Berlin is a small venue in lower Manhattan, and it was a totally appropriate space for last Friday night's small-time folk artist Haley Heynderickx
. This singer-songwriter is the first person that I point to when people say that all good music is old music. With the rise of synthesizers, GarageBan,d and Autotune you sometimes gotta wonder: where are the people playing real instruments? Do people even make folk music anymore?
Haley Heynderickx is here to answer that question for you, in all her quiet presence and low-key west coast vibes. With an absolutely heart-wrenching voice and a beautiful steel guitar, she got up on stage this past Friday evening and slowly played her way through most of the songs she has out online, including some from her Fish Eyes
EP and several singles. She admitted to us as she began her set that this was actually her first show in New York City, which is pretty impressive. She began with one of her more recent releases, "Untitled God Song", which she introduced merely as, "a weird song about god". Most songs were introduced strangely and quietly this way -- "Sane" was "a song about that condition people have where you date someone and they find their life partner right after you (I have it)" and "Joe" was "a song about the best farmer that I know". In between songs she would tell us bizarre and funny stories about her life, the origins of the song, and unrelated anecdotes.
"Talk to your neighbors around you while I tune my guitar," she would request occasionally, "ask them how they are doing." Later in the set she played a cover of "Blues Run the Game" -- "Thank you, Jackson C. Frank, for writing that song" -- and then an unnamed Townes Van Zandt tune -- "Do people still listen to Townes Van Zandt?". The whole experiences was warm, bubbling and subdued, and the venue was so small she could converse with her audience the whole time since we were right up against the stage. It felt like I would imagine seeing Paul Simon or Townes Van Zandt live would feel, if you had seen them in a small bar in the city before they were very popular. Intimate, gentle and raw, with beautiful folk music twining around the room. Her most popular songs, "Drinking Song" and "Oom Sha La La" even roused some sing-along from the audience. The latter was her final song of the evening and as people sang along with the sha la la'
s and seemed to know each verse, I could tell she was beginning to tear up, watching all these New Yorkers sing her music back to her.
So the next time your grumpy relative tells you that all decent folk music began and ended with Cat Stevens, point them in Heynderickx's direction. There is still some purity left it in the world.