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Hometown Songs

Local songwriters sing of small town roots and universal emotions.

Story and Photo by Sue Smith Romero

Songwriters (L-R) Matt Klausner, Abby Drumm, Nora Revenaugh, J. Schnitt, Colin Jewett, and Ryan Miller.

A young woman in a sweeping plaid skirt walks out on stage. She perches on a stool and holds a guitar but doesn’t strum. Instead, she beats it like a drum. In an ethereal voice, she sings about her return from city life to her small hometown.

Nora Revenaugh opened the show and organized it. She's the new live music coordinator at the Kirkland Art Center. The Local Songwriters Showcase tonight kicks off her first project, Second Saturdays. The vibe reminds me of NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts.

There's a long story behind her opening song. Over the course of 15 years, she lived in Boston, Limerick (Ireland), Pittsburgh, and New York City. This year, she moved back to Clinton, NY, her hometown. She learned a lot during those years away. On one hand, she picked up ideas and experiences from the cities she lived in. On the other, she came to see the joys of Upstate living.

She said it would be hard to hear a show like the one we heard tonight in New York City. Sure, there are plenty of excellent musicians. But high venue costs mean amateur and emerging acts are often restricted to out of the way venues and late-night time slots. This makes going out to hear them rare pleasures for people who need to be up early the next day for work.

Revenaugh said she thinks smaller metros like Utica-Rome are better for musicians and audience members. She explained that musicians need plenty of performance time in front of audiences to hone their style. This is hard to come by in a city like New York crowded with professional performers.

“That’s why I’m really loving CNY as a place to level up as a musician,” she said. “I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be as a singer, songwriter, or fiddle player. But I’m getting better much more quickly than I did in NYC because I have so many opportunities to perform.” And she’s looking forward to creating more opportunities for other local musicians as well.

Revenaugh belongs to a band called The Boom Chickens. She formed it in May 2019 with her friends Abby Drumm and Matt Klausner. They had returned to the area from Minneapolis a few years earlier. At tonight's concert, The Boom Chickens performed “The Someday House.” Revenaugh wrote this one about her search for a way to move back Upstate. She and her husband Mike Revenaugh now live in their “someday house” a few doors down the street from the KAC.

The Boom Chickens sing "Shovelin'" an original song about Upstate NY weather by Nora Revenaugh.

Ryan Miller performed a set of songs from his new album, Postcards, Poetry, and Prose. It taps into local life, mentioning familiar places like Utica’s Varick Street. But his songs reach beyond our borders to touch emotions in all humanity. Love, loss, longing, and laughter.

Colin Jewett, a member of Wild Wool, played acoustic guitar and sang a heartfelt song about his brother. And J. Schnitt sang his original “Conspiracy Theory Blues.”

Revenaugh finished the show with her own song “Upstate Lullaby.” All the songwriters joined her on stage to sing the verses. Each one told the story of someone in a different metro missing Upstate NY. The chorus captured her feeling of homecoming. And if tonight's songs were any indiction, it's a feeling lots of us share.

Goodnight, goodnight to Upstate New York

Goodnight to my little hometown

When I lay my head in my old twin bed

this whole spinnin’ world settles down.

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