By Eileen Majors
A dark, snowy night in the small town I come from usually beckons one to stay inside by the fire, primarily to keep the house warm. But coming from the same small town as I is singer/songwriter Mark Growden, and this snowy night would bring a private performance in his parents’ home nearby.
Having heard some of his music via CD, I couldn’t resist the trip out. Since leaving Westwood over a decade and a half ago Growden has been playing across the country, gathering fans from coast to coast. A jazz band in New Orleans backs up much of his original music, and as for Tuscon, he told me “a good old-fashioned string band backs me up”. The music recorded in New Orleans definitely takes on the jazz influence, and according to Growden this New Orleans group is one of his main inspirations these days.
He plays in theaters mostly but said he really enjoys the smaller venues, as would be the case tonight. The fire roared; the dog snored as friends began to gather. A group of junior high students filed in to see the show they had found posted on Facebook®. Desserts lined the table and all were welcome.
As guests gathered, Mark Growden tuned up with his new phone app and then began to play his first tune, on a pair of bicycle handlebars! The flute sounds were an intriguing and amusing introduction to an evening of really good music. Every song came with a story and the art of story telling is certainly part of the Growden charm.
Out came a shruti box and with it a story before what he called an Appalachian chording song. Growden enjoys playing the banjo, sax and accordion too, he told me as I noticed his Westwood band teacher seated in the front row. “I started with the sax.” He pointed to Mr. Hamilton. “He taught me everything”. He said he had been lucky enough to land a record deal a few years ago, which really began to cinch up his career, and it gave him the confidence of knowing he had someone behind him.
As excitement in the crowd rises, Mark grabs his accordion, the instrument that captured my attention, revealing Mark’s outstanding talent to me, a few years back. This would be a new song tonight, one he wrote about an aging woman who is ready to pass, inspired by his grandmother. Each song shows the strength and diversity of his voice, displaying a passion for music, and a wonderful talent as a songwriter. Each song really grabbed me as if I had heard it before and had been longing to hear it again.
Song after song, the young photographer next to me, along with the young and old who had ventured out through the snow, smiled and swayed; dancing in our seats to the unique variety of great music we heard that evening.
Growden has upcoming performances in San Francisco and Berkeley, and plays in Chico and his hometown region when he can. For his concert schedule, visit MarkGrowden.org.