“And I know where she’s fallen cause I know how it feels
To go running around this world chasing Kerouac’s heels
And I retraced those steps to that cheap hotel door
Where I talked you out of trying to fly from the seventeenth floor
Cause there’s no angels circling these Hollywood dreams
And we’re all tired of working the memory machines”
– Daniel Champagne, “Heart-Shaped Tattoo”
I was getting ready to write this recap and I got sidetracked by two different posts from Daniel Champagne promoting his seemingly non-stop world tour (including one featuring brand new music) and it was yet another reminder that this young man seems to have the talent and energy and focus of ten people combined. To play guitar the way he does, you’d think it would take all of his waking hours just to hone his skills, and yet he’s constantly traveling, writing and composing, promoting, and also managing to be a complete delight as a human being. Whenever I bring him in for a visit to Folk All Y’all, I feel like I’m somehow cheating the system. It shouldn’t be this easy to hear someone so incredible.
And yet there he was, for our third visit. Our two previous shows with Daniel had been fabulous, but it was time to move out of the house. Of course, he comes as a totally portable package, so setting up at 11 West Huling just meant plugging in his own gear and settling in. We had plenty of time for him to move around the space and warm up as I got the rest of the room ready. I noticed he kept coming back to the same melody, approaching it with intent like he needed to see every side before he knew what it was. Eventually he sat down and we recorded it, and who knows what it will become from there. It was a part of the process those of us at the performance level don’t get to see very often, and it was a reminder of how many steps it takes to get from one end to the other.
A large portion of our audience for the night had attended one of Daniel’s earlier shows (the system is working!), but we also had a lot of newcomers to the experience. I love all the returnees, but it adds to the fun to see new people try to make sense of the one-of-a-kind artistry unfolding in front of them. It’s as close as I get to being able to perform magic – I stand on stage, flail my arms and talk a bit, and then kafwoosh! A virtuosic Australian is playing his face off in a Memphis warehouse! It’s the best trick I’ve got.
Speaking of tricks, have you seen this kid play?
Criminy. It still takes my breath away.
And look, I have to admit something – Daniel could be the most technically gifted guitarist in the world, but if he just wrote gorgeous instrumentals, it wouldn’t move me nearly as much. I’m a word nerd and I need lyrics I can actually dig into. When he sings something like, “with one look over the demon on her shoulder” or “I know you don’t love me but neither do I,” that hits me the way a perfect five-fret chord progression would knock over an experienced player. And on top of the words and the music, he has this voice that’s both radio-ready and totally authentic.
I don’t do anything in my life as well as Daniel Champagne brings songs to life and I don’t expect I ever will. Most people don’t. But when you’re watching Daniel perform, the joy and effort he exudes creates admiration, not envy. It’s reward enough to know that level of passion and talent and beauty exists in the world, and that all of us have the ability to encourage and enjoy it.