Joel T. Hamilton
Pour House
Nov. 13

The Shrimp Records family gathered on Sat. Nov. 13 at the Pour House to celebrate the release of Joel T. Hamilton’s new album, Feels Like We’re Gonna Win, and celebrate they did. It was more than a concert; it was like the most fun house party you’ve ever been to — if all your friends were exceptional musicians.

Cary Ann Hearst, Bill Carson, and Michael Trent technically opened for Hamilton’s set, but the whole night was a carousel of friends, constantly shifting instruments, leading the group and then taking a back seat. Hamilton was everywhere, effortlessly moving between banjo, guitar, bass, his cigar box, accordion, and keyboards (and I’m definitely forgetting a few others).

Carson led a cozy, subdued set featuring songs from his latest album, Say It Don’t Spray It, with Trent and Jack Burg adding subtle percussion that added weight to his emotionally powerful songs.

Before it was Trent’s turn to lead, the Shaniqua Brown’s Rachel Kate Gillon brought her guitar into the middle of the room and sang the gritty and righteous “Hell Is Your Home” into a megaphone, providing the first of many unexpected highlights.

With Hamilton on bass, Burg on drums, Carson on electric guitar, and Hearst on harmonica, Trent led the title track of 2008’s The Winner, with all five players singing along. They ended the short set with the rambunctious Trent favorite “Bad Luck,” which had all the players and most of the audience shaking legs, breaking knees, swaying to and fro, or madly tapping feet on the floor.

Hamilton then played his new album straight through, starting with the slow accordion ballad “Weight Plan” before bringing everyone onstage for the majority of his set. At highest count, there were 12 people on stage, including three backup singers (Hearst, Jamie Resch, and Hamilton’s girlfriend Stephanie Underhill), Erin Norton on violin, Wando High School horn players Sam and Eric, and occasional Wurlitzer and accordion accompaniment, along with Carson, Trent, Burg, and Hamilton. It takes remarkable coordination to have that many people on stage cohesively kicking ass, complimenting each other without stepping on toes. Not to mention the engineering prowess to pull that off; props to everyone involved.

After the rousing “All That I,” Hamilton asked the crowd, “Did y’all get your 10 bucks worth?” to which an audience member replied, “We hit a deer on the way over here.” From the back, Hearst piped up, “That’s good eatin’, son,” before Hamilton introduced the next two songs, “Dead Man’s Float Parts One and Two,” featuring fantastic “ooohs” from the backup singers.

The stripped-down “Pinin'” slowed things down, only for them to pick right up again. “The next song is called ‘Trust,'” said Hamilton. “If you like to dance to a Latin groove, this one’s for you.” Hamilton repeated the line, “I don’t know if I can trust you, so I don’t know if you can trust me,” over and over as Sam and Eric’s horns raged behind him, bringing the energy level up a notch.

Before playing the 12th and final song of the album, “Sleeping With You,” Hamilton summed up the whole night, saying, “I don’t want to leave. Can we all just come up here and sit Indian-style and talk about stuff?” And then he softly strummed his cigar box and five backup singers, including Trent, carried along the spare, innocently beautiful, nearly a cappella song which left the audience in a trance.

Having played his entire album plus an encore, Hamilton set up a looped drum beat on his keyboard and said, “That’s all the songs that I got. I’d like to use this drumbeat to introduce everybody that played tonight,” and the parade began, as each player was introduced and did various goofy dances to massive applause.

As they all congregated onstage, Hamilton said, “We’re going to come dance in a conga line and then meet back here in 15 minutes for a family band,” and then led the entire packed house in a conga line around the Pour House. Talk about bringing music to the audience.

This party had everything: hours of music, rotating players, interactive, positive vibes, and constant smiles from players and audience members alike. And if that weren’t enough, well after 1 am, with most of the crowd gone, these friends got onstage to have some more fun. Leslie’s Sadler Vaden led Trent and Hamilton through a few before giving up the floor for Hearst, Resch, and Burg to play bandleader.

The night was an affirmation of the power of local art as the Shrimp Records family celebrated quality music and did what they live to do.