On Saturday, March 8th Lakewood Civic Auditorium was the site of a phenomenal show of musicianship. The high school auditorium was transformed into an elite concert hall by the performance of Amos Lee and his opening act, Chris Kasper. Perhaps the funneling of eager fans into the auditorium at the front of Lakewood High School was a fitting environment for the artist, who was once a teacher himself. But the night of music revealed that the form of education he currently is delivering is far from textbooks and chalkboards.
The night began with opener Chris Kasper and his supporting cast of two characters. The trio on stage took the stand-up bass, guitar and violin and delivered a melodic performance that hinted at something surreal. The use of heavy red and blue lighting and a voice-modifying microphone on some songs contributed to the ethereal feel to the performance. Their intense musical mastership gave preview to what the rest of the night would bring.
His band preceded Amos Lee on stage; bathed in blue light and a distinct sound that revealed nothing of an ordinary introductory segue to the arrival of a star. When Amos Lee emerged, spotlighted in white and with a fervent feel in his eyes, the crowd erupted. What followed was a night filled with incredible musicianship, laughter, familiarity and fun.
Amos Lee presented the full range of his musical talent and stretched the audience to come on the journey with him. Accompanied by a stage presence that felt so comfortable and hinted of a possible career as a stand-up comedian, the audience spent the night in playful banter with the stage as would normally be found in a small intimate lounge or bar, not a mid-sized concert hall. Requests floated in throughout the night. Individual voices responded to his stories. And “I love you” echoed over and over, in response to the anecdote he shared early in the night about precisely those words being shot at him on so many stages.
He took the audience on a journey that spanned his ten-year career with old favorites from his debut album such as “Black River” to highlights from his latest release, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, such as “Tricksters, Hucksters, and Scamps.” The styles and influences that fuel his musical expression revealed themselves as he delivered soulful numbers, mixed with rock, funk, bluegrass, blues, and old time spirituals. The musicians that surrounded him mirrored his diversity as they not only followed each twist and turn with talent and passion, but many times switching instruments or contributing powerful vocals of their own accord.
And as the stage changed with the turning of the sound, the sole spotlight highlighted Amos Lee solo on the guitar only to be turned into a full light show with projections filling the hall and the audience. But no matter what surrounded him—in lights, production or sound—the pure and powerful voice that defines Amos Lee shone through as the star of the show. The silky smooth tone was the center of the entire night and everything wrapped around it, waning and waxing like the tide powered by the full moon.
The night was truly magical, and revealed the truth of what Amos Lee had shared about a conversation he recently had with Tavis Smiley—his music is not about a hit song or two. “My crowd wants to come and hear a bunch of different stuff, “ Lee expressed, and that is exactly what he delivered. And through it all the depth and sincerity of his music and lyrics took the crowd in the Lakewood Civic Auditorium on a musical adventure they will not likely forget. How could they with 1-1/2 hours of straight music that embraced everything from a bluegrass-tinged cover of “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, to the story of and soulful song he wrote for a ailing young man named Adam he visited in Kent the last time he was there, to a sexy smooth R&B jam that seemed to channel the spirits of Barry White and R Kelly; not to mention pretty much everything imaginable in between? Northeast Ohio will undoubtedly be looking forward to the next time Amos Lee brings his bag of musical abandon back to the Lake Erie Shore.