Smile Politely

Storytelling through song at Rose Bowl Tavern’s November writers in the round

Bonnie Newberry

On a brisk Sunday evening in Champaign-Urbana, the November Writers in the Round at Rose Bowl Tavern beckoned with the promise of local music and storytelling. This event, nestled in the heart of our music scene, offered a lineup of artists each bringing their unique sound and narrative. From nostalgia-tinged blues to folk-infused tales, the evening was set to be a showcase of the diverse talent our community holds. Let’s dive into the experiences and sounds that defined this night.

Sunday evening the sun set before 5 p.m. and I made the long, dark drive to Rose Bowl Tavern. On the way over I wanted to preview the artists who were featured, so I had to take my Charm CD out, one of Gloria Roubal’s albums from the early 2000s, and I also turned on Bruce Rummenie. His music had a very nostalgic sound with a heavy blues influence and I was looking forward to seeing him, however, he was unable to attend that evening. Hopefully, Roubal can bring him to the Round again soon!

The next artist was Aerin Tedesco. The first song that came up on Spotify was “Don’t This Road,” which as a retired cowgirl with a deep love of Bluegrass, made me instantly love her. Jay Rosenstein was the third and final guest, although I couldn’t find his music on Spotify, based on the talent that Roubal consistently brings to the stage, I was looking forward to getting to hear him.

A musician is on stage, strumming a guitar. They are dressed in a black jacket and a black hat. The backdrop is a red curtain with an American flag hanging on it. Various other musical instruments are scattered around the stage. The musician is performing in front of a microphone. The material they are standing on appears to be partially levitating, indicating some sort of magnetic property. This is likely due to the presence of a superconductive material. The image evokes a sense of excitement and anticipation.
Bonnie Newberry

In person, Roubal kicked off the first round with a song I didn’t catch the title of but I had heard enough times to sing along, her voice and sound always transport me to a better time, when Sheryl Crow was on top of the charts and gummy shoes were the peak of fashion. She prefaced her second song by sharing she doesn’t usually sing it live, as it was written about her mother. The title of the song is “That Woman Who’s My Mom,” and it painted a picture of a kind, humble woman. The line “talents she doesn’t even know” jumped out to me. When I think of the mothers of the women of this generation, I can’t help but wonder what they sacrificed to raise strong, confident daughters like Roubal, and how we don’t always appreciate it. But Roubal appreciates it, recognizes it, and honors her mother’s memory in such a beautiful song. Her third song, “Sea of Apologies,” will be on her upcoming album that she is currently recording at High Cross Studio with Anthony Gravino. I’ve been coming to the WITR for a few months now and this song is probably my second favorite by Roubal, my first being “Moonlight.” The chorus has a great hook and the imagery she creates with the lyrics hit you right in the gut — we’ve all been there.

Tedesco went second, and if her folksy sound didn’t already have me searching for merch to buy, her introduction to her first song did. “This is part one of a two-part song,” she shared, and then with a large sigh, “it’s about a straight girl.” This garnered some “Been theres!” and laughter from the crowd. Tedesco brought out an entire section worth of fans, some of them lovingly known as the AMASONG Choir. One member of the choir added harmonies to the chorus of her first song, which had me standing up searching for where those harmonies were coming from. Imagine my surprise when a woman with glasses and gray hair popped up after the song and gave Tedesco a smile and wave and Tedesco thanked her. Talk about crowd engagement!

Bonnie Newberry

Tedesco prefaced her second song by saying she had written this one about the straight girl, when she had met another lesbian. When she sang the chorus the first time, the line “A path so straight and leading me nowhere” had the whole crowd laughing again, but do not take this as Tedesco writes comical music. Her music has depth and a rawness you don’t find a lot, she tells a story and keeps your attention the entire time.

Rosenstein started his round with a song called “Dinner From a Bag,” about the end of a relationship and the aftermath of being alone. His second song was titled, “Today is the Day Ted Bundy Died,” inspired by a morning paper. He shared that he was reading a newspaper and the story on the front page was about Ted Bundy’s execution, and he thought to himself, ‘If Woody Guthrie was alive, he’d write a song about this.’ and so he wrote it instead. Rosenstein’s music is inspired by his life, which he jokes has been a long one. He shared that he dates himself in his music quite a bit with references to things like fixed phones on the wall, or newspapers that you hold in your hands, not on your phone. Rosenstein is relocating soon; his last local show was at Rose Bowl Tavern with Silverweed on November 12th.

If I had to theme this month’s Writers in the Round, it would be storytellers. The three musicians on stage could truly paint you a picture, put you in that moment, and bring you the nostalgia we all love. As the last notes faded into the cool November air at Rose Bowl Tavern, it was clear that this Writers in the Round was more than just a music event; it was a vivid tapestry of stories and songs that resonate with our community’s spirit. Each artist brought not just their music, but pieces of their journey, leaving the audience with a sense of connection and shared experience. This gathering wasn’t just about the melodies played. It was a celebration of the diverse, dynamic, and rich culture that thrives in our music scene.

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