As the audience filed in to the beautiful Stanley Theater in Utica, NY, awaiting to hear the musical trifecta of Gavin DeGraw, Andy Grammar, and Wrable, little did they know what they were in store for.
Newcomer Stephen Wrabel, took to the stage first. This young man quietly found his place at the piano amidst the hustle and bustle of the late arriving audience as they made their way to their seats. With full house lights shining brightly on both the isles and stage the entire time, he patiently began to play and sing his set despite the distractions. The moment the first note hit the air, heads jerked around as though they were hit by lightning. This bolt of lightning came in the form of such a strong musical presence, the audience definitely took heed and quickly settled in to enjoy.
To describe his style of songwriting and performing, one word comes to mind: Honesty. Only playing a few tunes it was more than enough to imprint his name upon our minds forever. His sincerity shone through as he nervously admitted this was his first tour. His personality shone through as he conversed and prefaced each tune with a back story. Spinning around on the piano stool we caught a glimpse of a playful side to this deeply sensitive human being, and this insight won the audience over after song number one. His new album can’t be released fast enough as far as I’m concerned.
With a quick set change, Andy Grammer and his band took to the stage next. Grammer, a native Upstate New Yorker, was welcomed home by the audience as they got right to their feet cheering and dancing. This musician and his bandmates definitely have some smooth moves and went full force with a high intensity setlist. Reminiscent of the Jackson Five in the choreographed moves, it was only after the thought came into my head, that they included a little mashup of their “ABC, 123” into the tune they were singing. Grammer’s diversity in his music is refreshing. He includes a mix of ballads, pop, and some carribbean flavor into his music, and in addition to dancing, singing, guitar, a little autotune, and piano, while performing “Holding Out” he continued to demonstrate yet another instrument when he picked up the trumpet and belted out a few notes. What can’t this man do?
Grammer’s set was full of emotion as he shared stories of his mother, Kathy, his wife, Aijia Lise, and people that touched a part of his life while on this journey. It is crystal clear that he and his band are having a great time up on that stage. Whether it’s their dancing in unison, their interactions as they play, or their acting out “Forever”, the fun they are having together translates clearly, allowing the audience to become part of the party.
As if the night wasn’t already awesome, then came Gavin Degraw. The one thing that has always stood out to me about Degraw is his transparency. He’s a people person, he’s not pretentious at all. He’s there to play music. He’s there to sing and share. His writing and performances, they speak volumes on the direction he’s taken his music over his career. With his signature fedora and jean jacket, he emulates cool. In fact, Degraw was hip before hip was hip.
Joining Degraw up front, his bandmates helped him “strip down” the music in an acoustic mini session similar to the one he shared on his European tour recently. Taking the time to thank all service men and women, Degraw dedicated “Soldier” to those who give of themselves every day. Playing to both sides of the stage and crouching down to sing face-to-face those up front, he connected with his audience on their level.
His sense of humor shone through as he joked with the audience and bandmates. But what was most moving to me was the end of his show. Normally an artist will perform, go off and then come back on to do an encore. Once the encore is over they usually take a bow and head off as the band plays off the show. Something different happened Saturday night. Gavin came out and did his spectacular encore of his newly released single, “She Sets the World on Fire”, but instead of going off at the end, he completed the song, bowed to the audience, and remained. He went on to hug every member of his band, together they took a final bow, then the band went off and he stayed. He thanked each and every audience member for not staying home and making it a “Netflix and Papa Johns” night. He sincerely thanked his audience for taking time out of their days to come see him, and support him so that he can continue making music. You don’t see that often. Then, he stayed. He shook hands, he hugged people from the stage, he took selfies, and after more than a half hour, I left and he was still there signing and thanking individuals personally. That’s class. That’s what makes Gavin Degraw stand out head and shoulders above others in my book. Yes he’s an amazing musician, but he’s more importantly true to his fans, his bandmates, and most importantly his music.
Andy Grammer Setlist: Keep Your Head Up, Fine By Me, Kiss You Slow, The Pocket, Blame It On the Stars, Holding Out, Ladies, Forever, Miss Me, Remind You, Good Parts, Fresh Eyes, Don’t Let Me Down (The Chainsmokers cover), Honey, I’m Good, Are You Gonna Go My Way (Instrumental) (Lenny Kravitz cover), Back Home, Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah)
Gavin Degraw Setlist: Chariot, Best I Ever Had, Sweeter, Follow Through, Ride (twenty one pilots cover), Making Love with the Radio On, In Love With a Girl (Acoustic), Let It Go (Acoustic)
(James Bay cover), Soldier (Acoustic), Something Worth Saving, Brother, Not Over You, I Don’t Want to Be Encore: She Sets the City on Fire