The Music Hall presents "Intimately Yours" concert

By Josh Sullivan
On April 4, 2014

  • For how much money this university brings in, I doubt the cost of a surveillance system would make even the slightest dent in their funds. We need cameras in our parking lots. Every week you notice in the paper that the police have busted kids in one of the parking lots. People have been sexually assaulted. Cars have been vandalized. Cars were STOLEN two years ago. Did they ever find out who stole these cars? Of course not. And just the other day, a number of tires were slashed in the Gables parking lot for no reason. People may not be watching these video cameras all of the time, but in case it was needed, it would be comforting to know that they were there. And I believe it would stop a lot of kids from preventing these crimes, just to know there were cameras watching them. Kate #comment 2

Stephen Kellogg and Josh Ritter may not be household names in America right now and, in all honesty, they might never be for the rest of their musical careers. But that doesn't make their music any less incredible and Kellogg, for one, is perfectly fine with flying below the radar. 

"I kind of stopped letting the crowd's reaction control my show, I'm just going to play what I want to play," Kellogg said in an interview. "I don't want to give anyone else that much power over my happiness."

The two artists, who have known each other since 2000 when they met at a Folk Alliance Conference, held an "Intimately Yours" concert at The Music Hall in Portsmouth this past Friday in front of a packed house with the bare minimum of stage accompanists. Kellogg took the stage with just an acoustic guitar, harmonica and himself. Ritter was joined by bassist and organist Zack Hickman who, in addition to supplying a few stellar solos, sported a killer mustache to boot. 

The show began with Kellogg and his guitar. His songs were powerful and emotional, and though there was a love ballad thrown into the performance, the audience could tell that the man really loves his rock and roll. He credited Bob Seger, Jackson Brown and The Eagles as musical influences. His lyrics are meaningful and his passion is unmistakable. There was not a single person in the audience who didn't seem captivated by his music. 

"I walked out on that stage tonight and it felt like I was just falling onto a cushy bed," Ritter said. "It was just a relief to finally be home and I didn't have to work at all tonight. It's a great feeling when the audience lets you in and you just get to let it go."

If you think you might have heard of Kellogg before, that's because he's a local artist. The musician grew up in Northampton, Mass., the home of the Iron Horse Music Hall, where Kellogg says he worked the only 'real' job he ever had. He's a UMass Amherst alumnus and played a show at the Whittemore Center with the band O.A.R about eight years ago. 

His music also screams volumes to the college generation of students who have to deal with facing their future, overcoming struggles and finding their identity, among other things. In his four and a half minute rock and roll confession, "4th of July," he traces a person's life through all the struggles they go through, singing the words, "Added up the fears and the doubts I've been living with/Songs of lightening bugs, school, work, and all that s---." Kellogg closed out his set by playing "Thanksgiving," a song in which he spills the discoveries a person makes about family and himself, losing himself and getting back on track. The song ends with a proposal, "Can you imagine? /What if the world could stand still for even a day? /If there was no crime, no rape and no killing/Addictions suspended, no cutting or drilling."

When Ritter took the stage, the ambiance that Kellogg had left when he stepped off the stage was the perfect setting for an intimate performance. Ritter made sure that his music, as well his banter in between songs was personal, even if sometimes it seemed a little bit far-fetched.

"I flew here today on a plane with propellers," Ritter said after his first song. "The whole thing was the size of a motorcycle and the pilots looked like they belonged in seventh grade. It's moments like that you look around at the people on the plane and think to yourself 'alright, these are the people that I'm going to die with.'"

In between his humorous stories, Ritter played music and played well. His impeccable guitar playing either set the backdrop for his poetic lyrics, or took the lead role, impressing the crowd with melodic fingerpicking that made for some impressive solos. Hickman didn't remain in the shadows, either, alternating his talents between the bass, organ and acoustic guitar and contributing several solos of his own. 

National Public Radio has credited Ritter as being one of the most thoughtful singer/songwriters around. Ritter, who credits Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash as some of his musical influences, sang about a variety of topics; like Kellogg, he easily relates to the college-aged listeners. His songs showcase the feelings of falling in love but, even more so than that, falling out of love. "If you gotta cry, cry softly," Ritter swooned, which was later accompanied by, "I'd be lying if I said you being sad didn't make me happy, too." He also didn't hesitate to interact with the audience as if they were no more than six or seven friends hanging around a fire. He would stop mid-song, dropping to his knees and howling like a wolf in the middle of a song, or have the crowd harmonize in different pitches according to their sections. The man never held back a smile or kept himself from laughing along.

"These guys need to be bigger than they are," one fan said after the show was over. And it's true: the two artists surely have more talent than, say, One Direction or whoever came up with the nonsense that is "Let Me Take a Selfie." But to these performers, making music has become more than just making it big. 

"It's kind of become just a really cool way to pay my bills and feed my family," Kellogg said. "And I realized that there's so much good music out there that someone will put on an old record and you'll listen to it and you're just like 'this is obscure!'"

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