Overwhelmed by love at Turner Hall
Mason Jennings shows extraordinary talent with the common touch up close and personal at Turner Hall.
The 50 tables set up in the Turner Hall ballroom and the acoustic guitars and piano on the stage told me two things: (1) tonight’s set will be 100% acoustic, and (2) this will be an intimate night of music with Mason Jennings.
Mississippi singer-songwriter Charlie Mars opened, with high energy and playful banter. The love ballad “I Do,” written for his college roommate’s first wedding dance, put us in a feel-good state. After a few more slow songs, he picked things up with “How I Roll,” which got the crowd groovin’. Mars fits as an opener for Jennings, whose fans appreciate Charlie’s energy, stage presence, and catchy lyrics. Mars ended the set with his biggest hit to date, “Listen to the Darkside.” He asked the audience to sing the chorus, and it did, happily.
After a short intermission, Mason Jennings entered alone and kicked his set with “Train Leaving Gray” before moving into “In My Grave” and “Hospitals and Jails.” Within minutes, the audience was alive and loudly singing “It’s just you and I you, it’s just you and I my dear.” After more than 15 years of experience, Jennings proved to Milwaukee that he’s still got it. The crowd revved up even more when Jennings strapped on his harmonica and belted out a fan favorite, “Jackson Square.”
Jenning’s plethora of albums and singles give him a wide range of expression to choose from. He proved his versatility by slowing things down with “Clutch,” a ballad from his latest album, Minnesota. He joked that the song has to do with learning how to drive stick shift and has nothing to do with a woman’s purse.
Surprisingly, Jennings didn’t stick to songs from Minnesota for long. He grabbed a ukulele for a brand new song, “Just Try.” About that uke: Jennings said he was born in Hawaii and wanted to get back to his roots with his newest album.
He has, clearly, grown as a musician since his first album in 1997, although he knows not to stray too far from the folk-blues idiom. Jennings is at his best when his simple melodies complement his intricate lyrics — without the distraction of a band.
By the time the set came to a close, fans had flooded the front of the stage. The sang, danced and lived in the moment. Jennings ended with “Crown,” which seemed appropriate as the crowd overpowered his singing “I don’t wanna be together, I don’t want to be apart.”
The encores may have been the highlight of the night. Jennings asked for requests and was immediately bombarded with yelled-out titles. Maintaining his laid-back persona, the singer laughed and sang a few more songs, finishing with “Keepin’ It Real.”
It was no surprise that Turner Hall was packed Friday night. As he jumps from instrument to instrument and song to song, we navigate through life with him. We can relate as he sings about about religion, life, romantic mishaps. His distinctive voice, catchy melodies, and intimate lyrics make him one of a kind, but he speaks to all of us.