Songwriters workshop @ Blue, Portland, Maine

Featuring Ben Balmer, Lyle Divinsky

Congress Street, Portland Maine

To round up our time in Portland we headed to an early evening session at the Blue music venue on Congress Street. We found out about it on the chalkboard outside the venue and decided to go. Good decision by us. 

The first thing we noticed was that people were dressed like ordinary people here. No skinny jeans, no statement clothes, if anything, hair length was variable, but only to imply that people had simply forgotten if this was important. The host wore pale jeans and a loose maroon t-shirt with a local merchant’s logo; the guest performers wore jeans and something black or ill fitting or both. To me that is a good sign. I expected good music, good people and no posturing.

We entered the room while Ben Balmer (black ill-fitting blazer), was midway through a song called Gunslinger. This is a song about murder, heartbreak, and intrigue. That’s his jam. As a performer he has the full house: crisp, clearly crafted lyrics, surprising images, strong story, set to supportive guitar parts and a double bass, and all performed with authenticity. His voice frequently reached its limits. The overall rawness and honesty of Ben’s songwriting was what I found really piercing. As this was a songwriting workshop he (along with the other writer, Lyle Divinsky, and their host) spoke openly about their writing process, experiences, and styles, which added to the open doors effect of the night.

Lyle Divinsky, the other guest writer on stage, was a phenomenal singer (white Gregory Porter?) and intricate guitarist – very good indeed by all measures. Soul, presence and really accomplished musicality. One thing that he will surely improve in years to come is that (in my opinion) he tended to hide a bit behind his striking voice and the tense jazz harmonies in his writing. One parallel would be perhaps how some extraordinarily beautiful people navigate through life – with ease, and never forced to sharpen their true interactions. I could not quite get a clear picture of him through his songs. Still, what a great performer and probably has the best chance of all of the writers on stage to become a legend. His father joined in with some harmony (and impressive falsetto) from the audience stage right, and his bandmate joined in from stage left, during one song. Spontaneity is a wonderful gift whether you are the instigator or the witness. I was so pleased to be there.

Next breakfast time, even while consuming the questionable turkey sausage meat at the hotel, lyrics started coming for me. And they kept coming as we drove the highways in New Hampshire and while rock climbing in North Conway and Rumney. During the trip that week, I came across the following folklore fragment in wild northeast magazine*:

An old Cherokee told his grandson, “there are two wolves fighting in each of us, one is good, one is evil”. “Which one wins?” asked the grandson. “Whichever one you feed”, the Cherokee replied.

A few hours in a blues bar with ordinary people, and I think the good wolf was able to lay down some fat. 


*we met the owner, Ian, and he was a really cool guy

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