Posted on January 20, 2020 at 5:12 am

I can’t predict how 2020 is going to go, but I can tell you one thing: I was more than ready to be done with 2019. Show #56 of the SubCulture Residency was designed to start the year off right. As we begin our sixth year of concerts on Bleecker Street, I was looking for hope, for joy, for relief.

On New Year’s Eve, I performed, as I often do, in the Concert for Peace at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The first time I was part of that concert was in 1999, the eve of the Millennium, and so this year I wanted to commemorate that 20-year anniversary by doing something I’d never done before: I wrote a new song to be premiered at the concert. Further, since the Cathedral is such a huge part of my family’s history – it’s where I proposed to Georgia and where we got married – I asked my family to share the stage with me, the very first time we’ve all performed together in public. The title of the song is “Sanctuary,” and that word is significant in our life as well: when Georgia and I moved back to New York City six and a half years ago, I said probably too many times that my biggest concern was that I wouldn’t have a safe place to work, to think, to breathe in this chaotic city; what would be my sanctuary? These many years later, it’s clear: the Cathedral is my sanctuary, SubCulture is my sanctuary, and my family is my sanctuary. The last song I sang in 2019 was the premiere at the Cathedral, and now it’s the first song I sang in 2020. The feeling I had when I glanced upstage to look at my children and my wife singing in bright, major harmony with me is some kind of miracle, like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

My family extends beyond my wife and kids to include the musicians I play with and the singers who bring my songs to life. One of the most beloved members of that family is Jessica Vosk, who made her Broadway debut as an understudy in The Bridges of Madison County before her electrifying turn as Elphaba in Wicked on the national tour and, for over a year, on Broadway. Jessica’s been part of the residency twice before, in 2015 and then as the principal singer in the Stephen Schwartz concert in 2017, and last year she released a scalding solo album called Wild and Free.

Jess made two specific requests for songs of mine: she wanted to reprise “I Gotta Go,” a song I had written for A League of Their Own that got shelved when I quit that project; and “Clarissa’s Last Stand,” originally written for Kate Pazakis’s solo album but now totally reinvigorated by Jess’s hair-raising performance. And I had two requests for her: I’d longed to hear her sing from The Last Five Years forever, so we did “A Part of That”; and, in my usual whimsical manner, I became consumed by the idea that we had to sing Captain & Tenille’s 1975 hit “Love Will Keep Us Together,” a song that everyone in the band agreed is both terrible and fantastic at exactly the same time.

It wasn’t enough making Georgia open the show; we also brought her back up onstage to sing a trio arrangement of “Another Life.” And Jess chose songs from our two idols: a new arrangement of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” (which Jess also sings on her album) and Joni Mitchell’s “In France They Kiss On Main Street,” the opening of her seminal The Hissing of Summer Lawns, an album that’s been a musical touchstone for me since I first heard it in college.

Back in August, I made the acquaintance of a fantastic young percussionist named Lisette Santiago. I’ve brought her into the band at SubCulture a couple of times since then, not just to play but also to sing backup with me, and I’m thrilled every time she’s on stage with us. Watching her and Jamie build grooves together is musical heaven.

So there: some hope, some joy, some relief. We’ve got a long year to get through, but I think we’re off on the right foot.

Next show: the great Brian d’Arcy James on February 24!

JRB and FAMILY: Sanctuary (2019)
Melinda from How We React and How We Recover (2018)
JESSICA: In France They Kiss on Main Street (Joni Mitchell, 1975)
JESSICA: A Part of That from The Last Five Years (2002)
JESSICA, GEORGIA & JRB: Another Life from The Bridges of Madison County (2014)
JESSICA: I Gotta Go from unfinished League of Their Own musical (2015)
I Love Betsy from Honeymoon In Vegas (2014)
Hallowed Ground from How We React and How We Recover (2018)
JESSICA: Cassandra from The Connector (2018)
JESSICA: Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince, 1985)
JESSICA: Clarissa’s Last Stand (2009)
Wait ‘Til You See What’s Next from How We React and How We Recover (2018)
JESSICA: Love Will Keep Us Together (Sedaka/Greenfield, 1973)
All Things In Time from How We React and How We Recover (2018)

Jessica Vosk: vocal
Georgia Stitt: guest vocals
Molly Cate Brown & Susannah Brown: guest vocals
JRB: piano, vocals
Gary Sieger: guitar
Randy Landau: bass
Jamie Donald Eblen: drums
Todd Reynolds: violin
Lisette Santiago: percussion and vocals

Credits: