One Night in Westport: Jesse Terry with The Promise Is Hope

Super-covert pic of Jesse Terry playing.
Super-covert pic of Jesse Terry playing.

Twenty-four hours later, I was sitting six feet from another small stage, amidst another gathering of a musicians’ friends and family, under dramatically different circumstances.

Back before I lived in Connecticut, I’d been collecting playlists of New England musicians, and one song that had stuck with me was called “Stargazer.” A couple weeks after moving here, I was sitting in the mud at the Connecticut Folk Fest, and there’s the guy on stage singing it. It was the moment that it really dawned on me that the artists I’d been following from a distance were real and here and I could go see them live more than once. This is Jesse Terry, who performed live at Voices Café in Westport last night.

(Quick detour for the official video of “Stargazer,” since he told the story of filming it in a castle.)

Now, my natural habitat is a dive bar in downtown New Haven, where my plumage of indie band T-shirts allows me to fade into the walls of show posters. Voices Café is at a strikingly modernist Unitarian church in the woods of Fairfield County — the monthly music program is part of their social justice initiative, which, two thumbs up.

This is a very gracious spot. At first look into the performance space, I thought it might also be a very formal, sedate spot, like the church “early music” concerts I occasionally attended in Minneapolis. Oh no — it filled to the exact level of crowded that’s warm and convivial.

The Promise Is Hope

Super-covert pic of The Promise Is Hope.
Super-covert pic of The Promise Is Hope.

Opening was wife-husband duo The Promise Is Hope (Ashley and Eric L’Esperance), from western Massachusetts, with delicate intertwined harmonies in songs about hope, growth, and mortality. (When your latest record is called Every Seed Must Die, mortality is on the table.)

Since I wasn’t trying for video (it was the kind of place where you put your phone in your lap and focus), I’m going to point you to the official video for the “Every Seed Must Die” single, and then… I’m going to taunt you with what else you missed.

What you missed was two delightful things. One was a room full of people spontaneously singing along to one of the early songs in the set, with the whispery sweet harmony that trickles in when nobody’s sure that singing along is called for, but everybody’s sure that singing along is right.

The second was a new song called “Simon Taylor Denver Cash,” about life on the road as a folk singer. It is a banger. It chronicles the nights in empty bars and the rush of letdown when a great show is over, and the compelling urge to do it all again — and it has that pure ring of truth that goes right through you, leaving chills in its wake.

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Jesse Terry

This is Jesse Terry’s hometown crowd, so the love is palpable. I think it might be in any crowd, as he’s the kind of performer who brings good weather along.

His songs make their own nest of peace and healing — and I don’t mean that in a nicey-nice, all-is-sunshine-and-rainbows way, but in a way of holding onto some vital vestige of innocence in a world that wants to fray it away to nothing.

Jesse Terry telling a story.
He’s telling a story. We love it when he tells stories.

Directly in that vein was new song “In Spite of You,” a gentle-yet-resolute folk middle finger to his horrifying experiences in reform school. About halfway through, I realized this is a protest song. It is chillingly good, and of course I don’t have video, but… there was a livestream of portions of the show, and it’s the last song included.

If you get sucked into that experience, you’ll notice he’s not kidding in the lyrics of “In Spite of You” about writing songs with cinematographic lyrics. I’m convinced the sun actually rose behind us and birds starting chirping during “Noise.” If flowers sprouted from the stage mid-song, I wouldn’t turn a hair.

Before it seemed like 15 minutes had passed, there’s Jesse Terry saying “one last song.” Too soon. Too soon. It was one of the up-tempo songs, and I remember the squid story being late in the set, so probably “Dance In Our Old Shoes.”  I love the squid story and the faintly Beatles’ feel of the song.

Standing ovation. (I was slow because my dratted phone was still in my lap and doing something about it would mean stopping applauding.) Encore song is a cover of Don McLean’s “Vincent” — you can hear someone in back sniffling with emotion because the experience is literally so breath-taking that nobody’s breathing.

Standing ovation. We cannot be quieted down. We want more. Folk audiences do not do the foot-stop/clap thing that I was egging on at Mohegan Sun the one time, so I dunno what to do and am hoping the more experienced crowd is persuasive. Second encore is a cover of James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” and everyone sings along on the chorus, and I think we’re all related now and have to send cookies at Christmas.

Oh, and the emcee told me to go to see Greg Greenaway and Rachel Sage tonight in my own neighborhood, so I guess I’m doing that.

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