The evening started with Caleb Travers sneaking on stage and easing into his first tune before I realized he was there. Travers is a St. Louis native guitar picker and singer-songwriter that mines tunes from the same vein of love, loss and traveling as artists like Fred Eaglesmith or John Denver. He was joined on stage by Ross Christopher, whose harmonies soared and violin added a tasteful touch to the songs instead of feeling tacked on.
A few songs into his set, Travers mentioned that it was good to play a short opening set for "people who give a shit." I can't speak for the rest of the crowd, but I'm pretty sure that part of it was his own energy coming back at him. It was apparent that Travers and Christopher have worked together for a while, as they were choosing what to play on the fly. Along with tunes from Travers' most recent album they performed a cover of the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love" that would surely get the stamp of approval from Phil and Don themselves.
Dar Williams hit the stage just after 9 p.m. and put on a performance that was part folk song, part conversation and all entertaining. Williams spent just as much time talking to the crowd as she did playing her music, relaying stories of her past, encouraging us to plant gardens with our neighbors and reminding us of the small things that define particular moments of our own pasts. Her banter was very engaging and brought more meaning to the songs she performed, much like other singing storytellers John Hammond, Jr. and Mary Gauthier.
A large portion of the songs she played were from her new album "In the Time of Gods," but despite their newness they were all familiar and comforting, like a favorite pair of slippers. Williams' voice was robust and fantastic. She used those skills to her advantage, most notably on her tune "Summer Child," in which she playfully wandered across the breadth of her vocal range without getting lost or misplaced. She ended the set with an encore performance of fan-requested "The Babysitter's Here," which brought more than one tear to the eyes of the audience.
I spent my drive home trying to think of someone to compare her to, and the only person I could think of was Dar Williams herself. She's spent the last 20 years traveling the world telling her stories -- and fortunately for us, she has managed not to lose herself or her love of what she does.