Songwriter’s Monthly Presents

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Shayna Leigh: Live At MilkBoy
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1 - Meeting Shayna Leigh
In late, late spring of this year, I received photos, a bio, and an advance of Shayna Leigh’s upcoming release (Tenderness, September 17th). I vibed with what I heard and was intrigued by what I read. Her press photos left me with that “wait a minute, I know her” feeling. After rummaging though the fading images scattered about my memory — I do need to clean that place up — I realized that Shayna reminded me of Anne Hathaway (circa her “Get Real” days) only a bit more glamorous. A little over a week later (on the first day of summer), I had an invigorating chat with the dynamic and vivacious artist. When it was over, I felt like I had just mainlined a super-sized Red Bull. She’s got some kick to her! Oddly enough, even after all that, I didn’t feel confident writing up the interview. It was a too-good-to-be-true thing. So far, Shayna had been a stunner in every possible aspect, but I hadn’t witnessed her live performance. Maybe she was one of those awkward shoe-gazers who didn’t interact with her audience? If only I could see her show before I committed words to paper/keystrokes to the internet. But alas, Shayna wasn’t hitting Philly until two months later (August 13th at the World Cafe) and I wanted her interview to run before that. Feeling downhearted, I started transcribing and crafting a story out of our conversation. As things sometimes — rarely, but sometimes — go in this business, the very next day Shayna added a last minute gig to her list of “things to do.” The gig was only days away and less than an hour from my house. Drop everything and go? Duh! Of course!

2 - MilkBoy
The MilkBoy is a hip — not hipster, big difference in my mind, at least — venue on the corner of East Lancaster Avenue and Cricket Avenue in Ardmore, PA. It’s kind of a cool amalgamation of coffeehouse, shake shoppe/diner, and the living room of your first apartment. The floor is covered in retro black and off-white speckled tiles. Several, small, square tables that seesaw slightly when burdened with the weight of an elbow are evenly dispersed amongst a number of rigid wooden chairs. There is also a small congregate of worn sofas and love seats nested off to the side in case you’d like to chill a little. The area where you order coffee, shakes, food, etc. looks like Starbucks . . . if there had been only one — not a chain — and a couple of college guys had provided the decor and floor plan in that if-you-needed-to-use-therestrooms-you-get-to-see-the-kitchen sort of way. But what about the important stuff, the music setup? Next to the barista station (on the other side of that hall which leads to the kitchen/bathrooms), there is an audio mixing board manned by a sound guy. The entire “booth” takes up about as much space as one of those aforementioned, wobbly, square tables. In the center-ish area of the room, there is a large stage with impressively crisp speakers — I know this fact not by simply looking at them, but because I’ve been to MilkBoy before. Interesting tidbit: this venue is one of the few in the Philadelphia region that defines itself as a “listening room.” What that means is you don’t go there to imbibe, chat, and pick-up potentials, you go there to sip, listen, and impress the steady you brought in tow with your knowledge of trendy, on-a-student-budget venues that feature exceptional entertainment.

3 - Ken Levy
Free parking was only about two blocks away. My wife and I dashed past an intriguing array of shops and fooderies, hoping to get inside our destination before the ominously blackening sky broke open to submerge the area in the first of a 40 days/40 nights level deluge. As we scampered through the door, relieved to have beaten the storm, we were greeted by a pleasant doorman and the artist’s merch(andise) table — brilliant placement, you couldn’t get in or out without being tempted to peruse the various goodies. And, if the featured artist wasn’t currently primping or performing, there’s a good chance that’s where you’d find her. At the time, Shayna wasn’t helming the table, but there was a man there meticulously positioning CD’s, “Shayna Leigh” cards, and sunflower t-shirts like he’d received extensive training in storefront marketing. The only catch was he didn’t look like a retail guy, he had that confident air of authority about him — he could answer questions, make decisions, and call the shots. He had serious, defined eyebrows — I bet his “Blue Steel” look would have given Derek Zoolander’s a run for the money — and two creases on either side of his mouth that suggested frequent smiling. This guy kinda reminded me of my old band manager . . . well, except for the frequent smiling part. “Ken Levy?” I gambled. He shook my hand and greeted me with a smile. Phew, it was him. Ken was Shayna’s manager. While my wife wandered over to peruse the vast selection of hot and cold caffeinated beverages, Mr. Levy and I searched for common ground in each other’s territories: I gushed about Shayna Leigh while he asked me about Songwriter’s Monthly. First impression? Ken was a cool guy. I bet he’s got tons of stories from his days spent at Arista Records. Mental note: Ken would be a great interview.

