Gregory Alan Isakov Warms Up Sold Out First Avenue


Well, we are officially in winter mode up here in Minnesota. With the sun setting before 5PM and 6PM feeling more like midnight than dinner time, I can already sense that it’s going to be a long, cold and dark winter. I have to be honest, the thought of cuddling with with the cats and falafel from the little shop up my block seemed like the perfect way to spend a rainy and cold Monday night but, as always, my insatiable need for concerts got in the way of that plan so after apologizing to the cats, I headed out the door and into the cold darkness that is winter in Minneapolis.

Kicking the night off promptly at 8PM and instantly bringing a sense of warmth to the sold out First Avenue was Haley Heynderickx. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Haley may not be what some would consider a household name but she is definitely on her way. Her sweet and sensitive voice mixed with her honest yet complicated lyrics created an atmosphere that felt like so much more than just an opening act. She joked around with the crowd but not in a scripted way. Everything she said felt real. “I don’t get nervous about the crowds but these cameras… God I hate cameras.” She joked as the few photographers in the photo pit scurried to a place where they would be less visible. There was this sense of respect that Haley commanded from the audience without even asking. The photographers didn’t have to leave the pit but she was being so real, so honest, that you were honestly nothing more than an asshole if you didn’t leave the pit after she said that.

As mentioned, Haley’s music was very relatable. Some songs were fun loving and up beat but other songs you could literally feel the hurt in the music and lyrics. That versatility kept her opening forty minute set feeling fresh and kept the crowd engaged. It was song after song that, even if I could hear feel a heart breaking somewhere in the music, there was a smile on my face because there was so much beauty and honesty in it. There was a warmth in her voice and her Haley’s voice deserves your attention. Her honesty, transparency and shining personality deserve your attention. Hell, everything about this woman deserves your attention. Haley’s set instantly landed into the “I am thankful I showed up on time and can’t wait to catch her again” list. 

With only two acts on the bill, Monday night’s show moved fast but at the same time, the calming nature of the night kept it from feeling rushed. Haley’s set definitely had the sold out crowd feeling warm, fuzzy and relaxed but there was still this sense of anticipation during the twenty minute stage turnover. As soon as the lights went down and the screen concealing the stage disappeared into the ceiling, the crowd broke into one of the most polite yet loud applause that I’ve ever heard. It only last for a couple of moments because as soon as headliner Gregory Alan Isakov jumped into this first song, the crowd went silent to the point where you could probably hear a pin drop.

Gregory Alan Isakov is one of those musicians that has gotten me through some super rough times. I know he has no clue who the hell I am but his voice has seen me cry until I was sick too many times to count. As soon as he jumped into his set I felt the goosebumps raise up on my arms and the back of the neck. Gregory’s voice was dead on last night. Whether it was just him center stage with a guitar strung from his shoulder or if he was joined by his uber talented band, his sound was absolutely perfect. Although it definitely sounded just like all of those recordings that have kept me warm on lonely nights, there was this sense of energy that you just don’t get from listening to his music at home. It almost made the songs that I tend to tear up to feel a bit more energetic, a bit more up beat. Now, I’m not calling his music dance music in any way but there was definitely a different side to it that you could only get from seeing it live.

At only 39 years old, this South African native (currently living in Boulder, CO) has truly made a name for himself in the indie singer-songwriter scene. His voice is distinctively his but still has this sense of comfort and familiarity that makes him easy to fall in love with. His lyrics are deep and meaningful but are also sincere and easy to relate to. If you wanted to dig into his music and his lyrics, you could definitely find a complex web of stories and emotions but if you just wanted a voice to warm you up on a cold and snowy Sunday morning, he could do that too. I loved the way that as soon as he would jump into a song, the entire crowd would jump in with him. I don’t mean that they were singing along to every word (although some were) but I mean you could honestly see the fans jump into the songs mentally. Some would close their eyes, some would grab the hand of whoever they were there with- there was a very obvious physical reaction to the music of Gregory Alan Isakov and that’s something I rarely get to see.

Although he played over a dozen songs, it wasn’t enough for me. I could have stood there for days just listening to Gregory Alan Isakov and his band and it still wouldn’t have been enough. It may have been cold and rainy as I walked back to my car and made my way home down the city streets but I felt a sense of warmth that only last night’s show could give me.