(Photo by David Jang)
The female duo’s overlapping harmonies swirl through Bon Temps Creole Cafe, commingling with the steam piping off big, white bowls of gumbo.
Welcome to Songwriters at Play, a weekly showcase for up-and-coming musicians.
The duo is The Lovebirds, Veronica May and Lindsay White.
They pause before beginning their next nostalgic tune, looking out at a spellbound crowd of approximately 30 people.
“You know how movies have sequels?” White asks the audience.
“Like Santa Paws and Santa Paws II!” May interjects, her quirky personality shining in the intimate environment. “Santa Paws II was the sequel to … ”
“They don’t care!” White banters back.
The crowd — a jambalaya of families, friends and older singles — chuckles.
“Well, this one is the sequel to the song we just played, ‘Landmine.’ It’s called ‘Goldmine,’” White says.
And so they begin “Goldmine.”
It’s a love song about a time-tested relationship — “that is the real goldmine.”
But the uplifting number aches with irony in light of the pair’s recent romantic breakup.
“The Lovebirds” were just that until a month ago, when they ended their three-year romantic relationship to be able to “salvage what (they) had musically,” White said.
“We felt like music is why we were brought together,” she said. “We’re meant to be together in that way, and everything else will fall into place with time. People think we’re crazy going on tour together a month after breaking up.”
They don’t agree.
The two croon onstage: “What we have left is more than we lack/We got songs in our throats and guitars on our backs/So we’ll make love through our music.”
It’s hard to describe The Lovebirds’ sound without sinking into intangibles. White’s voice grows like fresh moss on May’s rich, oak tree of a tone. And when White carries lead on a song, her antique melodies dance like flames being wind-blown by May’s gusts of warm vibrato.
They say they fit somewhere on the spectrum of female duos between the Indigo Girls (but less folksy) and Tegan and Sara (but less poppy). If The Milk Carton Kids and Iron & Wine defied genetics to produce a lovechild, it would be The Lovebirds.
Upon first listen, their quirky, chirpy, slightly jazzy sound — complete with guitar picking and ukulele strumming — comes off as arrestingly joyful. But with a deeper listen — the type that audiences get at Songwriters at Play events — their sound reveals itself as ethereal, haunting and elegantly beautiful. Their skill as songwriters and music-makers is undeniable.
The Lovebirds are just the type of musicians Steve Key, creator and host of the weekly Songwriters at Play, is looking to support.
“Because it’s called Songwriters, it’s about original music,” Key said. “Our emphasis is on the songwriter, and we invite people to come listen and support the musicians. It’s not a dance club kind of thing; it’s more of a sit-down event.”
In the case of The Lovebirds, Key knew the audience would appreciate their harmonies.
“There’s certainly a lot to like there,” Key said. “They harmonize so very well, and they have a great mix of humor and some real heartfelt, personal songs. I’ve worked with The Lovebirds a couple times before, and they just keep getting better. They’re huge down in their home base of San Diego, and I loved that more people were able to hear of them.”
Key has hosted songwriter showcases for a long time in the area, but the series officially began January 2010.
Since its creation, Songwriters has attracted musicians from near and far.
Mother-daughter bluegrass duo and soloists Susan Marie Reeves and Sierra Reeves come up to the area regularly from Santa Barbara, Calif.
“The difference with events like these is that the people actually listen, and that’s what I like about it,” Sierra said. “I love the respect from the audience.”
For Davis, Calif. musician Alicia Murphy, who was featured at Songwriters at Play at Kreuzberg, CA in San Luis Obispo and at Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden in Paso Robles, the Songwriters shows have been memorable.
“In Paso Robles, it was people hanging out, drinking wine with these beautiful rolling hills,” Murphy said. “It was probably the most beautiful backdrop of a stage I’ve ever played on. I kind of felt like I was playing to the hills.”
And at Kreuzberg, CA, Murphy experienced a first.
“I remember this one guy drew me while I was playing,” she said. “It was kind of a funky picture, but I’ve never had a fan draw me before. He wrote one of my lyrics down next to the picture — the lyrics ‘patience without doubt’ — which is a really hard thing to have, and he said, ‘You know, that was a really profound lyric.’ And I was definitely affected by that.”
Songwriters at Play in San Luis Obispo takes place every Monday at Bon Temps Creole Cafe and the first and fourth Saturdays of the month at Alegria wine and ware. There are also weekly and monthly locations in Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles.
All Songwriters at Play shows are free. Many are recorded and broadcast on The KRUSH 92.5 FM.