Winter Park, Fl • Sept. 8, 2007
I spent a large portion of my teenage and college years in coffeehouses. Sipping lattes- before Starbucks brought that wonderful creation to the world at large and doubled the price- scribbling in my ever present journal, and watching my folk musician friends perform. This was my life, night after night.
At some point, over the years, I traded in the hot coffee for a cold beer, the cafes for bars and clubs, and the folk music for that with a harder edge. But when an old friend comes to town, and books a gig at the coffeehouse down the street from my house, I forget that it’s not 1997 and that folk music bores me and I race down to Austin’s Coffee to relive those simpler times.
Sean Kagalis cannot really be called a folk musician, for that stifling term does not do the man justice. Having spent his adolescence devouring KISS records, and then discovering the glory of punk rock in his teenage years, it wasn’t until he stumbled upon Not A Pretty Girl by Ani Difranco that he truly found his “voice.” Leaving the power chords behind, his guitar became an entire band as he learned to pick and beat the deepest of emotions out of it. When coupled with his effortlessly commanding vocals (Kagalis is not a quiet folkster by any stretch of the imagination!), he had pieced together a brand of music that, while rooted heavily in the sounds of the Righteous Babe (Difranco), was all his own.
His hourlong set, on this humid September night, wooed the clattering coffehouse crowd into submission. The formerly bustling room sat down and listened as he sped through impossibly good songs- songs so good that it’s maddening that the wider world have probably never heard them. Most notably, “Water,” a firsthand account of being trapped in a hotel in New Orleans during Katrina, is a song so moving that I find myself staring at the stage as if the song were a film I didn’t want to end.
In between every song Kagalis alters his guitar’s sound because each song has got its own custom-made tuning, and when a musician in the audience asks what tuning he is using, he goes through them string by string, revealing his secrets.
At the set’s close I watch a crowd of newly coverted fans rush over to the side of the stage to shower the man with compliments, and shell out cash for his latest independently released disc of music. I have seen this scenario time and time again over the past 12 years of watching Sean Kagalis play. I have yet to see him not win over a room. Tonight he just may have reawakened my love of folk music.