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Concert Review: Rosie Thomas & Denison Witmer (June 22, 2002, Omaha, NE)

Amazing how unassuming songs like those of Denison Witmer and Rosie Thomas can manage to push the whole world away.

There’s this scene in Ghost World where Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi’s characters go to see this old blues musician perform at a local sports bar. The rest of the crowd is completely oblivious to the old man, only to applaud later when a “real” blues band takes the stage. That scene kept replaying through my mind as I and 11 others sat down to watch Denison Witmer and Rosie Thomas weave their simple, yet lovely songs… kept replaying because there was a downtown full of people oblivious to what was in their midst.

I’ve seen Witmer several times, and I’m always amazed at how his quiet music can seem to overwhelm an entire room (or tent, if it’s at Cornerstone). Starting off with “Stations,” one of my favorite Witmer songs, it’s hard to imagine him playing any other way than alone with an acoustic guitar. Simple songs full of simple stories of childhood, love, and growing up… simple, yet so deep and evocative. Try to listen to his music and not have precious childhood memories run through your head, especially on songs like “The ’80s” and “Rock Run.” Go ahead, I dare you. As with the last time, the set was incredibly casual, Denison taking his time and taking requests.

After a rather short (but very good set), Rosie Thomas took the stage, and it seemed like the whole room suddenly lit up. When she talks, whether it’s telling a story from her recent stint opening for Jewel in Europe or chuckling at some joke that the audience only half-gets, she’s about as carefree and approachable as can be. But when she sings… oh my. Her voice transforms itself into a vehicle of longing, singing more simple songs about love lost and love to come that hold an ocean of meaning. Like Paula Frazer, hers is a voice that you can never get tired of, that you want to wrap around yourself like a nice, warm blanket (especially on her cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Feeding off the Love of the Land”).

Even if there had been 100 of us in the room, you would’ve been able to hear a pin drop during Thomas’ performance. The fact that there was only 12 of us made the whole night feel extra special, like a gathering of friends for some good ol’ storytelling (though, in truth, I only knew a few of my fellow concertgoers).

As with all shows of this nature, I’m torn. Part of me wants the venue to be packed. Everyone needs to hear, to be healed by this music (and I want the artists to get some decent cash). But I relish these small shows, where the whole world walks on by, oblivious, and you can rest secure in the knowledge that, for an hour or two, all your troubles have forgotten about you. Amazing how unassuming songs like those of Denison Witmer and Rosie Thomas can manage to push the whole world away like they do.

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