A special concert was presented at the Keokuk Union Depot on Saturday evening, October 8, organized by the Keokuk Union Depot Commission and the Keokuk Fine Arts Council. The first thing that made it special was that the place is remarkable, steeped in history and a carefully restored example of early 1890s architecture.
What made the evening musically special was the performer, Carol Montag, who paid tribute to three performers who had an incredible influence on the music that once surrounded many of us as history unfolded. was unfolding before our eyes: Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Judy Collins. Montag took the audience on a nostalgic journey back to the folk era of the 1960s and 1970s. On Saturday, the audience was in a cloud of coffee memories at Le Depot.
It wasn’t a big crowd, even though it should have been, but it just made the intimacy of the venue feel closer to what it was, well… back then. There were cafes in New York’s Greenwich Village, small places filled with smoke and filled with ideas, as students – and often their teachers – ruminated on politics, the Vietnam War, civil rights, freedom of expression, and all the other things that were going on at that time. They listened to the poets, writers and musicians whose music flowed so freely from their guitars and open minds.
Montag said: “When I was young, I loved the music of these three women [Collins, Baez, and Mitchell]. My sister had a guitar and taught me three chords, and the rest is history.”
She grew up in Ames in a hard working family. His father had been a master well driller in Kansas and had moved to Ames. Montag had studied graphic design at Iowa State and took a job with Rockwell Aviation as a graphic designer. Her love of music caught her attention and over the years, and after a few guitar lessons, she discovered that she could make people happy with her music. She began performing in public and eventually started writing her own music, while also honing her take on the folk genre she showcased on Saturday.
She kicked off with Joni Mitchell’s iconic song “Chelsea Morning,” about life in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Then came the Joan Baez classic “Someday Soon,” and audiences were hooked. After more from Baez, including her rendition of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” Judy Collins’ “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” took listeners back in time.
Montag’s rich vocals encircled listeners in the lower register and then sent them skyward as the music soared higher. She let her voice soar and released an almost ethereal sound, while staying true to the poignant and earthy messages of Baez, Collins and Mitchell.
Montag interacted with the public, another hallmark of the cafe scene. She told stories, talked about performance and the homage she paid to these three icons of the folk scene.
The first half of the concert featured his work on 6-string and 12-string guitars. In the second half, she delighted everyone with the accompaniment of the lap dulcimer, demonstrating once again how comfortable she is with her string instruments.
Other notable songs from the era that she shared include “The Circle Game”, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Clouds”, after which she has announced that this evening was his last tribute of the year to Mitchell, Collins and Baez. How lucky she chose the Depot for this occasion.
She ended with “The Greenland Whale Fisheries”, a song which Collins sang a cappella with only the sound of whales in the background. Sontag sang it – a cappella, true to form. The audience clung to every syllable and demanded an encore. She graciously offered two of her own songs which showcased her sense of humor and versatility. In one, she paid homage to Velveeta cheese and bologna on white bread sandwiches she ate as a child with a parody of the musical’s hit song ‘Evita’ – which turned into a comic “Don’t Cry for Me Velveeta”. The other was a tongue-in-cheek musical confession or sort of, “I Can’t Do Jell-O.” They were fun tunes to wrap up a very entertaining evening.
Among her many upcoming performances, A Carol Christmas will be presented at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 15. Details of this and his many other concerts are available on his website, carolmontag.com.
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