Richard Thompson is a musician’s musician.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a legion of loyal fans, I’ve never seen him play a hall with an empty seat.  He likely won’t break into the periphery of the casual music listener, but you ask a fan, a true fanatic of music and its historical perspective, you’re bound to hear his name pop up.  Thompson graces everyone’s “best guitarists” list.

Richard Thompson is a maverick.  Coming out of London’s 70’s folk scene, he blends into any style of music yet remain identifiably himself.  Blues, rock, folk, electric, acoustic, he’s able to bridge genres and centuries of music with his playing.  Thompson has created his own modern take of the hybrid picking that Merle Travis made famous so long ago.  He can fit so much sound into one track that you’d swear there were multiple players in the room.

Richard Thompson is a magician.  Alone with an acoustic guitar, he mesmerizes the crowd with feats that seem to defy physics.  When 550 people sit so still that you can hear his foot tapping the tempo on the bare stage, there’s electric in the air.  A palpable awareness that it could pop at any moment and all rush out.  And he knows he has us all right where he wants us, throwing in a few extra bars of the shuffling locomotive bridge of “Valerie“, making eye contact with a grin.  “It’s easy,” he says with a nonchalant shrug to a burst of applause, snapping us out of our trance.

Richard Thompson is a storyteller.  Drawing from the folk, everyman tradition of pulling in a crowd, the banter while tuning feels natural.  The bickering with the man in the front row, we’re all in on the joke.  The flubbed lines of “Crocodile Tears” seam somehow endearing.  Thompson demands your acknowledgement of his ability while making you feel comfortable in his parlor for the evening.

Tonight’s parlor is the once forgotten gem of a room at Memorial Hall, hiding in the shadow of the grand Music Hall on Elm Street.  Having recently completed an $11 million restoration, the 1908 Beaux-Arts beauty will be forgotten no more.  With announcements of renovations and facelifts comes that dreaded feeling that the original beauty and charm will be lost to the ages, but no such trepidation is needed here.  Spearheaded by 3CDC, this faithful restoration keeps most of the added modern amenities hidden.  Now with climate control, state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment, and a backstage area, use of the elegant space can attract a larger pool of talent and do so year-round.

Tasked with filling the space, The Memorial Hall Society has created the Longworth-Anderson Series, a contemporary music series bringing Grammy Award level talent to their intimate listening room.  Opening the series with Rosanne Cash and continuing next with Sarah Jarosz, they are almost ready to let the lid off their anticipated sophomore season.  The Society makes an evening of it, inviting patrons to come early for mingling over hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, and enticing you with deserts at the post-concert reception.

To see such high caliber musicians, at their peak, in a room of this size and refinement is a real gift.  You won’t get this chance very often.


Richard Thompson performed at Memorial Hall in Cincinnati, OH on 04.07.17.  Joan Shelley was the opening act.


originally published at Polly Magazine