It is 9:30 on a Tuesday night and LA singer/songwriter Joe Firstman is cornered inside Jeffersonville’s Perkfection, a Spring Street establishment known more for coffee and sandwiches than mid-week entertainment choices.
But tonight, the small eatery with a big-city vibe, whose tables wrap around a mid-room staircase while meandering towards the small brick-backed stage, is less about ham and turkey and smoothies and more about the experience that the full room has just had watching Firstman play his songs – songs about people he knows, women he used to know and how he keeps hoping he won’t screw things up next time.
And now, most of the crowd that sat spellbound for 90 minutes has arranged itself in a line that stretches through the room, each person waiting to say a few words to the evening’s entertainment.
“Today was the first time I’ve ever been able to say I was going to a rock show in Jeffersonville,” one fan jokes as he gets near to Joe.
Another guy – who later explains he first saw Joe perform three years before as an opening act for Jewel at the Louisville Palace Theater – relates how he heard about the show.
“I was on Facebook today and saw a listing about you being in JEFFERSONVILLE! I knew you were coming to Indiana, but I didn’t realize you were coming HERE. This is great.”
Meanwhile, Joe handles the group like he has handled them all night from the stage – with a contagious, humble grin and a southern charm (he was born and raised in North Carolina) that thrives on jokes, smirks and direct eye contact.
“This is what I am thinking,” he says to a few folks near him while he signs CDs and shakes hands. “This has been one of the best nights on the tour. I say we come back in maybe 3 months – right back here to this same place – and just pack it out, overflowing. Then, the next time we come through we can play a club in Louisville. But I am not going to book some club over there and only play for 30 people. This small setting is great for right now.”
Firstman speaks quickly and excitedly and his thinking on such a long-term scale reveals a certain humility. A business model based on patience and persistence usually seems only to appeal to a certain variety of fresh, young and hungry musicians. Firstman, on the other hand, has been playing live music for a decade, has had a major-label record deal, and spent 4 years playing nightly on national television. But he is not afraid to keep touring his music throughout the country like he is still a brand-new artist looking to build an audience wherever he goes.
And the truth is that Firstman’s live show really is what sells him as a talent. Whether he was behind a keyboard playing re-arranged versions of older songs from his catalogue like “Now You’re Gorgeous, Now You’re Gone” and “Speak Your Mind” on Tuesday night, or trying out tunes from his upcoming new release (slated for February 2011), intimacy was always floating from the stage along with the raw strength in his voice.
Joe announced that he was at the end of his set several times before reconsidering and strumming along into another song suddenly - like an old friend who promises to let you go after he tells you one more story he almost forgot. He finally ended the evening by taking yelled requests and doing his best to fumble through songs he hadn’t played for quite some time.
And then he positioned himself here – cornered – with a suitcase of CDs and a Sharpie and a thankful, generous spirit.
“Where can I go online to buy your stuff,” a tall guy in his early-thirties asks Joe, after telling stories about the new piano lessons he has been taking and how inspired the evening has made him.
“Here,” Joe says, pushing a CD into the man’s hands. “Hit me up next time. Bring friends next time we’re in town. But take the CD now. Don’t worry about paying for it.”
Joe Firstman may physically be cornered. But there is no question as to who is really in control of the room.
Photo: Brian Eichenberger