Philadelphia native Gillian Grassie played her first show at MilkBoy Coffee in Ardmore this past Friday after having returned from a tour.  For those unfamiliar with this particular songwriter’s steez, her primary instrument is the harp, and she has traveled as far as Europe and Asia gracing audiences with her captivating, folk and jazz-inspired pop tunes.  She has previously released two albums- Serpentine and To an Unwitting Muse.

In front of a healthy crowd at MilkBoy’s cozy coffee shop this past Friday night, Grassie effortlessly gained the silence of the room with her seemingly natural stage charisma, making dance-like movements as she stroked the strings of the harp and let her sweet, melismatic singing unravel into the air.  The harp seemed to flow mellifluously like chimes clinging or stones skipping across a stream.

Grassie started off with a few songs from her yet-to-be-released album, one of which was “Back to Your Flat”, a song she wrote in Berlin “…about romance, language barriers and dictionaries in the bedroom”, she explained.  The song “Sweet Manhattan” came next, and contains a cocktail recipe in the first verse as well as verses in very well-pronounced French.  It fit well with the song’s lounge-y nature, reminiscent of Paris or New York culture, appropriately.  The first line she sang in French translated to “I like books, I want to live inside of them because they [have more meaning] than my real romances…”

While she did a lot to plug her upcoming record, Grassie pulled out a few tunes from Serpentine, including “Tell Me”, “Tamlin”, and the crowd-pleasing “Silken String”.  The latter garnered her 2nd place in 2008’s New York Songwriter’s Circle Competition.  Her poetic and image-heavy lyrics, especially in the songs from the aforementioned record, provide some substantial insight into how she sees the world.

The intimacy of MilkBoy’s space allowed Grassie to be very audience-interactive, and invited the crowd to help her sing the Appalachian folk tune “In the Pines” before teaching them the song’s chorus.  Along the same vein of traditional folk songs, she incorporated a few Celtic ones into her set, including “Down by the Salley Gardens” and “Blackbird”.  She even played Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, which initially wove its way into her repertoire from having promised fans a cover of their choice if they donated a certain amount to her Kickstarter campaign.

It was truly a pleasure to hear Grassie share her music, especially in the city she calls home.  Her pure, soaring voice in tandem with delicate and nearly virtuosic harp-playing transports the mind to another realm.  The timbre of the harp gives her songs an ethereal quality that I just can’t put my finger on.  It’s easy to get lost in her music right along with her as she performs it.

Silken String on Youtube


Home Culture Concert Review: Gillian Grassie @ MilkBoy Coffee 2/24