Samantha and The Ritual | 1.09.04 | Tongue & Groove | San Francisco, CA

Who is the last female singer and songwriter to come out of San Francisco and attract fans from the jam music scene and pop audience alike? If you can't think of any such artist off the top of your head, then you're not alone. But at San Francisco's Tongue & Groove on Saturday night, January 9th, it was very clear there's a new star rising in the local music community. Samantha and The Ritual are emerging into the spotlight, and they are for real—-each musician in the band talented in their own right.

Samantha Stollenwerck & Jordan Feinstein
Mission Dolores Church: 1.31.04
Headlining a three-band bill, Samantha emerged on stage in a white blouse and a guitar strapped around her neck, looking as good as she would sound. After toasting the crowd and with a shot of tequila, she opened the set with a solo acoustic song that she'd written just the night before, in Italian and French! When the band next kicked into electric gear with "Miss the Sunset," it was immediately clear that the combination of keyboardist Jordan Feinstein and percussion player Chad Zammuto of The Ritual, bassist Steve Adams of ALO, and drummer Andrew Griffin, were a major musical force. Listening to the powerful and soulful voice of Samantha deliver the lyrics of "Frank Sinatra," it was clear that her music deserved nothing less.

Won't you smile like you do,
When you listen to Frank Sinatra,
Sing "For Once in My Life" with Stevie Wonder,
And the sun is going down,
Behind the top of the hill
You know I love that time of day

Samantha continued by leading the band into "Aesop's Fables," and then dedicated the next song—-the quintessential Samantha anthem, "Icicles"—-to her number one fan, nicknamed "Bacchus." As has become tradition at Samantha shows, the crowd sang along in unison:

Icicles on my feet don't tell me
Life is not what it seems
Can you wake me from this dream before the sun comes through my window

The Tongue and Groove was, indeed, grooving, packed with a diverse audience that spanned in appearance from crunchy to corporate. When learning of Samantha's many accomplishments, which include guest appearances with Vinyl on songs such as "Red Hot Mama," a 2003 duet with Huey Lewis at a packed Great American Music Hall, and lead vocals on a single that included, among others, P-Funk's Bernie Worrell, the size of the crowd becomes less surprising. Listening to the lyrics of "Icicles," the qualities that make Samantha such a special talent—-a hard-working, focused, yet sensitive and thankful attitude that reflects an appreciation of the little things in life—-become strikingly clear.

I'm movin' so slow throughout my life
Smellin' the roses that grow down by the tide

With a compelling stage presence that reflects her band leadership, she demonstrates an ability to turn setbacks into downright good music:

I'm waitin' for something to soothe my soul
When the music hits, I know where to go.

I think it was during the following song, "Fish Out of Water," that as I stood waiting for my turn in the rest room, the pair who I was waiting on raved, "She's really something, huh? Definitely gonna make it big." When I returned to the front of the dance floor, a woman turned to me excitedly, "Ohmigod, she is going to be FAMOUS! And her band is soooo amazing! Especially the keyboard player. You can just tell!"

Jordan Feinstein
As it turns out, she knew what she was talking about. Keyboardist Jordan Feinstein has sat in with the likes of Tea Leaf Green and ALO, and took part in a surprise 2003 Boom Boom Room jam in which Karl Denson joined Leo Nocentelli of the original Meters. His band, The Ritual, packs shows consistently, with a style that can be best characterized as funktronica, but that's more soulful and spans a wider musical spectrum than funk or electronica alone. The Ritual has been rising within the San Francisco music scene through its leading role in the late-nite Studio 352 jams, in which musicians from Tea Leaf Green, ALO, Netwerk: Electric, Boomshanka, The Charlie Hunter Quintet, and Cyril Neville's band have sat in. Feinstein spent high school learning from his piano teacher Rob Barroco of Phil Lesh & Friends and The Dead, and the two continue to foster a special musical relationship. Feinstein is not only an outstanding keyboardist, but is also helping to produce Samantha's new album, to be released later this year by In the Pocket Records. Listening to the band's rhythm section, it is clear that Adams, Zammuto, and Griffin, likewise, are also special musicians. It comes as no surprise that Zammuto's roots include a stint with Sector 9, The Wailers, and, more recently, with Woman.

Samantha followed with "Two Days," "Anything for That," and "Diamonds," the story of a young woman working towards stardom. Listening to her sing, it is clear that her lyrics are not only catchy and moving, but also ring true of the singer:

She's a diamond in a mountain of pearls
There's so many good friends in the world
She's a diamond in a mountain of pearls
And I won't forget you

Closing the show with Aretha Franklin's "Baby I Love You" and the original tune "Happily Married Man," Samantha and The Ritual made it clear that they are an act not to miss. The band is set to tour throughout Utah and Colorado in early February, opening for Vinyl. And remember—-if you like Samantha, don't forget to keep an eye out for The Ritual. Not only do they play a mesmerizing show on their own, and you just never know when Samantha might jump on stage and help bring the room to a hopping frenzy. A week later at yet another late-night Studio 352 party that's exactly what happened.

Words and Images by: Jon Gelbard
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 1/31/04]

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