This past Sunday evening I visited a staple of the Champaign-Urbana music scene, Rose Bowl Tavern, to check out their Writers in the Round hosted by Gloria Roubal and featuring Paul Kotheimer, David Howie, and Anika Emily.
David Howie was the only performer I was familiar with, and as a singer/songwriter myself I was excited to hear everyone’s different styles, and they did not disappoint! These four performers ran the gamut of genres with sounds ranging from classic country western to modern pop.
Roubal kicked the show off with a simple but catchy riff and lyrics everyone could relate to with “Not the Same.” She was clearly comfortable on the stage and her sound sent me back to the late 90s when women like Natalie Imbruglia and Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries) were topping the charts. “Moonlight,” another great song she performed but hasn’t released yet, had an ethereal sound with beautiful imagery.
Howie was the next to share his music but before each song shared some personal struggles that inspired his writing. He opened with “Half a Life Ago,” which he shared was inspired by seeing an actual chain gang, complete with an officer on horseback with a rifle across his lap, when he lived down south many years ago. “Everybody Everywhere Wants Everything” was another song he shared that talks about putting the electronics down and recognizing people are people, and how we would be better off not hiding behind a screen.
Emily accompanied herself with a beautiful teal Les Paul, the only performer to play electric on stage
, — it definitely helped bring across her sound. “Vacation,” her opening song and title of her EP is poppy and fun with a heavier message than the chords may portray. The youngest performer on stage, her lyrics were more direct and raw. In the song “Grant Me Grace” she shares openly a struggle with depression, all while tricking you into tapping your toes. Imagine AJR meets Olivia Rodrigo.
Kotheimer was the final performer of each round and his polished playing, quirky lyrics, and ability to find the humor in any situation captured the crowd. He opened with a song he didn’t share the title of, but his ability to slip in some jazz chords and scat singing got people out of their seats and added some levity. He talked about one of his bands, “The Pawpaws,” named because the members are all grandfathers, and shared their newest song “I Have Questions.” An honest look at the life of a toddler discovering everything for the first time this song had the whole crowd laughing.
The evening had a very laid-back vibe with some people dancing, everyone enjoying the variety of music, and the occasional pupper to pet. There wasn’t an empty table by the 30-minute mark and members of the crowd were walking up to the stage to get the information they needed to download the correct albums. The singer/songwriters chose not to take a break and instead would sneak off during someone else’s turn to visit with crowd members or pop their backs. Eventually, Roubal and Howie got braver about adding harmonies to each other’s songs and sprinkling in some chords and rhythms that added depth to the music that made songs like “No Cure for the Broken Heart” even more haunting.
Personally, I downloaded my share of albums on the way home and look forward to seeing each of these performers again. You can find these original artists on most streaming services: Paul Kotheimer, David Howie, Anika Emily, and Gloria Roubal.