Having seen several live performances and Open Mic Nights at the Barge Canal Coffee Company downtown, my friends and I have gotten used to the series of actions and emotions we go through as audience members: a slight twinge of empathetic nerves, a bit of tension in the crowd, an encouraging clap, as if to say, That’s alright, keep plugging along. I was greeted with none of that when I went downtown last Saturday to see senior Sarah Poulette perform to a packed house. The Barge was full of friends, family and supporters that exuded confidence and anticipation.
Following her uncle’s lead, Poulette began playing the guitar since around the age of 14, and childhood poetry writing soon turned into songwriting. In fact, the Cooperstown, NY native took 2003’s first prize in the Share the Words High School Poetry Competition, a testament to her lyrical talents.
Poulette played a set impressive in both length and breadth, peppering a selection of covers with several originals. What set her performance apart from others was her ability to keep the show conversational. She let the audience laugh along with her after the few flubs on her guitar and it followed that the entire evening was permeated by a far more relaxed atmosphere than any Open Mic Night. Her vivacious nature made everyone more than willing to go along for the ride. Perhaps it was the familiarity of the Barge that allowed her to be so open and seemingly unscathed by nerves.
“There is nothing scarier than playing a gig when I don’t know what I’m getting into,” Poulette said. “The people at the Barge are amazing and helpful and sweet.”
Another calming factor may have been her family, who came in from Cooperstown to enjoy VIP seats up front. She played a subdued version of old standby “Summertime” despite her mother’s hatred for the song, but still noted how much she loves having her family there to see her.
“I think it’s nice for them to see that the large amount of time I spend in my room singing and fiddling around with my guitar pays off,” Poulette said.
To “butter up” mom for “Summertime,” Poulette made an impressive dash through the 1990’s with covers that included Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” Eagle-Eye Cherry’s mega-hit “Save Tonight,” and “Kiss Me,” made famous by Sixpence None the Richer. The cover with the greatest effect, though, might have been U2’s “The Sweetest Thing,” which benefited from a dialed-down arrangement that better highlighted its rather delicate lyrics.
As for the originals, Poulette surprised everyone by playing, for the first time, the very first song she wrote at age 14. Joking about the song entitled “Strawberry Kisses,” she assured everyone she “wasn’t making excuses” by referring to it as her earliest work; what she launched into, while simplistic, didn’t call for any excuse but showed that an innate talent was present at an early age. The highlight of her set was her original composition “Gray Days,” which erred more toward the more somber tone that she says permeates her work. The lyrics seemed personal, but at the same time extremely relatable.
All in all, Poulette’s performance was one of those experiences that make Colgate such a great place to be. Seeing Poulette’s friends cheering her on made me smile and her excellent stage presence kept me one hundred percent engaged for the two-plus hours of the performance. I would strongly recommend that more students on this campus consider heading down to the Barge, especially if Poulette does a repeat performance before she graduates in the spring.
In the meantime, catch her at Open Mic nights, the first Wednesday of every month, starting March 7. Her original songs, like “Gray Days” and the more up-tempo “Rearrange” will also be available to hear online via Myspace by the end of the semester.