A New Appreciation for an Old Name in Music

Today was the last day of the 2003 Herndon Festival, in Herndon, Virginia. I didn't know much about what was going on this year, having been entirely too busy for the past several weeks, and having neither the time nor ambition to find out. Regardless, leaving a party yesterday, my friend asked me if I was interested in going today, noting that perpetual local favourite Emmet Swimming was going to be playing, followed by none other than Suzanne Vega.

I agreed to go, though, in all honesty, it was to see the former band. I'd never known or cared much about Vega. As it turned out, however, we got waylaid, and didn't make it to the festival until later, after the Emmet Swimming show. In retrospect, I am glad I stayed to see Vega -- I really got to appreciate her music, after today's experience.

I, like many others, didn't know a lot of Suzanne Vega songs before today's show. Like anyone else, I was familiar with "Luka", "Blood Makes Noise", and of course "Tom's Diner"; perhaps to a lesser degree, a smattering of those in the crowd might have known "99.9Fº". Requests for these songs were, of course, yelled out incessantly by the audience and this was, apparently, much to the amusement of Vega herself. However, it turned out that I didn't pay so much attention to these songs, as I did the rest of her set.

Playing about 14 songs, including a two or three song encore, I really grew to have an appreciation for her. After hearing, for the first time, "The Queen and the Soldier", I was transfixed to my spot on the lawn, for the rest of her set, enjoying her truly vivid lyrics. Songs like "Gypsy" and "In Liverpool" (both of which share roots in a particular event in her life, apparently) were wonderful, and I was quite surprised I'd never given Vega serious consideration as an artist before.

The aformentioned "popular" songs were of course played, near the end of the set, as it really probably would have been a disappointment not to hear them. A dark cloud passed overhead, and heavy winds picked up during "Blood Makes Noise", and considering the song's subject matter, it seemed very appropriate. It was also curious to note the large number of audience members who were rocking strollers, and holding children, a crowd that has probably been listening to Vega for years, but now finds itself in a different demographic, fifteen to twenty years later. All environmental and social observations aside, however, the show put on by Vega for this small crowd of 500 or so was both intimate for all involved and something of a mind-changing event for me, in terms of musical appreciation.

I am neither a member of the self-defined "strong women" demographic who tend to follow her, nor am I one of the vocal minority, consisting of both men and women, who look at Vega in a particularly sensual and/or sexual facet. I am, however, a new fan of hers, and was pleasantly surprised by today's show.