OA: Rock Cesario Column April 03, 2009

Tom Russell at Roper Music Ballroom is a show not to be missed

I am pleased to tell you that the incredible new Roper Music Ballroom is opening tonight with an equally incredible show when Tom Russell brings his visionary songwriting back to the Grand Valley.

I have been a fan of Tom Russell for 21 years, from the first time I heard his music. There are very few artists who I can say that about.

In my opinion, every one of his recordings is excellent. I know that even though I like some more than others, I would have a hard time picking a favorite.

Russell has the ability to place you in the middle of his songs, both geographically and emotionally.

I once told Robert Earl Keen during a 2007 interview that I thought Russell was the Tony Hillerman of singer/songwriters in his ability to set a scene in your mind. It’s like few other songwriters I have ever listened to.

Keen laughed, then agreed with me. In fact, he used it later when talking about seeing Russell in New York City with his mom in the early 1990s.

In 2008, the Montreal Gazette said, “Tom Russell is the finest post-Dylan roots songwriter.”
Dave Alvin had this to say: “Tom Russell’s songs saved my life. Whenever I write a song, I ask myself if it’s as good as Tom’s.”

Back to the new Roper Music Ballroom.

When I talked to Russell for last week’s column, I told him he would like the room because it was smaller than the Avalon Theatre, where he played in 2005.

He said that he usually plays to crowds of 200-300 people who are big fans, and he prefers a small room.

“A 500-seat room is great if you can put 400 people in the place,” Russell said. “But I am in a good place now with my music and it is growing.”

The ballroom, which is in the old I.O.O.F. hall, is right above Roper Music, 136 N. Fifth St., and is accessible from the music store on Fifth Street via a large double staircase.

The room is 35 feet by 35 feet, which is smaller than some people’s living rooms. John Handley and the folks at Roper Music have spent several months working on the room and it shows.

There are 200 or more comfortable chairs in the room with none more than 30 feet from the stage, which is elevated to make it easier to see the performer.

Handley said that the sound in the room is “great,” and besides having a great ear he plays in a band and is a part-time sound engineer, so he should know.

This is going to be a great place to see some of your favorite artists’ shows for years to come.

Bruce Cockburn will play to a sold-out house on April 17 and singer/songwriter Steve Forbert is scheduled for May 1, with some more great artists from that genre on the horizon.

First though is Russell and any way you look, it is a rare opportunity to see and hear an American musical treasure in a very intimate setting for what is sure to be an unforgettable show.

Rock Cesario owns Triple Play Records, 530 Main St., and hosts “Acoustic Sunday” from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday on Drive 105.3 FM. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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