News Column

Willy Porter feels strong connection with his audience

April 27, 2014

By Mike Tighe, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

April 27--Singer-songwriter Willy Porter, who describes himself as a "struggling seeker" and weaves religious themes into many of his songs, believes in is a sacred bond between musician and audience.

"Basically, when people are in a room together, the musician and the audience are witnessing the same thing from different perspectives," Porter said during a phone interview in advance of his performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Pump House Regional Arts Center.

"I like to think that the relationship between an audience and musician is sacred," Porter said. "Watching can't be replaced with YouTube -- and thank God you can't."

Although you can find Porter and singer-songwriter partner Carmen Nickerson in a few YouTube videos if that's your druthers, you might find it more fulfilling to bond with them in person during their gig closing The Pump House's concert season.

All the better to experience the Milwaukee musician's talents as a philosopher and comedian in addition to his musical prowess and reputation as a guitar player extraordinaire.

The concert "covers a log of ground, from blues to rock 'n' roll to American folk," said Porter, who has become a popular draw during previous Pump House appearances.

Porter has toured with rock bands and opened for an impressive roster of musicians, including Paul Simon, Jeff Beck, Jethro Tull and Tori Amos, among others.

Amos has been quoted as saying, ""Willy plays rhythms that make me want to crawl inside his guitar and sleep there forever."

Porter said he first noted music "way back in the day when I first heard the Jackson 5 as a little kid. It was a shocker. I saw this as a game-changer, life-changing, even though at 4, I didn't know it."

These days, Porter is a fan of all musical genres, although he noted, "I can't say I can get with the hip-hop. I like the music production, but the lyrics are lacking.

"I'm a sampler," he said casually in his warm, soothing voice.

Porter will offer another sample this year in "Human Kindness," his first CD since his highly successful "Cheeseburgers and Gasoline" in 2012.

"I still believe in albums. I believe we need to have connections -- even if it's just for me," he said.

"I like the nature of the songs," he said. "They were recorded in my house, and we didn't do anything over if a note was off. They have the human part. The album is real -- it hasn't been digitized. It is a lot more acoustic."

One of his favorite titles on the album is "Walking With the Man," he said, explaining that the Man is God, "It's really about a spiritual quest -- what it means to be a Christian, really about walking in faith."

Another is "Every Day Is a Holiday," which Porter said is about "the universal nature of faith and how it's impossible to separate from anybody else's directive, whether it's Muslim, or Christian, or other.

"We're so hung up on what's different instead of what makes us similar," said Porter, who describes himself as a "struggling seeker" and follower of Christ who attends a Unitarian Church.

Asked whether his children might follow his musical path, he said 10-year-old Liam seems inclined toward engineering. "He is so good with technology, I think he'll be in the engineering field."

Meanwhile, 13-year-old Lizbeth "might prefer acting," he said. "She is really into improv and attending workshops at First Stage," a Milwaukee theater training academy for young people that involves their families at the same time.

"She's sort of dragging us into it," Porter said, laughing, as he listed Broadway musicals they have been watching together, including "Wicked, "Rent" and "Les Miserables."

"She's pulled us into that circle of thespians," he said. "I'm scoring a Nancy Drew play" for First Stage.

The play, "Nancy Drew and Her Biggest Case Ever," marks the first time the heroine of the longtime popular teen mystery books is portrayed on the stage. Its world premiere will be Friday at First Stage's Todd Wehr Theater.

Porter undoubtedly will be able to tell The Pump House audience how it went -- if asked, because he just doesn't seem like the type to brag.

If Porter had the opportunity to reprise his career, he said, "I might have taken more time to write instead of chasing labels. They call it the music business because it is a business ... but music has to have its own life forms."


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Source: La Crosse Tribune (WI)

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