By Michael Dinger, Rock At Night New York City
Venue Sheen Center (The Loreto Theater), New York City-December 3, 2019
I first heard of George Winston, the celebrated American “rural folk” pianist, as a child growing up in the early-1980s. My father would fill our house with Mr. Winston’s superb music on many beautiful Sunday mornings. Songs that remain permanently embedded in my brain from that early age include classics from his platinum-certified albums Autumn, Winter Into Spring and December. I lucidly recall the indelible landscape tree images of the album cover artwork, proudly displayed around my father’s turntable like photography works of art in a gallery.
On a chilly December winter evening, in support of his 15th solo piano album released this past May, Restless Wind (RCA, Dancing Cat), George Winston returned to New York City to perform several of his classic, winter season–inspired songs, as well as songs from his more recent recordings. As the crowd filed into the intimate theater, with only a Steinway piano and microphone waiting on stage, the excitement in the air was palpable. Shortly after 7:30 pm, Mr. Winston gently entered stage left with guitar case in hand, modestly dressed in a flannel button-down shirt, jeans and shoeless. It has been said that he performs in stocking feet because it “quiets his hard beat pounding left foot.”
With the stage washed out in hues of purple and red, the mood was set for the two-hour plus show that opened with “Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving,” one of several Vince Guaraldi Peanuts pieces performed on this night. Other timeless classics performed during the first set included Mr. Winston’s “Colors,” “Tamarac Pines” and “Moon.” For the final song of the opening set, Mr. Winston turned to face the audience, opened his guitar case and pulled out his 1966 Martin D-35 guitar (famously modified to include a low-pitched 7th string). He then proceeded to play “Kane’s Tune,” by George Kuo, in the Slack Key technique – a fingerstyle tradition unique to Hawaii that dates to the early-1800s.
Since 1986, Winston has been raising money for food banks and service organizations, and this night was no different. Prior to the brief intermission, he politely urged the audience to join him and the Sheen Center in support of the local food bank West Side Campaign Against Hunger, and also thanked those who brought a donation of canned food to the concert.
The second set of the evening commenced with a three–song medley taken from two of Mr. Winston’s albums – December (1982) and Plains (1999) – a melodic piece that further evoked the joyful essence of this holiday season. At this point in the concert, I also began to study the light reflection of Mr. Winston’s hands and fingers in the hard rock maple wood of his grand piano’s open lid – the graceful movements across the entire range of white keys. A particularly noteworthy offering from this portion of Mr. Winston’s show included a sublime harmonica rendition of “Pastures Of Plenty” by Woody Guthrie.
After closing the second set with “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by Vince Guaraldi, Mr. Winston did not make the eager crowd wait too long for the show’s encore – another superb guitar cover, this time of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.”
George Winston plays over 100 solo concerts every year, with each show featuring a variety of piano and guitar playing styles. When this artist whose appeal transcends generations performs in a city near you, be sure to catch his masterfully crafted solo performance live . . . you will not be disappointed.
“The Winter Show” (Pt. I)
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (by Vince Guaraldi) / Mika’s 3/4 Blues
Colors / Tamarac Pines
Time For Love / Be My Valentine Charlie Brown / Love Will Come (by Vince Guaraldi)
Moon / Lights In The Sky
Chase – a stride piano piece inspired by Thomas “Fats” Waller & Teddy Wilson
Kane’s Tune (by George Kuo) – a Hawaiian Slack Key guitar piece
“The Winter Show” (Pt. II)
Prelude / Carol Of The Bells / Cloudburst
Troubadour (by John Barry)
A Change Is Gonna Come (by Sam Cooke)
The Masked Marvel (by Vince Guaraldi)
Pastures Of Plenty (by Woody Guthrie) – harmonica
Go To Sleep Little Rachel (by Oliver Schroer)
Cast Your Fate To The Wind (by Vince Guaraldi)
“The Winter Show” (Encore)
You Send Me (By Sam Cooke) – guitar
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