"I'll fix it so you get cheap drinks," the woman at the bar said. "What band are you with?"
Before I could stop myself, I was saying, "William Elliott Whitmore."
"Oh, of course," the woman said. She sold us our drinks at five bucks apiece was gone, disappeared into the back room.
"What just happened?" I turned to Omar.
"Ticketed people get cheaper drinks, I think," he said, sipping his Jack and coke.
"I don't think that's right," I said. I turned and looked at the poster of punk rock, bluegrass artist William Elliott Whitmore. "I think she thinks I'm in the band with him. Because I sound like an American."
"Oh," Omar said. "You might be right."
The woman emerged from the back room and handed me the owner of the Annandale's card, "Show this at the bar and all your drinks will be at the special price," and she was gone again.
"No, this isn't right," I said.
"You're probably right."
We waited for the woman to return and when she did I said, "Excuse me, I think there's been some mistake. We're not with William Elliott Whitmore, we're just here to see him."
"Oh, oh my goodness," she said, taking the card back as I handed it to her.
"It's just, I'm Canadian, so," I started.
"See, this is me being racist," she laughed. "Thanks for being honest."
"It's all right," I said. "It would've eaten at me all night. And you would suspected something when I didn't go up on stage tonight."
"I'd have found you and hurt you," she smiled.
The night promised many excellent things. The drinks, the excited buzz of the crowd, this was going to be good. So it was such a disappointment when, at 8:30, Nick van Breer went up first and was terrible. He awkwardly introduced himself and his song and began playing. The way he sang sounded like two things. One, as if he'd never been near a microphone before and two, as if it were still breaking at the age of 25. The writing of said songs was as if he wrote them at the age of fourteen and had never bothered to rework them. Over the din of the crowd that was ignoring him sailed the words, "she walked away" and "we can take on the world/like we always wanted to".
Sufficed to say, Omar and I were done with him, too.
Even when he brought up banjoist Dave and they dueled on banjos for a while, it was unimpressive and dry. The banjos were too quiet and the vocals too boring.
When his set finished at 9:15, we were not confident about the second opener.
"Let him be up and done," I said. "Bring on William!"
"Who knows," Omar said, finishing his Jack. "He could be really good."
And through my doubt blared a sound. The sound of passion striking a guitar with force and a blazing harmonica solo. A tall man, thin and bearded, was Lincoln le Fevre. He wore a sailor-style cap and beat on that guitar, brow-beating the audience into silent admiration. Then, after a blissful moment of passionate playing, he sang the song a Capella, right into our hearts.
"We're so bored, we're so bored of this," was his passionate cry.
And the audience sang it back.
The man knew what he was doing. This was what confidence looked like.
With power in his belly and fire in his heart, he sang to us stories of lost loves and drinking and home. Everything he said resonated. His meter and words were outstanding.
"All right," Lincoln said. "Here's the point in the show where I try to break your hearts."
"What have you been doing up until now, buddy?" Omar said next to me, his face a mask of awe, like mine.
"I haven't played this one live before," Lincoln said. "So it could be shit. Or not. Cool story, Lincoln, shut up."
People were listening to what this man said and for a reason.
When he finally finished up, Omar rushed like a speeding car out to the merch table and bought us each a copy of his CD Resonation. I recommend it.
"I met him at the bar," Omar said when he got back. "He's really nice."
"Hey," a voice from the stage said, "How's everybody doin'?"
After only a few minutes of wait and setting up his gear himself, there he was - Mr. William Elliott Whitmore.
"Can I start early?" he seemed to be asking us. "Or should I just go ahead backstage and get stoned?"
The bar staff seemed to say that he could start whenever he wanted.
"Well, all right then," he drank from his beer. "Let's do this then."
Then began a wonderful hour and ten minutes of musical joy. His songs were either played on guitar, banjo or just a Capella. He had a bass drum with which to add beat and force when needed.
He played with mirth and hunger and violence and passion. It was magical.
"I don't really like to do a set list," he said after the first three songs. "So just shout out what you wanna hear. I'm happy to oblige."
Although my cries of "I'm Diggin' my Grave" went unanswered, the set list was amazing, including "Hell or High Water" and "Old Devils".
"Getting arrested is one of the worst things ever," he said at one point. "As soon as those cuffs go on, it's the worst feeling. You feel like an animal. And they make an inventory of all the stuff you had on you at the time. One beer bottle, one dirty handkerchief, one empty chip packet in pocket. Why did they write that one down? Why did I even have it?" he drinks from his beer. "I told them it was for sentimental reasons. Anyway, this song's called Johnny Law."
He kept playing and we kept begging for more.
At one point, the man was handed a shot from the bar. Someone had bought him a drink.
"Why thank you," he said. "What's your name?"
"Well Josh, I'll pay you back," he said. And he meant it. "I'll sip this like a gentleman."
He shot the shot back.
"I'm so happy to be here," he said. "This is feeling so good. So close. I'm just happy to be anywhere. To be alive. Thank you all so much for coming out. Really, from the bottom of my heart, thank you."
The experience was beautiful as his songs washed over us. At the end, Omar and I went up and shook his hand. He was so genuinely pleasant and affable that it only added to how wonderful it all was.
I stopped by the merch table and said thank you to Lincoln.
Our buses had run out so Omar and I walked to Central station and then took the train home. It was one a.m. when we got to bed and we'd be tired for work tomorrow. But we didn't care at all.