder/And I get another year older/And I start looking for lines in the bathroom mirror” chorus on this arrangement which features Matt Smith fingering an electric guitar solo.
The crowd cheers and Platt thanks the audience, revealing, “We had a really great time today — we got to go to the beach and saw big waves.” After explaining, “One of the first songs we did before was ‘The Devil’ — which mentions Tom Petty — and now we’d like to bring it full circle,” she and the Honeycutters perform Petty’s “Square One,” a thoughtful number which has the band starting off slowly before picking up the tempo.
The crowd whistles and cheers and Platt introduces another number from The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Announcing, “This song is about leaving my hometown in New York when my parents sold my childhood home,” she acknowledges that she still enjoys coming back to the area, joking, “When I come to New York/New Jersey I get excited for bagels, pizza, and good Chinese food.” Here, the Honeycutters play a highlight number of the concert, Platt’s upbeat country rocker, “New York.”
Heads bop in the audience on the song’s infectious chorus as Platt and Martin harmonize, “New York/I can’t say goodbye again/So c’mon/Let go of my hand/I gotta leave here/Let me go/Before my heart tells me I can’t.” Smith channels The Allman Brothers’ Dickie Betts on a Southern rock-style guitar solo and Martin rides the cymbals as he keeps the beat going strong on this song which elicits enthusiastic audience applause.
To conclude tonight’s concert, Smith and Williams exit, leaving Evans, Platt, and Cooper standing around a single microphone located center stage.
Cooper sheds his bass to play acoustic guitar on the evening’s final selection,“The Road.” On this simple yet effective number, the trio sings in harmony, “If time and distance make us strangers/Change our hearts and rearrange us/I’ll look forward to the day my new eyes look upon your face/And recognize the smile of an old friend/I hope the road is good to you ’til then,” leaving the crowd cheering with a standing ovation.
As audience members make their way out of the auditorium, we take a moment to chat with Amanda Anne Platt who tells us about her experience at the Grunin Center, declaring, “This is such a beautiful venue! We usually don’t play in theaters, so this was especially enjoyable,” before adding, “And working with the kids earlier today made my tour, for sure. I was just blown away by the level of talent of the students here.”
We also chat with several Grunin Performing Arts Academy students in the crowd tonight who share their thoughts on Platt’s workshop and concert. Remarks Conner from Point Pleasant, “The workshop was a very eye-opening look at the music industry, and I thought the concert tonight was fantastic,” before acknowledging, “I’m not a country music person in general, but it was so nice to hear Amanda Anne Platt sing.”
Remarks Alejandra from Bayville, “Amanda Anne Platt’s workshop was an interesting conversation on the meaning of songwriting and the musicality behind songwriting,” explaining, “It’s not just about the words — the meaning of a song can be conveyed through the music, as well,” and adding, “As performers, we each have our own style, and I really enjoyed hearing Amanda Anne Platt’s authentic sound tonight.”
Reveals Kaylie from Brick, “I’m an acting major here, but I love music. I’ve always loved the storytelling aspect of this genre so I loved both the workshop and tonight’s concert,” noting, “It’s nice to hear something different from the music I usually listen to, and Amanda Anne Platt’s voice was just incredible.” Remarks Kaylie’s friend, Hailey from Brick, “I enjoyed this show. Amanda Anne Platt’s lyrics are really meaningful and her voice is really sweet, too.”
Lastly, we chat with other members of the audience, including Brian from Washington D.C. who exclaims, “This concert was fantastic! I listen to a lot of new music and it was so interesting to hear songs where the lyrics drive the music — plus, it was amazing to hear them performed by a singer who has the vocal range to back them up,” before adding, “When she did ‘New York,’ that song really got to me as, coincidentally, my parents are selling my childhood home, too.”
Kiana from Montclair maintains, “I loved the warmth she had to share, in addition to hearing the stories behind the songs.” Finally, Carrie from Freehold relates, “I loved listening to Amanda Anne Platt’s lyrics. Her voice and words just draw you into her stories,” before confessing, “I was actually moved to tears while listening to her solo performance of ‘Learning How to Love Him.’ For me, all her stories have such truth to them.”
To learn more about Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters, please go to honeycutters.com. For further information on upcoming performances at the Grunin Center — including The Bronx Wanderers on June 26 — please go to grunincenter.org.
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