April 26, 2001

A Perfect Evening

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This Tuesday, in Willard Straight Hall, was the premiere of the Lauren Pickard Memorial Emerging Artists Series at Cornell. This new series of concerts — which should spotlight 1-2 artists each year — kicked off with an amazing performance by Sam Shaber ’94, a singer/songwriter of considerable talent. Since graduating from Cornell with a degree in Anthropology, Sam has honed her songwriting and performing skills in New York City, playing numerous shows there as well as touring all over the country. She’s made quite a name for herself, even winning the 2001 John Lennon Songwriting Award for her song “Bare.”

After witnessing a night highlighted by emotional vocals, heartfelt lyrics, and Sam’s inventive, fun style of guitar-playing, I can say she deserves all the praise she’s earned. The highlight of the show’s first half came when Sam followed up the heartrending lost-love ballad “Honey” with the upbeat, introspective “Rooftop.” It was this ability to intersperse her sad, confessional slower songs with some uptempo rockers that made her performance utterly enthralling. Sam shifted moods effortlessly throughout the night, as she seemed by turns happy, depressed, frustrated, horny, lonely, or angry.

When, during “Make It Up To You” — a great, touching song written for Sam’s sister — one of Sam’s guitar strings broke, she finished up the song with poise without even pausing in the midst of her vocals. Then, much to the audience’s surprise and delight, she proceeded to entertain us a cappela as she restrung her ax. After the show, I got a chance to speak with Sam about her music, her time here at Cornell, and quitting her day job. Given her lively, entertaining onstage banter between songs, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this lady can talk. Here’s what she had to say.

D: How do you go about writing a song? Do you just sit down and say, “I’m gonna write this today,” or is it —

SS: There’s a little bit of that, only because I have so little time, ’cause I’m running the whole show still at this point …. And songwriting, you need mental space to write a song, like writing a story, writing a poem, anything I think, creating, painting, whatever. So sometimes, it’s like, I’ll recognize I have a chunk of time on Tuesday, so I’ll sit down and write a song … And then when I do start to write the song, I start from as numb and neutral a place as possible, just being open to everything that comes into my head, and trying to figure out what idea I want to start with. Not just lyrically, but sometimes a musical idea, or just