Jon Troast Rocks The -- Er, My House

My Living Room; Sacramento, CA, USA; November 21, 2008

by Jason Warburg

troast_250_150.Jon Troast is up front about what you get when you book him for a house concert on his now year-long “100 Dollar Tour” -- a one-hour show in your living room for as many (or few) people as you want to invite, copies of his most recent CDs and a chance to hang out with the artist.  The side benefits are less well-advertised.  When I mention shortly after he arrives that our house is the cleanest it's been in months, his response is a wry grin and “I get that a lot.” 

The relationship between artist and audience is rarely more intimate than in a house concert setting.  I mean, it’s someone’s home, and the people there are all invited guests, and everyone mixes before and after the show, and all you’d need for a campfire singalong would be marshmallows (and a campfire -- don’t forget that).

Singer-songwriter Troast -- who cites David Wilcox, James Taylor, Jack Johnson, Bob Dylan and Keb’ Mo’ as influences -- has issued eight independent albums of contemporary folk-rock, two of which have been warmly reviewed in these pages.  When I noticed he was starting to put together a Left Coast leg of his house concert tour, I signed up quick.  I mean, a hundred bucks to sit on your own sofa five feet from an artist you really like, who’s chatting with you between songs and taking requests?  I’ve paid that much to see someone I could barely make out with binoculars while being elbowed by drunks and having $12 beer spilled on me that reeks for the entire 90-minute drive home.  Trust me, this is an upgrade.

After the load-in (guitar -- check, box of CDs -- check, laptop -- check, DONE), a little banter about life on the road and a quick look at e-mail, our guests begin to arrive.  A round of drinks later, nine of us settle into sofa and chairs for the show.

House concerts have been Troast’s bread and butter for most of the last year, during which he’s recorded and released two CDs on breaks from a schedule that sometimes has him playing 25 shows a month (he’s playing two the day I’m writing this, the morning after our show).  Still, there’s nothing rehearsed about his stage patter; he’s just a genuine guy, curious, self-effacing, quick-witted, open to the world and eager to interact.

Opening up with a couple of tunes from his excellent Second Story CD, he covers plenty of tonal ground right off the bat.  “The Most” is a sunny, rather happy-go-lucky song that contrasts sharply with “Knock Down,” a churning, somewhat funky number that manages to be both hard-nosed and introspective.  This is the core of Troast’s appeal -- he’s an honest optimist, a gifted storyteller whose fundamentally positive outlook never sugar-coats the hard realities of living a three-dimensional life.

jontroast_second_150            jontroast_aperson_150            jontroast_withtofrom_150

Setting up the next number, Troast coaxes a singalong out of our small group -- including several people who’ve just met one another -- but it’s essential for the call-and-answer chorus of “Heaven’s Got The Time,” a lilting number off his terrific 2008 disc A Person And A Heart.  This breaks the ice thoroughly, and a discussion starts up about why so many songs are about love – the consensus being, that it’s the situation that inspires the most extreme emotions, both ups and downs, and therefore sparks the creative juices.  This makes for a nice segue to “A Break-Up Song,” a classic bit of songwriting which Troast manages to make simultaneously endearing and bitter.

Next we hear a little about Troast’s life on the road, traveling around the country meeting new people (and often sleeping on their couches), as a preface to an unrecorded and as-yet-untitled song that spins this autobiographical subject matter into the stuff of Prairie Home Companion tall tales.  And while he assures us that the scenario of one of his host’s daughters developing an aggressive crush on him is fictional, he does tell a story after the show about the time he didn’t explain the song before singing it, only to have his host’s 12-year-old-daughter and her pack of girlfriends all go giggly and red-faced at once mid-song.

troast_show_150.Troast introduces “Wedding Ring,” from his newest disc With, To, From, with a wonderful story about his mother selling her wedding ring so that the family could adopt another daughter (Troast has six siblings, four of whom are adopted).  It’s a beautiful song without the intro, but knowing it’s a true story leaves us all speechless until it’s time to applaud.  “Old Way Of Thinking,” another fun tune from the new disc, follows.  Troast has been encouraging requests all along, so in the late going I finally pipe up with a couple and we are treated to “Was It Ever Really Mine,” a wise bit of musing on materialism from Second Story, and the charming, upbeat “What We Become” from A Person And A Heart

The show finishes with the one standard piece of Troast’s set -- he insists he’s never done the same show twice -- the rather mission-statement-ish (in a good way) “Somewhere Down The Road.”  You can see why, too, since it renders in concrete terms the essence of the life Troast (at far left in the photo) is living, in which he gets to do what he clearly loves doing, while he and his audience get to know one another in a fleeting, yet mutually enriching way.  The reward of music for both artist and audience is that feeling of connection and interaction, and it doesn’t get any better than this. 

This was our first time either attending or hosting a house concert, but it surely won’t be our last.  Bon voyage Jon!

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