The Rock Boat tour :: 09.25.04 :: Earthlink Live :: Atlanta, GA

The Rock Boat washed ashore and dropped anchor in landlocked Atlanta for one night. With over ten of the artists of The Rock Boat performing at two venues housed in one building, it was sure to be a memorable evening, serving as a warm-up for the cruise that would follow in two weeks. The event was held at Earth Link Live, home to an intimate theater as well to the smaller club Vinyl. Formerly known as the Center Stage, and unoccupied for several years, the venue now sports a new sound system in both the theater and in the club. And now it seems the booking is starting to get stronger as well. Tonight's event, featuring such touring stalwarts as Sister Hazel and Pat McGee Band in the theater and up-and-comers Marc Broussard and Blue Merle in the club, surely raised the profile of the venue.

The evening began in Vinyl with several solo acoustic performances. Matt Wertz started off with Justin Rosilino at his side on harmony guitar. There was something immediately familiar about the voice of this young songwriter's breathy, spirited alto vocals. Several songs in it become clear: his writing is catchier than John Mayer, though less quirky than Jason Mraz. By the end of his set, attended sparsely by roughly 30 people--most of who were women--it was obvious he has a bright future.

Emerson Hart
Local crooner Chuck Carrier was next in the club, and his set was well attended as he's a previous Rock Boat veteran and a local favorite. His songs are more emotional and heart wrenching than Wertz's, but no less catchy and melodious. "Moonflower Girl" in particular had the women cooing.

Emerson Hart, lead singer of the rock band Tonic, performed a solo set in Vinyl as well. His set was a roller coaster ride through songs he's been writing since moving from L.A. to Nashville mixed in with older Tonic hits. With his band out of the spotlight over the last several years, even such hits as "Open Up Your Eyes" and "If You Could Only See" barely seemed to register a reaction with the talkative crowd. He introduced a new song he had yet to perform by noting it was about his father, a lobster fisherman on the New Jersey shore who passed when he was a ten-year-old boy. "I guess we had a lot of unfinished business," he confessed. The beautiful, emotional ballad "Cigarettes And Gasoline" found the troubadour "trolling the ocean floor/for my father" and was sadly lost on the oblivious crowd. Lastly, noting his pending solo recording, he added that The Rock Boat would be an important show for Tonic.

Pat McGee Band
The Pat McGee Band was the second of three acts in the 1000-seat theater, and the crowd had by now arrived. The band delivered a high-energy set consisting of several songs from their most recent CD as well as several well-received older songs. The lovely ballad "You And I" had the crowd cheering along and raising its collective hands in the air on the harmonic chorus. Three members of the band left the stage, leaving just Pat on acoustic guitar, Brian Fechino on electric and Chardy McEwen on percussion for a stark intro to an older song, "Haven't Seen For A While," which closed elegantly with the full band regrouping onstage for the final chorus. The band finished its set with one of its most popular songs, "Rebecca," once again getting fists high in the air for the sing-along chorus.

Nashville's Blue Merle had the unfortunate schedule conflict of performing in the club opposite of headliners Sister Hazel in the theater. As such, their set was disappointingly sparsely attended. Still, this young Americana band was up to the task, performing a high-energy set of songs form their yet to be released major label debut for Island Records. Take it from this critic who's heard an advance of the recording, Blue Merle is a band to watch out for in 2005.

Marc Brousard
Over in the theater, Sister Hazel did perform a rousing set that surely got the crowd pumped. Classic hits such as "Happy" and "All for You" got the fans' hands in the air. With over ten years of touring experience as a band, Sister Hazel used the intimate venue, now jam-packed, to their advantage, getting the crowd to sing along even to several of its newer songs. Introducing "Let Me," singer Ken Block goaded the crowd on, asking "Are you ready to get funky with us?" Indeed, the song had a Prince flare to it. On "Hopeless" and others, electric guitarist Ryan Newell got his chance to solo, one of several moments of indulgent improvisation that left the mostly female crowd screaming for more.

As the crowd began to filter out of the theater, a deep funk began to play over the system of the club, drawing many fans in just out of curiosity. Blue-eyed soul singer Marc Broussard had taken the stage at the club. A soulful cover of Gladys Night and the Pips' "Who Is She And What Is She To You" slid seamlessly into his own material. "In The Groove" was a funky unreleased song that got the crowd swaying. Capitalizing on the packed club crowd that had gathered, Broussard kept the energy level high, and bounced right into his catchy dance cut "Rock Steady." He broke it down at the closing of the elegant and soulful "Gotta Be More," getting jazzy with a scat and then teasing Jay Z's "99 Problems" to reflect his varied influences. Joining Broussard on electric guitar was Gibb Droll, himself no stranger to fans of this site. While Droll never stepped on Broussard's toes, he did add a harder, blues-rock edge to his sound. Broussard kept the crowd enraptured throughout the rest of the night. If you haven't yet had a chance to check him out, take the chance now before he's in the arenas.

Cliff Clifford
JamBase | Georgia
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[Published on: 10/11/04]

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