LIVE: Ariana Gillis’ Luminous Voice Brightens Saratoga 10/19/2019
Canadian singer and songwriter Ariana Gillis performed at Caffe Lena on Saturday, October 19th, to a well filled listening room of folk music enthusiasts. Gillis’ two sets showed off her luminous voice and creative storytelling, and was well received by the fans.
Gillis isn’t a stranger to Caffe Lena, and fans were delighted by her appearance Saturday night. Her quiet and humble entrance, complete with her fumbling a bit with anxiety to plug in her guitar, was followed quickly by three songs showcasing her ethereal tone as she sang about broken hearts and apathy when in love.
Her talent was immediately undeniable. Gillis’ range in pitch, as well as her practiced breath control, was sublime.
The first set opened slowly, with songs that sounded very similar to one another until Gillis’ spirit shone through “Unconditional Drug,” a song about selling out artistic beliefs in order to make money. “My voice blended with everyone,” she explained in the song, and she wondered if fans would still offer her their love. The brutal honesty of her thought pattern revealed, Gillis owned that she could’ve chosen to sell records using her looks, but wouldn’t respect herself or be happy with that.
After “Unconditional Drug,” Gillis seemed to relax and smile more, and even shared a story about thinking about another song while performing a different song. Owning her neuroticism (as well as her high functioning intelligence), Gillis smiled as she confessed she to pick out things like hooks for her home as she ages. “I’ll be 29 in two weeks,” she fretted, and the crowd, who primarily was over the age of 40, became charmed.
Other great musical moments included her more raw performance of “Dirt Gets Dirty,” where her fast strumming on the guitar offered a punctuated rhythm as she sang about freedom.
The premiere performance of “Red Roller Coaster” was perhaps the sweetest and most charming piece of the night. A song about not being big enough to ride a roller coaster with her brother, the song shared how hard it is to love someone and not be growing at the same rate at that person. Her brother, as it turned out in the song, missed her too. With quiet picking initially that later contrasted with the bridge’s heavier strumming, the song transported the listener to the intimacy of a sibling friendship.
Gillis closed the opening set with the Patty Griffin song “Heavenly Day.” Griffin had been an early inspiration to Gillis, and her breath control and well practiced vocals revealed Gillis’ powerful voice less confined than earlier in the night.
After a fifteen minute break, Gillis’ second set opened with “Dream Street” and called back the audience’s attention with her sweet, dreamy vocalizations.
The second set continued with the strong and beautiful energy she had built up to throughout the first, and as Gillis moved from story to story in her songs, her philosophy on people being generally good, but also seeking others who reflect themselves, emerged.
Gillis’ father has been sick, and he usually was on stage with her. She substituted her vocals for his banjo solo in “Samuel Star,” shocking even herself with her ability to hit the high notes and create a jazzy sound. Smiling, Gillis met the audience’s cheers in the night’s small victory in performing the piece without her father.
The set included “Cannonball Sam,” “Rock it Like Fantastic,” and “The Maze” (from her new album also titled The Maze), before closing with “White Blush.” Each song was more powerful than the last, pulling joyful cheers out of the audience and compliments alike.
“That was beautiful,” an audience member spoke out to Gillis, who responded with a polite thank you while still on stage. Fans gushed that they couldn’t believe Gillis wasn’t more famous, and she thanked them too at the door.
But Gillis isn’t more famous because she’s unapologetically and fiercely original, and would rather be authentically herself and explore her art than make money. Her song “The Feeling of Empty” explained it perfectly: she doesn’t want to write songs people want to hear, but write songs that she likes and hopes others want to hear.
At Caffe Lena, Gillis has met her goal. Her authenticity and musicianship are both valued and celebrated. Cheers to Gillis and Caffe Lena for bringing her luminous voice to Saratoga.