The talented Liz Longley

liz-longley

Liz Longley: Five CDs and still in her 20s.

I’d circled Nov. 29 on my calendar several weeks ago, waiting patiently for the return of singer-songwriter Liz Longley to perform live in Portland.

The date finally arrived and I was delighted to be part of a small but appreciative crowd that showed up at the Alberta Rose Theater for a Tuesday night concert. (Lori doesn’t attend midweek concerts owing to her early-bird hours as a personal trainer.)

Liz is most likely under the radar for most people. But no matter. I think she’s equally talented as a lyricist and a performer, toggling back and forth between acoustic guitar and piano and singing with delicacy or verve, depending on the song.

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Liz Longley performs Nov. 29, 2016, at the Alberta Rose Theater in Portland, Oregon.

My longtime friend, Mike Granberry, is the one who first told me about Liz. He’s a music critic for The Dallas Morning News and sees plenty of acts come through that city.

I checked her out at a May 2015 show at Mississippi Studios and was suitably impressed. She was touring then in support of her self-titled CD, her first since relocating from Philadelphia to Nashville.

This is the first track from that album:

Last night Liz played several songs from her newest album, “Weightless” and made sure to perform a few older favorites, including “Camaro” and “Bad Habit” — both songs about ex-boyfriends — and “Unraveling,” a ballad about her grandmother’s battle with dementia.

She was joined on stage by Brian Dunne, a classmate from the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, who performed a solo set and then came back for a few songs with Liz.

***

Tuesday was my first time at the Alberta Rose Theater, a renovated movie theater in Northeast Portland known for presenting live music, comedy and vaudeville. It’s an intimate space with general admission seating and a bar serving beer, wine and snacks.

I was four rows from the stage, maybe 30 to 40 feet away, so I had a great view. After the hour-long concert, Liz came out to the foyer to meet with fans, pose for photos, and sell her merchandise. She’s released five CDs and she’s still in her 20s.

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A selfie after the show with Liz.

As I approached after a short wait, Liz stopped me in my tracks and said, “Wait, I know you.”

“You have a great memory” I said. “I’m Granberry’s friend. I saw you at Mississippi Studios.”

“Oh, yeahhh!” she said with a smile. “I remember that show.”

***

Liz performed in Dallas in October and, according to my friend Mike, put on a great show. You can read his review right here.

An excerpt: “Bad Habit” chronicles her failed relationship with a chain smoker: “The night we first kissed/on the balcony alone/Well, he tasted like trouble/But he felt like my own bad habit.”

Tuesday night was the first date on Liz’s West Coast leg of her national “Weightless” tour, which began in mid-September. She performs tonight in Seattle and finishes up in southern California on Dec. 10.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next visit to Portland.With any luck, it’ll be a weekend show and Lori can join me. And maybe by then, Liz Longley will be a better known name.

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Discovering Dummy Hoy

The world can be an ugly place. In the face of mass killings and terror attacks, racism and discrimination, it can be discouraging — if not downright depressing — to see how we treat each other on this planet.

That’s why I was delighted recently to step away from the mayhem and learn about a late-19th Century baseball player who overcame a disability and discrimination and went on to make a lasting contribution to the game.

My history lesson came in the form of “The William Hoy Story,” a children’s book published earlier this year to much acclaim.

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It’s written by Nancy Churnin, the wife of my longtime friend, Michael Granberry. Both are Texas journalists — she’s the theater critic at The Dallas Morning News, he’s an arts writer at the same place — and both are big-time baseball fans.

I’ve known Mike since we were summer interns at The Washington Post during our college days. I met Nancy when I visited the couple in the fall of 2014 and took an instant liking to her (even though she’s a Yankees fan).

Nancy sent me an autographed copy of the book and I set it aside to read last Saturday.  I’m a lifelong baseball fan and pretty knowledgeable about the game’s history, but I had never heard of William Hoy. Thanks to Nancy’s research and writing, distilled into 27 pages of text and illustrations, I now know about another of the game’s pioneers.

William Ellsworth Hoy was born in 1862 on a farm in Ohio. As a 3-year-old, he contracted meningitis and lost his hearing and speech. He graduated from the Ohio School for the Deaf and worked as a cobbler, but also played baseball and signed his first professional contract with a minor league team in 1886.

