LIVE(Stream): Madison Vandenburg @ Bearsville Theatre, 01/10/2021

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Madison Vandenburg’s Full Voice Permeates the COVID-Quiet Halls of the Bearsville Theater

The pandemic has brought many challenges for many-a-musician, but some artists have found ways to connect with and perform to audiences from afar. In a COVID world, living rooms and bedrooms and even bathrooms become concert halls. And occasionally, there’s an empty concert venue all gussied up for a live stream show. Such is the most recent performance by our own Idol alumni and pop music poster child Madison VanDenburg, who took up residence in the historic Bearsville Theater in Woodstock on Sunday night for a live stream concert. 

With an itch for live music that hasn’t been satiated since last March, I was more than happy to attend at Madison’s request as one of only two people who weren’t venue staff (or Madison’s team.) To wander the halls of an empty venue is spooky. The absence of an audience was certainly felt, and it wasn’t just the performance space itself that made my skin prickle. It was the echoing crunch of gravel under your feet in the sparsely occupied parking lot, the locked doors, darkened rooms, vacant lounges with empty bar shelves, and this weighty silence that wrapped around you in the half-lit hallways. 

Photo by Elissa Ebersold

I’m not saying one would expect to turn a corner and bump noggins with the ghost of Janis Joplin, although you might get startled by one of the many beautiful, colorful murals of famous musicians donning the venue walls. Madison said the psychedelic painting of David Bowie, positioned just outside of her dressing room and half-hidden in shadows, gave her a start a few times. Ooooor maybe it just was the pre-show jitters Madison admitted to having that put her on edge. 

But if Madison had jitters, you would have never known. As the two of us sat on the plush red couch in the green room, surrounded by black and white prints of “Pearl” herself, Madison was effervescent as ever, grinning and eager and humbled to be surrounded by relics of legends. That wide smile was still on her face as she took the stage for the brief Q & A before her show. When that concluded, the house lights fell, and the stage lights swiveled in her direction. She was seated at the large grand piano stage left, beginning our musical journey of the night with her rendition of Alicia Keys’ “If I Aint Got You.”

Photo by Elissa Ebersold

Madison is a triple threat. Of course, she’s a powerhouse vocalist, and she can strum a guitar as good as the next person. But I think a hidden talent is the way her fingers fly across those ivories. There’s something so incomparable about the sound of a well-played grand piano paired with a strong voice on the same metaphorical circuit; I think that’s why people like Elton John, or Billy Joel, or Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, or Alicia Keys are so memorable and so few and far between. I personally feel there is something so very different about singing and playing the piano versus playing the guitar and singing. I can’t quite explain, but the former pairing just feels…more immersive. Maybe that’s elitist of me. Maybe I’m biased. Maybe I’m ignorant. The jury’s out, but I digress. 

Madison played us through a few songs as a soloist. It was magical and made for her. Bearsville theater is intimate, but not in such a way that swallows her voice when she belts. Rather, it’s perfect for those power ballads she is known for singing, whether her own or covered. She was bathed in those shifting vibrant stage lights, flickering chandeliers dangling from those tall vaulted ceilings, and the eerie atypical silence from the absence of bodies carried her voice to every space. 

Eventually, a kind fellow named Matt joined her on stage with an acoustic guitar, and the two played and sang through some upbeat pop favorites that guaranteed would have had audience members singing along in person. Maybe they were singing along at home like Madison kept urging her viewers at home to do. I sure was humming along underneath my mask. Songs like Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” and “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. Matt and his guitar playing were a fair accompaniment to Madison, but all the same, at times the balance between the two felt off. I think that’s merely because Madison has such enthralling star power with phenomenal pitch. I’m not saying he was, but if he or anyone lands a little flat or a little sharp on a note (like so many amazing singers still do from time to time) it might be more noticeable. 

Photo by Elissa Ebersold

For the song “River” by Bishop Briggs, Matt pulled out the electric guitar. I didn’t personally feel that the switch to electric contributed anything to this rendition, but it certainly found its notable and more comfortable place in the next song, “Stupid” by Tate McRae. She closed out her electric portion of the set with the newly popular “I See Red” by Everybody Loves An Outlaw. This contemporary indie-rock tune, made famous by a raunchy (and the most terrible, if I do say so myself) borderline-hardcore-porn movie on Netflix, challenges Maddy to throw some gravel and grit into her voice. She does it well, and even throws in some of those signature runs for good measure. Madison sings this song with such conviction, that Outlaw herself even said Madison “destroyedddd” [sic] the original, and if I’m being honest, if Maddy does not record a studio version of this and release it I will be quite salty. Take note, babe. 

To close out the night, Matt abandoned Madison on the stage to perform with some backing tracks. These two final songs were Madison’s most recent releases: “Eighteen” and “Roller Coaster Ride.” There were some technical difficulties, but once that was all taken care of, she sang as well as ever. Of course, a studio track never compares to a live band, but you work with what you’ve got. 

As she closed out the set by thanking all of the viewers of her live stream, I was finally able to clap for her. I guess you could (read: me) be the lone applause during a live stream, but you’d (read: I) probably get some side-eye, and so not doing that took a lot of restraint on my behalf. Not only was I thoroughly impressed at the show as a whole. I was particularly impressed with Madison’s ability to carry herself between songs, talking to an audience that wasn’t physically present, and the ability to keep up the energy for the whole twenty song setlist. After all, I know how much a musician usually feeds off of the energy in the audience.

Bearsville Theater, with its rich history, lackadaisical layout, and casual feel was a perfect venue to scratch the concert itch for me, and surely a beautiful place to watch from home. They had great lighting and great sound and made a stream worthy of her voice. I keep coming back to listen to Madison not just because she’s my friend, but because I’m smitten with her voice. She’s a kind soul with a gift that she shares with the world, humbly, and she’s well worth listening to again and again.

Photo by Elissa Ebersold

If I had one major criticism about Madison’s setlist, it would be that she needed a few more of her own songs in there and fewer covers. Most notably, I think it was really missing her single “Reason.” Yeah, covers are great, but you’re always comparing them to the originals. “Reason” is her original. It’s the one that really showcases her songwriting, her emotion, and most importantly all that she can do with that voice of hers the best. It’s the one that, someday in the not-so-distant future, some young up-and-coming pop singer will cover, and some Simon Cowell clone will compare it to Madison’s original. I personally would have swapped it out with the Rachel Platten cover, which at least melodically is somewhat monotonous and doesn’t showcase any range. I know that’s what an entire setlist is for, but truly, to be deprived of “Reason” really is a shame, and I hope I get to hear that at the next one.

While I hope we can come out of this pandemic soon, this trip to Woodstock for me, this online viewing experience for the rest, I hope it scratches that music itch until the next time. 

Madison’s music, new and old, can be found wherever you stream your music and can be purchased on iTunes.

EDIT: “Reason” was not written by Madison Vandenberg. It was written by Pat Gasperini. Madison’s version is the original recording.

Set List:

“If I Ain’t Got You” – Alicia Keys (Cover)
“Make You Feel My Love” – Adele/Bob Dylan (Cover)
“Not Broken Anymore” – Madison Vandenburg Original
“Better in Time” – Leona Lewis (Cover)
“For You” – Madison Vandenburg Original
“Let Me On Down” – Madison Vandenburg Original
“Unwritten” – Natasha Bedingfield (Cover)
“Irreplaceable” – Beyonce (Cover)
“We Belong” – Pat Benetar (Cover)
“Price Tag” – Jessie J (Cover)
“Daisies” – Katy Perry (Cover)
“Fight Song” – Rachel Platten (Cover)
“Battlefield” – Jordin Sparks (Cover)
“Complicated” – Avril Lavigne (Cover)
“Breakaway” – Kelly Clarkson (Cover)
“What About Us” – Pink (Cover)
“Impossible” – Shontelle (Cover)
“Misery Business” – Paramore (Cover)
“River” – Bishop Briggs (Cover)
“Stupid” – Tate McRae (Cover)
“I See Red” – Everybody Loves An Outlaw (Cover)
“Eighteen” – Madison Vandenburg Original
“Roller Coaster Ride” – Madison Vandenburg Original

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