On Wednesday night, Jennifer Hartswick and Nick Cassarino brought their duo tour to New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. The longtime collaborative pair never fails to put on memorable performances, but on this night, the duo had something extra special in store for the ~100 lucky people in attendance: a pair of VERY special guests in Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and multiple Grammy-winning bass virtuoso Christian McBride.
Cassarino took the stage solo with his nylon string electric guitar to set the tone for an unforgettable evening. “Ooohh, we got some surprises in store for you tonight! To say the least, which I will…” The Nth Power guitarist/vocalist proceeded to “get the stage warmed up for Jennifer” with a fantastic rendition of Sam Cooke‘s “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Next, he welcomed to the stage “the one, the only, Ms. Jennifer Hartswick”, who echoed Nick’s sentiments, noting that “the night is young” with a knowing smile.
The pair got things moving with a rendition of Bobby “Blue” Bland classic “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)” before moving into the first song Jen and Nick wrote together, “Drowning”, which appears on Hartswick’s recently released album, Nexus. A rendition of Jerry Ragovoy-penned classic “You Don’t Know” followed, Jen and Nick clearly feeding off the energy in the tiny room as they traded vocals and solos.
A beautiful reading of John Prine‘s “Angel From Montgomery” was up next, followed by a seamless medley of T-Bone Walker‘s “Stormy Monday” and B.B. King‘s “How Blue Can You Get” as Nick and Jen both shined on their respective verses, gleefully pushing each other to dig in further. From there, Hartswick’s jazz-inflected Nexus arrangement of Rihanna smash hit “Stay” kept the crowd hanging on her every word.
After a pause to speak about the newly released Nexus, Hartswick welcomed one of her main collaborators on the album to join her and Nick, “one of my favorite musicians and human beings, Mr. Christian McBride.” She gestured to the string bass that had been sitting conspicuously to her right all evening and joked “if you thought I played the upright bass, you’re wrong” as McBride made his way through the crowd to the stage. “Life is really good, you guys,” she gushed, smiling widely.
McBride joined in on Nexus track “Numb”, adding his highly skilled low-end and beaming grin to the subtle, soulful performance. After the song ended and the cheers began to dissipate, Jen stepped to the mic to double down on the evening’s special guests. “As if it wasn’t enough to have one musical hero here,” she said, “I got another one that I’ve been working with for the last twenty years. Y’all welcome to the stage Trey Anastasio…”
With both Christian and Trey in the mix for the remainder of the show, Hartswick moved into the opening track off Nexus, “You Can’t Take It Back”, followed by her “favorite track” from the album, “Silent Waves” (featuring some notably “Stash”-like soloing from Trey), and a set-closing rendition of “Drown In My Own Tears”, popularized by Ray Charles. Each of the final three songs saw Anastasio, McBride, and Cassarino listen with intense focus and play with subtle intent, meshing impressively in the low-volume cabaret-like setting. The looks of respect, enjoyment, and excitement on each of their faces were contagious, as the musicians onstage visibly took as much amazement from the collaboration as the crowd looking on.
On a Wednesday night in October, at one of the smallest venues in New York City, four of the most talented musicians in the business put on a performance for the ages. For those lucky enough to make it inside—whether on or off the stage—it was a night that they’ll surely never forget.
For those not lucky enough to be there (a.k.a. just about everybody), you can watch a full-set video of the performance below, as well as a front-row video of the show-closing “Drown In My Own Tears”.
Jennifer Hartswick & Nick Cassarino Duo w/ Christian McBride, Trey Anastasio – Full Show Video
Jennifer Hartswick & Nick Cassarino w/ Christian McBride, Trey Anastasio – “Drown In My Own Tears”
[Video: marc millman]
Setlist: Jennifer Hartswick & Nick Cassarino Duo | Rockwood Music Hall | New York, NY | 10/10/18
Set: A Change Is Gonna Come*, I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me), Drowning, You Don’t Know Nothing, Angel From Montgomery, Stormy Monday > How Blue Can You Get, Stay, Numb^, You Can’t Take It Back^#, Silent Waves^#, Drown in My Tears^#
*Nick Cassarino solo
^w/ Christian McBride
#w/ Trey Anastasio