Guest Writer-Musician on Musician: Ian Fitzgerald on Krista Baroni

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I get a particular pleasure from watching an artist perform new material; that pleasure is enhanced when I’m hearing the songs for the first time; and it’s a true thrill when those songs are exceptional. To perform a new song in front of an audience is a daunting challenge; to outnumber old songs with new over the course of a whole set is almost unthinkable. Just consider the balance of risk and reward: one or two songs going well isn’t enough to satisfy an audience’s expectations, doesn’t earn you a pass on the next one. And if, during the next song, a word slips from your memory or your fingers land on the wrong chord, what then? In the minds of most great performers I know, memories of success disappear as soon as more space is needed for self-criticism and detailed recollections of even the slightest mistakes. A mind allowed to focus on a misstep can quickly become tempted by an old song, one that’s more familiar and comfortable to perform. That risk/reward scale can be tipped very easily toward a safer bet.

That all brings me back to the thrill of seeing it happen: of seeing the risk taken and of both the audience and the performer being rewarded with a special performance. It’s rare, but I got to see it happen recently at Club Passim. I was given a heads-up before the show started: Krista Baroni let me know that she planned to play a set of new songs. It was clear that she was not saying this in order to alert me to the possibility of a uniquely memorable performance; she seemed instead to be sharing her nerves with someone she thought could relate. If so, she was probably overestimating me: I don’t know if I would have had the nerve to try six new songs in a seven-song opening set in front of a good-sized Saturday night crowd at Club Passim. What I loved most about being told beforehand, though, was not that my awareness of a potentially extraordinary performance had been heightened; it was that by sharing her plan, Krista had created an external accountability. She could have taken the stage as the only person aware of her plan; and if she had then decided the time wasn’t right or she wasn’t comfortable with the material or she was just too nervous, she could have changed course without anyone ever having known. Instead, she announced her intentions, and I had no doubt that she would follow through.

But as I said, just getting to hear her play these new songs was a pleasure. Getting to hear them for the first time under those circumstances enhanced the pleasure. The real thrill is that these songs are exceptional. I’ve spent a lot of time with Krista’s tremendous debut album Oh My Magpie over the past few months, appreciating the balance she created between the charming musical arrangements and the candidness and deftness with which she sings of disappointments and defeat. I’ve also come to terms in that time with the bad and the good of having learned so late of this album that came out in 2012: on one hand, I’ve missed two years’ worth of opportunities to listen to the album and to hear Krista play these songs live; on the other hand, I now have far less time to wait for the follow-up. To anyone lucky enough, though, to have known about Krista longer than I have, I can assure you on the basis of the songs I heard at Passim that her next record will be worth whatever wait you’ve had to endure.

But since I’m greedy, I hope none of us has to wait much longer.

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