He broke into the major leagues two years later and set a National League record for stolen bases his rookie season. At 5’5″ and 148 pounds, he played as an outfielder for seven teams, including the Cincinnati Reds, during a career spanning 14 years.

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Author Nancy Churnin.

Back in his day, “Dummy” was a common name for people who were deaf and mute, according to the book. William was proud of being deaf and so referred to himself as Dummy. (Thank goodness, we’re beyond that.)

Hoy’s legacy: Working with umpires to introduce hand signals so that spectators, as well as players and coaches, could see as pitches were called balls or strikes and runners were declared safe or out.

We take those signs for granted. But it’s inspiring to realize they came about because of a little-known player who endured teasing because he couldn’t hear the umpires’ calls.

Dummy Hoy died in 1961 at age 99. Thanks to Nancy and Jez Tuya, her artist collaborator, I now know more about an important sports figure — and I hope schools and libraries across the country will add this little gem of a book to their shelves.

***

In a review for The New York Times, Maria Russo praised the “delightful and illuminating biography,” saying of Nancy Churnin: “She tells William’s story patiently and clearly, with a wonderfully matter-of-fact tone about the ways a deaf person navigates life. She strikes just the right balance between reporting the hardships and discrimination he faced an owner who tried to underpay him, fellow players who laughed at and tricked him and emphasizing the personal grit that allowed him to persevere and overcome daunting obstacles.”

Read the review here.

Photograph: nancychurnin.com

 

Discovering Liz Longley

Liz Longley at Mississippi Studios.

Liz Longley at Mississippi Studios.

While the rest of the city was captivated by a rare presidential visit, I was hanging out last night at Mississippi Studios, taking in my first-ever concert at that venue.

Yes, I was WAY overdue but the wait was worth it. Got to see a talented young singer-songwriter named Liz Longley, who came highly recommended by my friend Mike Granberry, a music critic at The Dallas Morning News.

“You’re going to love her,” he wrote to me. “She’s going to be a star.”

Well, Mike was right.

Liz Longley performing

Liz Longley performing “Memphis.”

Liz Longley is the real deal. Such a lovely voice, reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan, and possessed of a relaxed stage presence. She played an hour-long set, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar and piano. Except for a jazzy cover of Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” everything else was an original composition.

So, while supporters of Barack Obama paid $500 and up to attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser with the president, I plunked down my $15 some time ago for an advance ticket for last night’s concert.

It was money well spent. When you see a performer like Liz, there’s nothing better than an intimate space like Mississippi Studios. By my estimate, there was room for about 150 people on the main floor and balcony, and I figure there were 100 people at most Thursday night. That didn’t detract a bit from the experience.

Two anecdotes tell you what kind of place it is.

— The warmup performer, Anthony D’Amato, was about to launch into his second song, a tribute to Woody Guthrie, when he paused and said, “Hey, what happened to the harmonica brace that was out here?”

He began the song anyway and a sound man went backstage, emerging moments later with the missing equipment. D’Amato picked up the piece, attached his harmonica and went on with the song.

liz longley - miss studios— During one song deep into the set, as she was performing at the piano, Liz drew a blank on the lyrics. It was hardly a catastrophe. More like a light moment that revealed the occasional hiccup in a performance — and which the audience totally rolled with. She’d built a nice connection by then, with self-deprecating humor and references to Obama and Voodoo Doughnuts.

The acoustics were great and I had a great view, just five rows from the stage. You can read more about Liz’s background in this piece below, but the short version is that she grew up near Philly, attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, toured for a few years after graduation, and found her way to Nashville, where she collaborated with top-notch studio musicians on her recently released third CD, titled “Liz Longley.”

After her last song, Liz dashed right by me to the back of the room, where she and D’Amato stationed themselves at a table with their CDs, T-shirts and other merchandise. I introduced myself, passed along greetings from Granberry (“Tell Mike I said, ‘Hi,'” she said.), bought the new CD and asked for a photo.

My longtime friend was right. At 27, Liz Longley is destined for success. So glad I got to see her in such a great setting.

Bonus: The pre-concert meal was great. Heard to beat a bacon cheeseburger with a pint of Bridgeport Pale Ale, served in the outside patio.

Read more: “Longtime Chesco friends cut records in Nashville”