Friday night and big excitement – we’re going out! We drive to Lismore and find a park easily (unheard of) at the front of the Lismore City Hall. Luxury! Mandy Nolan is there to greet us (well, she doesn’t know who we are, just some punters parking near where she is standing). We remark on the ‘new normal’ garnering us a park out the front, have a laugh, and then proceed to the check-in point’, formally known as the entrance.

Ash Grunwald is the performer tonight, at the intimate and Covidly-safe-spaced venue, known to memory-keepers as

The Dance Studio, but there will be no dancing tonight. There will be lots of audience participation, however, and an overwhelming feeling of joy, being one of the chosen (get your tickets fast, they sell out on the day they are released). Speak-Easy atmosphere complete with darkened room, strategic lighting and candles on the small tables. Yes, for those of us who grew up with candles on tables at clubs where you could witness “dinner and a show” - this was an absolute treat. More memories flood in and my partner and I talk about growing up and through this style of entertainment, when dinner was part-and-parcel of a good night out. Let me tell you, this was a GOOD NIGHT OUT and the food, well, the food deserves a separate paragraph!

House-keeping first:

“About the studio sessions. NORPA and Kate Stroud have teamed up to curate a program of intimate live music events in The Studio at Lismore City Hall. Together we’re bringing more live music to Lismore! So gather your friends and join us for a night out with music, a drink or two and a bite to eat.” The line-up might change from show to show, but I am sure the quality is second-to-none for each performance. As Mandy mentioned, “these shows, a collaboration with NSW Create, Lismore City Council, NORPA and Kate Stroud give us something in our diary to look forward to.” Totally agree, Mandy!

Sangria welcome drink upon arrival, after we have been shown to our table (so civilised and welcoming). Social distancing, yes, but you can feel the love in the air. So happy to be out and part of creative life again after the dearth of events in my social calendar. A platter of deliciousness is brought to us and we are in hog heaven. The Secret Chef Diner have prepared tasty tapas and we were blown away: Korean beef; mushroom san choi bow; red curry duck with crispy wontons smoked tomato arancini and smoked trout namjim. The food alone was worth the freight. We still have a show to enjoy.

Mandy Nolan (MC for the event) is a very funny person. Yes. Very funny – and she can work the crowd, no matter who, where or even why. She even worked the parking comment we made, upon arrival, not more than half an hour prior! She joked about Covid and how we are socially distanced, “you can only lick and touch the person at your table” and “we used to mingle… now it is like being in a bondage club – black room and rules.” After introducing Ash Grunwald half an hour earlier than billed, Mandy had to tap-dance for another half an hour. This would flummox some performers, but not Mandy – she could talk underwater with marbles in her mouth and still make you cry with laughter.

Ash finally makes the stage (at 7.30, his designated start time) and sits in the middle of his six guitars and one cigar-box guitar, thrown in for good measure. He tells us to “clap a lot, you’ll get your money’s worth” and to encourage him. Encourage him we did, throughout the entire performance, with sing-alongs, clap-alongs and stomp-alongs. Everyone got into it – hey, if we can’t dance, we can become part of the performance. Ash was right – we got our money’s worth. Howlin’ Wolfe ‘I was born with a hammer in my hand’ and we were off and running. Ash is inclusive, witty, working the audience (felt like we were at a private party) entertaining and a legend on his many guitars. “Whispering voice in my head” treating one guitar as a lap-steel – an awesome number indeed. When he asked for requests, at the end of the show, one of the audience members screamed out, “The Blue one,” eluding to the blue guitar, and Ash answered, “oh yeah, this one hasn’t had a workout yet.” He doesn’t miss a beat, either in the message or from the heart. His Dolphin song was a miracle – ehh ehh eh eh eh.

Intimate and interactive, Ash Grunwald showed us a small part of what he is made of, musically. Ash has written a book ‘Surf by Day, Jam by Night’ and has also, with his wife, created Earth Bottles, dealing with problems of single-use plastics, encompassing drink bottles, coffee cups and straws. So much talent wrapped up with so many guitars. The audience left The Studio satiated, both musically, emotionally and ‘foodily’, loving being out and happy to have witnessed such a progressive performer in all his many guises.

Event details

Stroud X NORPA presents
The Studio Sessions with Ash Grunwald

Venue: Lismore City Hall, NSW
Dates: 18 Sep 2020
Bookings: norpa.org.au

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