4 - Location, Location, Location
In certain ways, I am very predictable. For instance, I have always gravitated toward the same general seat location. I like to be close to the action, but not too close, not that awkward, front row close. Whether it be a classroom, a movie theater, or a concert hall, second row center has always been my comfort zone. The only exception is when I’m seeing a comedy show. Those are the dangerous seats! You gotta find something in the middle of the crowd where you can blend in. And you definitely need to wear something nondescript so the stage-bully doesn’t decide to make you his . . . wait, you think I’m paranoid? Exaggerating? Trust me, I speak from experience. If you sit in the first or second row, if you are wearing a clever t-shirt, or if you make eye contact — even for an instant — you’re fair game for public humiliation. Yup, in the right situation, comedians can be even scarier than clowns! From our interview, I knew that Shayna was funny, but in a silly way, not that mean way. Second row, center should be safe for this performance. As long as the opening act wasn’t a surprise appearance by Daniel Tosh, I’d be fine!

5 - Shayna Leigh!!!

Shayna Leigh stepped onto the stage without much fanfare. She was dressed in a black shirt and black pants, her hair was down, and she had that girl-next-door chic going on. There was a certain poise to her, a natural elegance, but her elbow-length sleeves suggested something more: inside this stylish young woman, perhaps lived a tomboy? It was the Sandra Bullock effect. She was probably equally at home in either makeup and jewelry for a cosmopolitan soiree or in jeans and a t-shirt for a lazy Sunday afternoon at home. Maybe even more so the later?

Photo: Ken Levy

The artist displayed an effortless confidence and comfort in front of her audience. Even before she spoke a single word, she somehow exhibited a delicately commanding presence and a sparkling personality. Shayna Leigh had just traveled down from New York, and despite the hours on the road, the two cities worth of traffic, and the storm, she was radiant, ready and eager to share the best of herself with the crowd. Her repertoire consisted of a mix of covers and originals — all of which can be found on her upcoming album. Her guitar player, Ryan Bull, was an impressive musician who performed with a consistently tight and flawless groove. Shayna Leigh was gifted with the enviable ability to take a songwriter’s work and make it her own without betraying the original essence of the song. Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, and Petula Clark quickly came to mind as she performed the Brill Buildingesque standards. However, when the singer performed her own tunes (like her debut single, “Next To Me”), it became strikingly clear that Shayna Leigh was a delightful, effervescent performer with a dazzling luster that made her a one-in-a-million original. Shayna doesn’t employee one of those stand-back-I’m-belting-it-outto-impress-you voices, she delivers her melodies with the easy, refined control of a seasoned performer. She sings with a mesmerizing elixir of emotion, nuance, soul, flair, and precision. Shayna Leigh tastes every single word and breathes life into each note that passes between her lips. Her passion heightens her performance. Alternately drifting from an eyes closed inner focus to a wide, audience-engaging smile — no shoe-gazing here — Shayna Leigh offered nothing less than a truly captivating show.

6 - Epilogue
After her set, Shayna headed over to the merch table to make herself available to her fans — see, I told you, when not primping or performing, there she’d be. She was even more vibrant and engaging off stage. As people approached, she greeted each of them with eager eyes and a fabulous smile. Her genuine exuberance was uplifting and infectious. I introduced her to my wife and the two hit it off like old friends. It was a good night, I was certain I had just met a woman who was going leave a great big happy mark on the world! Oh yeah, how did I know the show was good? Simple, my job was to review the performance, but as I was leaving I realized I had been so lost in the moment that I had failed to take even a single picture! Luckily, her manager had snapped a few with his iPad. The live photo on page 6 comes curtesy of Ken Levy!

Shayna Leigh’s single, “Next To Me,” is currently available on itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/next-to-me-single/id636542250. For more information, visit: www.shaynaleigh.com. And if you want more, stay tuned, the Songwriter’s Monthly interview with Shayna Leigh will be posting soon, as well!

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