LIVE: Sean Rowe @ The Cock ‘n Bull, 8/27/2020

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Cock ‘n Bull Offers Magical Night with Sean Rowe

The heavy rains pounded the earth midday on Thursday, August 27, leaving puddles like tears scattered across Galway. It was almost as if the heartbreak was palpable from fine food and music connoisseurs in anticipation of a possible cancellation at the Cock ‘n Bull. The restaurant was planning a special menu with music accompaniment provided by local songwriter and musician Sean Rowe, but after months of closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was challenging to hold out hope that the evening wouldn’t be canceled.

The rains eventually stopped, and fans of the local restaurant famed for its farm to table menu slowly filled the patio tables and chairs spaced evenly at least 6 feet apart. Homemade bread complete with a whipped butter seasoned with local herbs appeared just as the fog started to encroach upon the outdoor patio. Surrounded by a vegetable garden, patrons were soon feasting on plates of vegetables prepared from the surrounding earth. Roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions graced the plates covering butter greens and corn, all fresh reminders that it was indeed still summer.

The crowd was quiet but pleased by the setting. The patio has been expanded by the restaurant’s owner, Rick Sleeper, but looked as if it had been there all along, adorned by fences and full plants.

The ambient music for the night was none other than Troy’s native son Sean Rowe, well loved and now world recognized alternative folk rock artist. Rowe humbly prepared his own guitar preparations, tuning instruments as foodies swooned over the early plates set in front of them.

Sean Rowe as ambient music is a bit of an understatement; he is a big enough talent to draw a sizable crowd, but in the life and times of music fans during COVID, the Cock ‘n Bull had to limit the audience.

Rowe came out and welcomed the small crowd, and shared his own excitement about performing live with our dinners. He also poked fun at his hair, noting he was excited about his “perfect curl, like Superman.”

Rowe opened with his first song just as the steak and salmon dinners were served, and although we were hungry, we sat jaws open and skin tingling as he crooned out “Can’t Make a Living Holding You.” Rowe’s voice is dark and sweet, like black molasses, and is richer and deeper than Johnny Cash’s bass. In fact, if you put Cash at the base of the Grand Canyon, you might still not be as low as Rowe’s pitch-perfect bass.

Rowe’s guitar playing is soulful, matching the yearning in his lyrics. Right from the first song, Rowe’s authentic expression of the frustration of being male, meeting expectations financially for a family while still wanting to be home and enjoying domestic bliss, provided a more honest look at the juxtaposition of romantic love and expectation of gender roles.

Soon to be released song “I Won’t Run” followed, and offered yet another love song that honestly faced the realities of modern love. Standing on a rustic wooden stage, framed by local signs and on a small braided wool rug, Rowe seemed perfectly at home as he discussed his upcoming new album. His range of vocals made it hard to focus on the food, although admittedly the roasted potatoes were distractingly perfect in their crisp skins salted and roasted to a soft, smooshy center.

Next up Rowe covered a Leonard Cohen song, “Waiting for the Miracle.”. Rowe echoed Cohen’s deep tones to perfection while still remaining uniquely himself, as the lyrics meshed with his disillusioned but still somehow in love theme.

“Joe’s Cult” changed things up considerably, both in pace and tone, and played a lot with the timber of the guitar. His vocals were his percussion, and Rowe matched the frenetic energy of the story he told about a friend who joined a cult to save the world and instead sold donuts. The funky guitar layering raised the energy in the crowd.

Rowe covered Tom Wait’s song “The Day After Tomorrow,” and then performed his original song for his son Jack, “My Little Man.” The lyric about feeling ready to die at 21, but then changing one’s mind after having a son, was so relatable to the older crowd. No one seemed to breathe but was charmed by the vulnerability shared through a parenting role.

Rowe was a great storyteller between songs, telling about foraging for food. Foraging is one of his passions, and the subject of an upcoming show “Can I Eat That?” He told a story of finding a dead snapping turtle he turned into dinner. Somehow, this did not take away from the crowd’s appetite for his stories, or the food. It didn’t hurt that the restaurant’s food was far from roadkill.

“Spoonful,” a Willie Dixon cover, had us dancing in our seats as dessert was served: a beautiful flourless chocolate torte covered in raspberry compote and fresh whipped cream. “Hold Me Tight,” a cover of Otis Redding’s famed hit, offered a sweet and mellow end as the sugar hit our systems.

Rowe then performed two new songs from his new album, set to be released “shortly,” he promised: “What Are We Now?” and “Gabriel.” He then played two loved Rowe favorites: “Gas Station Rose” and “Squid Tattoo,” possibly the most upbeat and fun song of the night. Rowe then rocked out to a bluesy version of the AC/DC’s song “It’s A Long Way to the Top,” and smiled as he shared he looks forward to rocking out to AC/DC even at age 94 in the future.

Rowe’s original song, “To Leave Something Behind,” was a somber return to the earlier theme of a desire to create a legacy for those one loves. It is challenging not to hear this through a gendered lens; the pressure on men to create financial wealth and “leave something behind” is palpable. “Oh money is free but love costs more than our bread” articulates the true struggle of many Americans attempting to care for those they love. Particularly relatable due to economic problems plaguing our country, the brutal honesty that capitalism is selling a false bill of goods was refreshing.

The song ended with a peaceful sense that what Rowe will leave behind is only good feelings and memories. He asserts, “My friends I believe we are the wrong fight,” and listeners gather Rowe’s wisdom is on target: he aims to leave more behind than money.

There was a final song, “Wrong Side of the Bed.” It was bluesy and pleasing, faster paced and less pensive than the themes of the night about pausing to enjoy the present, rather than chase the future. “Oh wisdom is lost in the tree somewhere,” Rowe crooned earlier in the night, “It’s locked up from those who hurry ahead, It’s time to leave something behind.”

Rowe left behind a sated group of fans in Galway. Magically soothed by the music and food, it was almost as if COVID-19 hadn’t happened. A brief respite from all the restrictions, the Cock ‘n Bull offered patrons a memorable night. It made us remember what we have been missing: listening to good music, enjoying find food, and connecting to one another through art.

The Capital Region has a long way to go still before COVID-19 is over. But with events like Rowe’s ambient music during special meals at the Cock ‘n Bull, there is hope we will all not just survive, but also leave something meaningful behind us, too.

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