Vance Gilbert Live In Studio

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The moment Vance strolled into the studio the afternoon, the staff knew we were in for a treat. From the second he sat down in the recording room, he had all of us in stitches until he left nearly two hours later. His quick wit and constant joking manor brought a certain air into the room of an experienced artist who, while taking his craft seriously, in the end just wants to have fun.

Needless to say, Vance is no rookie to the music industry, having travelled and opened for the likes of George Carlin and Aretha Franklin. He has juggled between genres, jumping first into jazz and then transitioning over to folk. When asked what has caused this sort of transition he said, “I’m fifty-four years old now, and I’ve been playing since I was about seventeen. I have a story to tell, and folk music really enables me to tell that story, and put melody over it. Jazz was, to me, the complete opposite. It was more about finding a very catchy melody, but not having the story you told over it heard.”

He jumped right into his set with a song called “Goodbye Pluto”, a ballad directed towards the dwarf planet which once was considered the ninth true planet from the sun. The song, although maybe not his most serious, was sung with such passion as to almost convince the listener that Vince had lost a close friend.

“To see the audience laughing or truly listening to my songs is the most rewarding feeling as an artist. To get that sort of emotional response out of someone through music is a miracle in itself.” He mentioned.

From there, he dove into “Old White Men”, the title track from his most recent record released in 2011. The song tells a story of his vision of the figure that is the “old white man” as he grew up and began growing grey hairs himself. This song shows exactly what he meant when he said how folk music allows his stories to be heard. As he sang over intricately finger picked guitar, his heart felt vocals had everyone in the booth silent, as to hear the story he was telling through the song. “Someone once asked Aretha Franklin why she never sang a blues song, or did the blues. You know what she said? ‘I’m too happy!’” He said through his ensuing chuckle. “I find that hilarious, but so true in my music. It would be hard for me to do any other genre.”

He ended his set with a simply fantastic song entitled “Fly On Little Wings”. In this song, he belted out pitch-perfect vocals and moved up and down the guitar neck like it he had known it for years — which he has. After ending on quite an intricate solo, he was all “thank you’s” to everyone who helped with the recording and the putting together of the set. Quite the modest and appreciative man, at the very least.

“One thing I’ve noticed along the way and as I’ve grown old is how much I improve. It honestly astonishes me how I can play faster and notice when I’m in key, and correct myself when I am out of key.” After I pointed out how he is living proof that the idea of not learning an instrument past a certain age couldn’t be less true, he laughed and added, “I have musical students now that range from sixty-two to fourteen, and I can tell you that that sixty-two year old can improve just as much as my fourteen year old with the practice.” He laughed, “I came late to the game, but with that being said I plan on staying pretty late as well. And I know I’m still improving. There’s a soundtrack to my life… if something bad happens, there is a song that goes with it, and therefore music will always be a part of me until the end.”

By Patrick Prendergast
Photo by Jeeyoon Kim

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