Niskayuna singer-songwriter Holly Taormina and Amsterdam singer-songwriter-bassist Evan Conway – known simply as Holly & Evan – have been presenting their mix of traditional and original blues-based acoustic songs and paying their dues at whatever open-mic they can get to, set up and perform at.
“We’ve played all around the area at places like TJ’s Flightline Pub, the Daily Grind, the Judge’s Inn, the Moon and River Cafe, the Bread and Jam Café and at Caffé Lena’s open mics,” explains Holly. “These venues have all been incredibly receptive to us, and we’ve managed to book shows at all of them based on the quality our performances at their open mics.
“So far the furthest away from the Capital District we have played would be Coby’s in Cobleskill. We’ve hosted an open mic there twice. Of course, we hope to go much farther away than that in the near future.”
Evan adds with a smile, “Sometime soon I’d love to see New York City on the list of cities that we’ve played!”
The acoustic duo has snagged a high-profile gig this week, performing at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs at 7pm on Wednesday, smack dab in the middle of Travers Week. The performance is part of the famed coffeehouse’s Emerging Artists Concert Series.
Wherever they have performed, Holly & Evan have attracted an ever-growing fan base of people from different musical backgrounds: older acoustic blues fans, the folk music community and the younger alternative singer-songwriter crowd. Armed with acoustic instruments and dressed in vintage clothing the duo are not out-right imitators of a bygone era but they do appreciate the traditions of the past.
“We’re both very big fans of the ‘old days,’ when men and women dressed up to go out, and the entertainers on stage were the best-dressed and most charming people in the house,” says Evan. “But of course, with us, it’s not about the clothes. It’s about the music, especially the words!
“Today there seems to be something lost when songwriting takes a back seat to gimmicks. Most of the songs being played these days lack that timeless quality. We cover songs in our repertoire that go back 80 years and still have relevance today. And we strive for that same quality in our own original material.”
Holly points out, “I think there are a lot of people out there that are looking for something different musically. The positive response we’ve been getting from audiences to what we do is good evidence of that.
“When I think of someone like Eric Clapton – who has managed to help re-popularize blues music time and again throughout his career – I believe that we can help that happen again by the way we present the blues.”
Evan adds, “Blues music has always been the perfect vehicle for our emotional connection with people because it’s both raw and powerful. Blues music is dynamic, and depending on the feeling of a particular piece, it can go from a whisper to a thunderous roar.”
Holly continues, “To me blues music represents a struggle. The blues musicians of the past sang about hard times and real life hardships. And though I am not fully aware of what it was like for them back then, I too have dealt with things in my life that have caused me – and are still causing me – to struggle.
“I feel strongly that part of my job as a musician is to educate people about blues musicians like Skip James, Robert Johnson and Son House because their lyrics were so powerful and their musicianship was so original. ‘One man and one guitar’ – that says so much to me. I don’t ever want people to forget who these legends were and what they contributed to the world of music. The roots of so much popular music created today – and over the last 50 years or so – come from the blues.”
Though still in their twenties, Holly & Evan are talented old souls who are grateful for the interest, support and the opportunities that regional fans, local musicians and club managers have given them. The next step in their professional evolution is putting out a CD.
“We are currently working on a studio CD and hoping the release will be out no later than January,” says, Holly. “The songs are all written, well rehearsed and we’re currently recording in Evan’s home studio.”
Evan, who’s handling the production chores on the album, adds, “We’re taking our time in the studio to make sure everything is done the best way it can be to ensure that it’ll be the richest tapestry of sounds and styles that we can offer. We decided not to rush the project, and that has really helped in the recording process. For example, the songs are finished in two or three takes instead of 15.”
But that studio album won’t likely be the debut release from the duo. “For those who want to hear what we sound like live, we’ll soon have a live CD available for sale of our August 14 performance at the Bread and Jam Café,” Holly reveals.
Story and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk