Witnessing Music at Caffe Lena: Girl Blue Reunites Music Lovers with Ethereal Performance

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Girl Blue performed her original music accompanied by Dark Honey’s Jimi Woodul on Caffe Lena’s historic stage Friday, May 7th in Saratoga. The show, which was also live streamed, was a combination of intoxicating lyrics and molasses dipped vocals that could soothe anyone’s jitters about being out in public again for live music. Ethereal, luxurious, and at the same time authentically vulnerable, Girl Blue played off old and new albums alike, and covered well-loved and diverse tunes too.

Opening with “Nearness of You,” a cover of Norah Jones’ piece, Arielle O’Keefe’s riffs were immediately mind blowing, both capturing the crowd and engaging them in wild abandon of any expectations they may have had for this mild mannered musician who humbly took the stage with few words. She quietly introduced the next song, “Strangers” from her quarantine album, and manifested the energy of reunion with others.

And just like that, the concert took off like there had never been space between before COVID and now.

Of course, the fans in Caffe Lena were all wearing masks, and bottles of hand sanitizer dotted the tables along with sugar packets. Air purifiers were spotted along the well spaced rows of couches too, and the venue was well below capacity with approximately 35 guests.

But the energy between Arielle and Jimi, combined with clever poetic lyrics, flexible riffs betraying no stress at an impossible range expressed, and tables covered again with coffee, tea and cookies all brought the magic of witnessing live music at Caffe Lena back. Arielle’s lips curled around the smile in her voice as she sang out her poems, moving from “Because It Moves Me” to “Heaven” with a series of well paired vocals and Americana music in between.

The performers noted how much they previously took witnessing music for granted prior to COVID 19, and honored the space and time that passed with lyrics that ironically noted how time was irrelevant. And it was about this moment when this writer questioned just how it was possible Arielle O’Keefe hasn’t been noticed by Brandi Carlile’s production company. This vocalist belongs on stage with Patty Griffin, The Secret Sisters, and The Highwomen, crooning about the human experience, asking existential questions with songs dripping in bourbon-soaked vocals.

Arielle’s partner Jimi offered a sweet tenor harmony with her lyrics during set one, and also humor that loosened up the room. After singing along in “Fire Under Water,” Jimi laughed and shared “well, I felt sexy singing that.” Arielle looked lovingly at him, nodding, “That’s all that matters.”

Set one was rounded out with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” an unlikely Cindi Lauper tune, “Heavy Heart,” and then the tear jerker “Eyes on the Horizon.” Arielle closed her eyes in a trance almost as she shook out the vocals on this one, and as quickly as the song was over, smiled with eyes wide open and announced a quick set break.

As the lights came up and servers circles the paths of Caffe Lena, I had to literally catch my breath and blink back tears. I had never seen Janis Joplin, but have listened to her for years; there was a resonance there with Joplin’s ability that Arielle seemed to tap into, but she was still uniquely her own. Incredibly humble, Arielle O’Keefe almost does not seem to know her impact on the crowd who quietly chatted as if still in church.

When she retook the stage, her partner Jimi took the spotlight. He noted how hard it was to follow Arielle, specifically her sensual vocals. She smiled and encouraged him, loving his performance of “The Voicemail” which brought audible laughter from the crowd, and the reflective piece “Hardly Any Loneliness.” Jimi then sang an Arielle O’Keefe original, “Never Gonna Let You Stay.” She explained when she wrote it, “It felt like an old man song, a tired old countryman singer song.” And it was akin to an Avett Brothers “country” song, true to songs about love that never bore fruit. The lyrics went on something like this: “Forever is a long way / You cast me all wrong / I was never gonna let you stay.” When Jimi finished the song there was a satisfied but sad feeling that Jimi quickly dissipated with “Lonely Ride,” a tune about separating yourself from “the wacky views of others.”

Jimi’s set finished with a song about songwriting and the magic of creation, acknowledging that for most creators, “we don’t know where it comes from, it is almost like we are visited by another entity.” Again the lyrics didn’t disappoint, plucking imagery of “dragon bones and other make believe,” including a “lemon-colored Harley” that escorted imaginations to a garden of all sorts of delights.

When Arielle began to sing as the soloist again with “Hot Teens in Love on TV,” it was almost too much beauty in one place to believe the night was real.

But reality struck with a broken guitar string, grounding everyone back to the unimaginable reality that somehow Arielle and Jimi were real people after all. Arielle swiftly and adeptly changed the string as they chatted the crowd up before performing “The Woods,” an Eva Cassidy gospel “People Get Ready,” and in her finale, “Call Me Home.”

These three songs, woven around a new song as well, were once again almost unbelievably beyond a local music scene. When Arielle crooned “I think I got lost / So I could find you” it felt like more than witnessing just music; we were witnessing a legend.

Girl Blue is a Nippertown native, but she’s way beyond what Nippertown alone can or should selfishly hold. But we will hope she will always call us home.

Photo Gallery by Jim Gilbert

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