Ricky Kendall and the Healers were an appropriate choice to open the newly established Heartwood Soundstage at 619 Main Street in Gainesville on the beautiful night of March 24, not only because Ricky, Michael Claytor, Sam Moss and gang are special musical artists, but because the Soundstage has the feel of a very special place as well.
It’s obvious to see that Ricky is not only a special talent that Gainesvillians should be appreciative of while we have him, but Ricky has the hook-up to something other-worldly when he sings and plays his guitar. And the support that Michael and Sam give him only make his star shine brighter.
When you have artists like Ricky Kendall loitering the streets of your town and brimming over with heavenly musical inspiration, you need a venue as stylish, sophisticated and relaxed as Heartwood Soundstage to fully showcase such blessings from the gods of song.
Efforts by Medusa Studios owner Dave Melosh, Mirror Images Studio Bob McPeek, and owner of the property on which Heartwood sits, Hoch Shitama, have created a venue in which the sound is stellar, the sights are pleasing to the eye, and the people are the best. And being in the intimate audience, makes you feel like you’re part of something special.
The venue is set up for recording and live streaming of shows as well.
It’s hard to say how I feel when I hear Ricky’s voice, which sounds as familiar as an old friend from the first time you hear it, sing about the human condition, other than I know I don’t feel worthy enough to truly recognize the rare talent that is before me. When I’m in his musical presence, it all seems to happen much too fast, almost like it isn’t happening when I attend one of his concerts. is this really real, I think, and why don’t more people know how musically brilliant this man really is? And I’m not talking technically here, although he is certainly proficient in that area – I’m talking as billy Joel once said – it’s all about soul.
But as much as I’ve extolled Ricky’s glories in past reviews for his records like Soul Searching and Passing Chord, I realized I had only experienced some of their outer surface when I heard Ricky and the Healers perform them again last week.
Ricky is versatile and able to perform in multiple genres like Americana, folk rock, country, bluegrass and even a little power pop with the catchy song “Transport,” which is a number that sounded like Fountains of Wayne was on the stage when Ricky and company performed them on the Heartwood stage.
Sam and Michael’s soothing background vocals work well with Ricky’s lead voice, which sounds like it has elements of Jim Croce, James Taylor and Sixto Rodriguez all rolled into one man.
Michael’s skills on the banjo and Ricky’s rhythm guitar are important elements to the Healers soundscape, as are Ryan Baker’s keyboards, Jon Alexander’s steel-pedal guitar, Ashley Wilkinson’s bass, and Jared Groom’s drums.
About Gainesville, Ricky said at the show, “I love this place – been here since 2,001 and it’s definitely my home.” In his performance of “Northbound,” a song about being on the road, as Bob Seger once said, Ricky gave the town he loves a heartfelt shout out, “I give my voice a way to friends here at the show /Out here on main street in my Gainesville city home /How many miles are we and how long is the road …I don’t know.”
Originally recorded in 2015, the song sounded downright prophetic, sitting at the Heartwood Soundstage address of 619 S. Main Street.
And when Ricky sings, “This isn’t where I live I must have moved on /And something’s telling me it’s better that I’m gone /I’ve been walking through the streets a lonely vagabond /Trying to find a love gone wrong,” how can a sentient being not help but feel it to his or her core?
Perhaps my favorite performance of the near two-hour set, which played in two parts, was the spooky tune “Silver River,” which Ricky said “is on no album whatsoever…yet.” It’s mystical, ethereal feel, which was accentuated mightily by John Alexander’s eerie steel-guitar playing, had enough magic in it to make a Hell’s Angel’s hair stand on end. And Ricky’s performance of “Life” from his Soul Searching album with words like “She’s got a strange addiction to the wonders of the world,” has enough soul to make a man’s man, like John Wayne, get teary-eyed.
Ricky, Michael and Sam, who are all part of the Shands Hospital Healing Arts Medicine program as musicians in residence, seem like angels who have accepted bodies on earth to help make the hard struggles of life a little more bearable while we’re here.