Two inspiring singer-songwriters visit Pacific Grove and Sand City.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Geoffrey Rutledge’s early years read like the quintessential memoir of a folk musician: At 9 years old, he scored his first guitar then rode his bike to a local music shop in Pontiac, Mich., to sign up for lessons.
“There was always lots of music around me, since I was so close to Detroit,” Rutledge says. “And my three older brothers turned me on to Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash; I ruined a lot of their records because I played them so much, trying to learn the songs on guitar.”
Like a gypsy in the night, Rutledge left his snow-filled hometown at 18 for the pristine beaches of Key West, Fla., and became part of the acoustic trio RST (Rutledge, Smith & Tindel). The group became a popular house band at Sloppy Joe’s, Ernest Hemingway’s infamous watering hole. To this day, Rutledge visits Key West a couple times a year to jam with the group.
But it’s as a solo act that he has really flourished: He’s played the main stage at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas for the past six years and has released two acclaimed albums including Take Me Home: A Sampler of American Artists for Peace, featuring guest performers Country Joe McDonald and Jesse Colin Young. All the proceeds from the album go to Veterans for Peace, a highly personal cause for Rutledge. His brother was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1969 and inspired the album’s title track, “Take Me Home.”
“I started writing that song about 30 years ago,” Rutledge says. “It was just something I had to do; I wrote it for [all war veterans].”
Luckily, his brother returned home safely from Vietnam and has had the opportunity to hear the tune he inspired: “I’ll always yearn to go home/ Tell my mother I’m safe, now in his holy arms.”
Rutledge, who appears at The Works in Pacific Grove on Friday, admits that the tune is sometimes emotionally difficult to play but emphasizes the importance of what it stands for. Currently, he is working on another album that he expects to be completed in a month. The album, like his others, will be a mix of folk ballads and satirical excursions.
Singer-songwriter Elle Carpenter’s story also reads like the mythical jaunt of a troubadour: The 24-year-old spent much of her youth playing folk festivals with her mother, brother and three sisters all over North America.
“[My mother] was a single mom with five kids and a thirst for traveling, so we paid our way doing gigs,” Elle says.
The Carpenter family’s version of the Partridge Family – theirs is originally from Mt. Pillar, Vermont – toured throughout the United States, Canada and Mexican border towns, playing traditional folk ballads without instruments, only a capella melodies and harmonies. At 15, Elle became seduced by the sound of fellow folkie Dar Williams and picked up the guitar.
“[Williams] was definitely the reason I wanted to learn the guitar,” she says.
But it wasn’t until attending American University, in Washington D.C., that Carpenter began writing her own songs; upon graduating, she moved to L.A. to pursue a music career and released her first album, The Best, this past June.
Musically, the album is a poppy Avril Lavigne and folk cocktail; personally, the album is a diary of loves, losses, human observation and family. She’ll share much of it Saturday at Sand City’s Ol’ Factory Café.
“‘Return’ is my comfort song,” Carpenter says. “It started as a song about family crisis and became a happy song.”
GEOFFREY RUTLEDGE plays 7:30pm, Friday, Sept. 11, at The Works, 667 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. $10. 372-2242.
ELLE plays 8pm Saturday, Sept. 12, at Ol’ Factory Café, 725 Contra Costa St., Sand City. $5. 394-7336.