The show must go on

The Posies front man brings solo act to PT

Stringfellow continues to rock in a post 9/11 world

Posted 10/30/19

As other artists were cancelling their performances in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Ken Stringfellow decided to bring a little normalcy to the shell-shocked residents of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

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The show must go on

The Posies front man brings solo act to PT

Stringfellow continues to rock in a post 9/11 world

Posted

As other artists were cancelling their performances in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Ken Stringfellow decided to bring a little normalcy to the shell-shocked residents of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

His second solo album, “Touched,” dropped the same day the Twin Towers were felled by terrorists. Stringfellow had already been booked for a show on Thursday, Sept. 20 at the Mercury Lounge on Houston Street, just northwest of Ground Zero.

He determined his music might be exactly what was needed by the witnesses and survivors of the attacks.

“Unlike a lot of artists at that moment, I decided to not cancel my tour,” Stringfellow told The Leader recently. “There were a lot of people who couldn’t get on flights because there weren’t any. And, there were some artists who felt maybe this wasn’t the right time to be putting together a celebratory mood, which a concert can be.”

His album had been recorded when Stringfellow and most Americans had no idea the terrorist attacks were coming, but the songs took on new meaning in the wake of the tragedy.

“The writing had been inspired by episodes in my life that someone would really know about,” Stringfellow said. “Once I was out on tour, the songs totally transformed in light of what had just happened to everybody.”

Stringfellow’s considered power-pop royalty in the music industry. A co-founder of the Posies, he toured with REM and Big Star and has collaborated with Ringo Starr and Scott McCaughey.

“There are songs on ‘Touch’ about grief and loss, but it is not all 100% downer,” he said. “It is a not-completely gothic, like no happiness, album. It kind of weaves it into a fabric not unlike everyday life. It takes pain seriously and I thought, ‘If I was feeling freaked out, I would want to see something I liked musically familiar or comforting and maybe this music could actually help.’”

One of the titles on the record is especially spooky, Stringfellow said.

“It is about the different religious divisions we have among all the different corners of the earth. The song is kind of a reminder to remember our inherent spiritual oneness. I believe that whatever you practice as a religion, or if you practice no religion, we are connected at a spiritual level whether we like it or not and whether we believe it or not.”

When 9/11 happened, it amplified the existing religious and cultural dividing line separating east and west, Stringfellow said.

“That song took on an entirely new dimension and became a much bigger reflection of the times even though it wasn’t a reflection of the times. I had no idea that event was around the corner. It is very strange. It was poised to be there.”

That led Stringfellow to ruminate on the fate of the album.

“From a sales and promotion point of view, 9/11 was not a good thing for my album,” he said. “Nobody was really thinking about what records were coming out that week and no journalists were talking about records.”

The experience was also the impetus of an epiphany of sorts for Stringfellow, he said.

“That led me to realize maybe my path, or my fate or my destiny — whatever you want to call it — is maybe not so much to be that slick entertainer that is going to be selling out (large venues). Maybe my role is a little more spiritual.”

Even if the album never did anything to elevate his commercial career, it certainly affected Stringfellow’s personal life in a positive manner, he said.

“I think it did wonders for me as a human being and for my art and what I am supposed to be doing out here in the world. I think it was something I couldn’t ignore, that maybe I had a special mission and my music would connect people in a certain way.”

On a musical mission

Hoping to affect positive change, Stringfellow flew to the east coast as soon as airline travel was restored. He had been in Seattle during the attacks. His first show was scheduled for a venue in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 15.

He landed in Newark, New Jersey and drove to New York to pick up the gear he needed for his gig.

“In Newark you go on this ramp that curves around and you have a full-on view of New York City out the right side of your car,” Stringfellow said. “I could see the Manhattan skyline, minus the Twin Towers. It was still smoldering where the Twin Towers had been.”

The city was abuzz with emergency responders and the streets were lined with tents, Stringfellow said.

“Everybody was rushing around, but there was nothing left to do. Everyone who was in the Towers either got out or died. There wasn’t much in between, unfortunately.”

Still, there was a palpable sense something terrible had happened and something needed to be done.

During his first shows, one in Philadelphia and a second in Hoboken, people were not yet ready for a concert, Stringfellow said.

“Nobody really came to the shows.”

That changed by Sept. 20, the day Stringfellow’s gig was scheduled at the Mercury Lounge in New York.

“By the time I played New York, people were ready,” he said. “People were looking for part of normal life to come back into the mix. Even if they didn’t lose someone directly, they were all witnesses to heavy stuff and death and disaster and violence. Everybody had a lot of emotions that they were processing. I think having a concert wasn’t a distraction. It was a place to go and kind of be emotional in a safe place.”

Anniversary tour

Stringfellow was invited to return to the Mercury Lounge as part of its 25th anniversary celebration. Stringfellow felt revisiting “Touched” would be a fitting endeavour and kicked off a tour with a performance of the album recently at the renowned venue.

That tour includes an upcoming performance at Rainshadow Recording in Port Townsend. While mostly a solo performance behind a piano, Stringfellow will be joined for a few songs by Port Townsend’s own Annalisee Brasil who prefers her stage name, “Fox Syncrow.” Fox is a multi-instrumentalist and sings with the band Sundsaga.

While Stringfellow has performed in massive venues with The Posies and REM, he finds great enjoyment gigging in boutique venues.

“In these more intimate rooms, I am like a very controlled firework going off, emotionally, and you are going to be really up close to it. I think that would have more impact on the more immediate people in my vicinity than me standing up on the main stage of the Reading Festival.”

That is not to say performing for a huge audience isn’t thrilling, Stringfellow said.

“I have been in the audience for a big festival, and I have played big festivals, and it is cool. It can be very intense, but for my own personal mission, I keep gravitating towards things like this. I am not trying to sabotage my success. I am just more interested in how I can get close to people and have more impact on them individually. I have to do that with proximity.”

Performing small shows on his current tour is also not about being ironic or promoting scarcity, Stringfellow said.

“Small is where things are going in many ways. Of course we are always going to have big blockbuster films and tours, but as far as how a lot of people want to spend their time, if you could have a more concierge experience I think plenty of people would be interested in that.”

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