Live Review

Goin' Local With Ian McFeron

Ian McFeron Band on December 4, 2015

Ian McFeron Band L-R: Moe Provencher, Aimee Zoe, Ian McFeron, Alisa Milner. Photo Credit: Karol Milner

I love those serendipitous moments when everything falls into place and beauty happens. Two members of Jackrabbit, Aimee Zoe and Moe Provencher, announced they were backing another local singer-songwriter, Ian McFeron at Third Place Books on Friday, December 4. I happened to be free that Friday, and the bookstore is just a few minutes from my home. The show was also free, part of Third Place Commons music events, situated in an adjacent space inside the bookstore. My brother and his wife also showed up, and looked forward to seeing McFeron again after enjoying his show on Orcas Island one summer. Turns out, we were all suburban neighbors back in the day. We went to rival high schools (although more than a decade apart), attended the same church growing up, and Ian now resides in my parents' neighborhood. We also have several mutual friends in the Seattle music scene. It's strange that we locals hadn't crossed paths before.

For over a decade, Ian McFeron has performed in Seattle, all over the U.S., and cities abroad. He received local and national attention in 2003 with his debut album, Don't Look Back. His eighth album,  Radio (2015–produced by Doug Lancio Studio G, East Nashville), is an outstanding collection of Americana and folk-pop originals. Lancio, a a grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist and producer (including John Hiatt's latest album) brought in some top-notch Nashville musicians to fill out McFeron's songs. 

McFeron has lived his musical life on the road, traveling an average of 200 days a year, and it reflects in his lyrics. His songs, which have been compared to Dylan, Petty, and Ryan Adams, paint vivid pictures of Northwest landscapes, touring, love and heartbreak, faith, hope, and the comforts of home. They are introspective, yet universal to those whose lives take them on the road for weeks and months at a time, and those who feel the joy (or trepidation) of coming home. Full of spirituality and soul, his tenor vocals ring clean and clear and are at the forefront throughout Radio.

Accompanying him on sweet harmonies is longtime girlfriend Alisa Milner, who also plays violin and other instruments on tour. They actually attended the same high school, but didn't cross paths until much later, when Ian invited her sit in on a gig. Ian speaks of their first collaboration:  

We got together for one rehearsal and everything was clicking together really quickly.  She has such a great ear for melody and chord changes that she was able to weave parts into song after song that she had never heard before.  So I invited her to sit in at a show I was playing at a pub that weekend.  I think it was one of those 4 hour sets, and we pretty much just winged it.  It was super fun and went over really well, and we've played together pretty much every show I've done ever since.  That's maybe going on 13 years and a couple thousand gigs...

For this neighborhood show, Ian brought along Aimee Zoe (drums) and Moe Provencher (bass) for a full band sound and to help on harmonies. Alisa also switched out the violin on occasion for cello, electric guitar, tambourine. Ian played acoustic guitar and a few songs on keys. 

The long, two-set night covered the songs from Radio and dug deep into McFeron's prolific catalog. They started out with "Gotta Have Faith", an upbeat, spiritual number that seemed to grab the audience's attention as they filled the seats and spilled out into the cafe and bookstore. 

A free show in a bookstore with a café can be a bit of a distraction with kids running about and people chatting in the background, but you get what you pay for (although, seeing this band for free was an absolute steal). At times, it was amusing, such as when The Littlest Groupie, a tiny toddler waddled up to the front of the stage, mesmerized by the band. The band handled it all with class, patience, and smiles.

A CD purchase of Radio included a chapbook, which contained lyrics on one page, with corresponding stories that inspired the songs on the opposite page, giving the reader a little insight into McFeron's world. Halfway through the first set, McFeron read the story that accompanied "Feelin' Good", a honky-tonk romp that got the diverse audience clapping and a couple of souls two-stepping on the side. Instead of focusing on the darkness of those winter days (and the winters of our lives), this song encourages us to enjoy those sunny days, even if they are few and far between, especially up here in the "northern lands". An excerpt from the chapbook for "Feelin' Good":

When you live in the northern lands, winter can set your mind against you...The sun makes it sad pathetic arc on the horizon, barely cresting the jagged black lines of Doug Fir trees before it goes back to bed, pulls the covers over its head and dreams of springtime. 

But every so often one glorious morning comes like a God-given gift. You open your eyes and there are these warm, yellow rays spilling through the curtains. Your pupils are distended like some cave or dungeon dweller, and as the richness of green and blue and coffee brown pour into your eys your heart can not help but leap in tongues "Hallelujah!" You realize that you have not been awake--not fully awake--in months.

Ian switched over to keys for "Uninvited", a song of hope and heartbreak. Ian explained the first melancholy piano chord of the song is similar to the sound that his ex-girlfriend's doorbell made when he finally came back to his home town after traveling the world. But he was uninvited.

"I'm Comin' Home", conveys that excitement of finally returning to the comforts of one's own home after a long journey away. According to McFeron:

Going to different places is the only way you can really come to see the place you're from. The excitement and adventure of traveling gives way to those still moments of reflection when you're back at your kitchen table, drinking your morning coffee, staring out the window. As the dust settles around you, what you see is a clearer image of the landscape you grew out of; of how this landscape has offered tokens of itself that you have absorbed into your being.

Besides being members of Jackrabbit, Aimee and Moe have their own band called MoZo, and just released a new album entitled The Neighborhood Has Changed. McFeron graciously allowed them to play a couple of their own tunes during the two-set evening. "The Countdown", Provencher's heart-warming Christmas song about growing up in a big family, captivated the large crowd, who responded with hearty claps when it came to a close. In the second set, they played the biting, folksy tune "Making Me Beg":

Ian and the band were engaging, talented, and full of the joy of music. The packed audience embraced them, and showed their love by meeting the band, purchasing their CD's after the show and filling up their tip can. The whole evening was so special, considering I wasn't planning to go out that night. I gained some new friends, and I look forward to their next show. 

Check out their websites for upcoming tour dates, listen to their music, and purchase some merch.

Support the independent artists who venture to your city and play small clubs and venues.  Support quality music.