Hometown Songs

Local songwriters sing of small town roots and universal emotions.

Story and Photo by Sue Smith Romero

Songwriters (L-R) Matt Klausner, Abby Drumm, Nora Revenaugh, J. Schnitt, Colin Jewett, and Ryan Miller.

Warm golden light shines on the stage arranged with guitars, a grand piano, and a suitcase drum at The Kirkland Arts Center (KAC) in Clinton. A full room of audience members, sipping beer and wine and nibbling on cookies, watch with fascination as a young woman in a sweeping plaid skirt walks out on stage and takes a seat on a stool. She holds a guitar but doesn’t strum. Instead, she beats it more like a drum and sings with an ethereal voice a song she wrote about her journey from city life back to her small hometown.

Nora Revenaugh not only opened the show but also organized it as the new live music coordinator at the KAC. Creating an intimate and innovative vibe reminiscent of Tiny Desk Concerts (the popular National Public Radio show), she assembled a talented collection of musicians for The Local Songwriters Showcase which kicked off the new Second Saturdays live event series. After 15 years of living and working in Boston, Limerick (Ireland), Pittsburgh, and New York City, she moved back to her hometown of Clinton, bringing with her a wealth of big city experience and a strong appreciation of the advantages of living Upstate.

She said it would be hard to hear a show like this in New York. Even though there are plenty of excellent musicians, high venue costs mean amateur and emerging acts are often “restricted to out of the way venues and late-night time slots,” which makes going out to hear them rare pleasures for people who need to be up early the next day for work.

Smaller metros like Utica-Rome, offer a better environment for musicians as well as audience members. Revenaugh explained that musicians need plenty of performance time in front of audiences to hone their style, and this is hard to come by in a city like New York crowded with professional performers.

“That’s why I’m really loving CNY as a place to level up as a musician,” she said. “I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be as a singer, songwriter, or fiddle player, but I’m getting better much more quickly than I did in NYC because I have so many opportunities to perform.” And she’s looking forward to creating more opportunities for other local musicians as well.

Revenaugh belongs to a band called The Boom Chickens, founded in May 2019 by two of her friends, Abby Drumm and Matt Klausner who moved back to this area from Minneapolis. At the Saturday showcase, their band performed a song called “The Someday House,” also written by Revenaugh, about her search for a way to move back Upstate. She and her husband Mike Revenaugh now live in their “someday house” a few doors down the street from the KAC.

The Boom Chickens sing "Shovelin'" an original song about Upstate NY weather by Nora Revenaugh.

Ryan Miller, co-director of MVCC’s thINCubator (Utica’s innovative business incubator), performed a set of songs from a new album he released last spring, called Postcards, Poetry, and Prose. Tapping into lives lived locally, even mentioning Utica’s Varick Street in one of his songs, he and all the songwriters expressed emotions that touch all humanity. Love, loss, longing, and laughter.

Colin Jewett, a member of Wild Wool, sang a heartfelt song about his brother while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. And J. Schnitt, who recently released his 20th album, played guitar, harmonica, and the suitcase drum while adding a little more percussion with a set of jingle bells fastened around his ankle. His song, “Conspiracy Theory Blues”, was inventive and humorous to say the least.

The last song of the evening, another Revenaugh composition called “Upstate Lullaby,” accentuated the theme of the evening beautifully. All of the songwriters gathered on stage to sing the verses about people in different large cities missing their CNY roots, and repeating the chorus:

Goodnight, goodnight to Upstate New York

Goodnight to my little hometown

When I lay my head in my old twin bed

this whole spinnin’ world settles down.

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