Upstream Music Fest + Summit 2017, Day 2: Tomo Nakayama, Shelby Earl

Upstream Music Fest + Summit
Gabe Pollak
Photo by Bebe Labree

all photos by Bebe Labree Besch (view set)

Outside, it looked to be a mostly regular day in Pioneer Square. The trolley bell dinged, an Amazon Fresh van passed by, and yuppies rushed to important places, clutching cups of coffee. The music coming from within Little London Plane, on the other hand, told a different story. Shelby Earl and Tomo Nakayama distinguished the morning, performing a couple of  acoustic cuts for passerby's on the second day of KEXP’s broadcast from Pioneer Square as a part of Upstream Music Fest + Summit.

Earl began with a song from her latest, The Man Who Made Himself a Name, which came out in March on Nine Mile Records. "This is a song off my new record and it's about baby making," said Earl, easing into the Americana lilt of "Call Her Mercy." A pair of travelers lugging bags stopped on the brick street to listen to Earl's comforting voice from outside the wide windows, while one man stopped on the corner, smiling in the sunlight. Earl followed up with a cover befitting Upstream's focus on local acts. "I thought I'd do a song by a great Northwest band that many of you know called Built to Spill," she said. "This song is called 'The Weather.'" Nakayama, sat on the side of the stage, rocking gently back and forth to Earl's strumming.

Once Nakayama returned to the stage -- he played a KEXP session yesterday, backing Jeremy Enigk -- he offered equally comforting tunes. He opened with "Pieces of the Sky," from his forthcoming album, due in September. He started the song quietly, his voice clear and warm like a freshly pressed shirt. Nakayama's gift is that, whether reaching a passionate chorus or falling down to a hum, his voice never lost this tender feeling. His words in between songs only made the kind-hearted tone of his music all the more clear. Before beginning his last song, Nakayama offered a few short words. "I'd like to dedicate this last song to anyone who is listening out there who is having a hard time in the world." said Nakayama softly. "It's a hard to time be alive right now, but... I see you." He sang again, exhibiting that same compassion in his voice, reaching both listeners outside the door and, one can assume, across the airwaves. "My life is better because you're in it," he sang with an earnestness that would make Pete Seeger smile. Those who witnessed the performance might say the same about Nakayama and Earl. The life of our city is better because of the singers in it.

Shelby plays tonight at Damn the Weather, and tomorrow at the Starbucks Stage, as part of the Upstream Music Fest + Summit, while Nakayama performs tomorrow night with Jeremy Enigk at the Fuel Sports Beer Garden and next at the Folklife Festival on May 28th.

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