Folksy homecoming for Lancaster's Denison Witmer

Denison Witmer did a late-night showcase on Saturday.
Denison Witmer did a late-night showcase on Saturday.
Posted: April 30, 2013

Denison Witmer is one of those nu-folk indie singing songwriter types who have been around forever (10 albums under his belt since 2002) with a cult following and great press (Rolling Stone in particular) to show for it.

That he hails from Lancaster, with ties to West Philly's Green Line Cafe (owner Douglas Witmer is Denison's brother), makes us part of his picture.

Witmer's late-night showcase at Johnny Brenda's on Saturday was a homecoming, then - a chatty affair where he joked about drinking too much Maker's Mark in his dressing room and teased about his tunes' mournful tenor.

"I'm going to get these two sad-ass songs out of the way," Witmer said with a smile after finishing the shimmering Jim Croce-like "Take More Than You Need." That yearningly romantic song, like the tune that followed ("Made Out for This"), is from his newly released album, Denison Witmer. It took real guts to start the show by unveiling (or unloading) intimate moments about which the audience had no clue. Maybe it was confidence that Witmer had in regard to the bond with this audience. You got a glimpse of a couple's middle-of-the-night connection as Witmer sang about "lying awake with my hand on your waist."

From there, Witmer, bassist/producer Devin Greenwood, and the rest of the sextet went about the business of gently folksy pop with softly malleted drums, sweetly lurching violins, and a handsome variety of slide guitars. Atop that, the singer/songwriter with the high voice sang smartly about things most important to him ("Life Before Aesthetics") and ruminated on life's tedium during "Born Without the Words" with a blithe spirit that ran in opposition to sentiments such as "I've grown too old to die young."

The most interesting part of the evening was when Witmer chose a rare and tender cover song, Bry Webb's "Asa," to sing about his own 15-month-old child of the same name. Along with sharing a boy's name, Witmer conveyed the experiences and the raw emotionalism of having a son with great directness. "Let the shadows grow to the end of the road. I will carry you home," he whispered.

Such a winning show of passion and grace is rare.

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