With nothing but an electric guitar, a small amp and a microphone, Annie Blackman ’20 took the stage, playing original music in front of audience members sitting on the floor or on purple bean bags. It was 9:30 p.m. in the Horn Gallery on Saturday, Oct. 21, and the place was packed. Many sang along to Blackman’s inventive and, for many college students, relatable lyrics. After finishing what she had announced as her final song, the crowd began chanting, “One more! One more!” Blackman played an encore to finish her set.
She was followed by Spencer Radcliffe, who began his set with a smooth, melodic and technically sophisticated guitar opener that immediately captured the attention of the audience. Those who had been milling around outside quickly took their seats. As he continued to play, he lulled the crowd into a dreamy calm under the spell of his masterful guitar and the haunting, poetic quality of his lyrics. His songs were filled with imagery of snowy mountain landscapes and vivid descriptions of wildlife.
This was Radcliffe’s second time playing at the Horn. He first performed there when he was still a student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, before he developed the type of acoustic sound he focuses on today. “I started composing and performing electronic music,” he said. “I didn’t play shows with singing or guitar until college.”
Radcliffe incorporated skilled fingerpicking in his playing, turning the guitar into a second voice. For his final song, he attached a harmonica to his guitar and blew a soulful Bob Dylan-esque melody above bluesy chords.
The featured band, Free Cake for Every Creature, started with a few upbeat songs, inspiring the audience to stand up and dance, pushing the bean bags aside to make room for moving feet. With Katie Bennett on guitar, Francis Lyons on drums and Heeyoon Won on bass, the band’s energetic sound filled the gallery and carried the energy of the dancers. After the first couple songs, Bennett informed the crowd that the rest of the set was going to be more mellow, and everyone returned to the ground.
Bennett originally performed as a solo act. “I started making songs, playing songs, when I was around 19 or 20,” Bennett said. She met Lyons while attending Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the two started touring together shortly after graduation. Through playing music, the duo met Heeyoon, who soon became a part of the group.
Although Bennett still writes most of the songs for the band’s records, she explained that after sharing a song with the band, it often becomes a fuller piece, with Heeyoon adding bass and vocals and Francis contributing drums. “Our latest album is really collaborative between the three of us and some of our friends,” Bennett said.
Through their playing, it was clear the group views music making as a collaborative effort. They slipped seamlessly from musical accompaniment to vocal harmonies and transitioned from song to song with only a few words to each other.
While each act brought a distinct sound and mood to the Horn, the performances felt cohesive, building on each other, carrying a tone of lyrical serenity that resonated throughout the night.