On a chilly evening a few days before Valentine’s Day, the passionate singer-songwriter Zara Phillips, accompanied by the renowned Richard Thompson, performed at Montclair Story Salon in Verdigreen, a home decor and vintage furniture store. Phillips, writer Rachel Martens and other performers filled the cozy room with songs and comedic stories about longing, loss, love and connection.
Actress-comedian Sarah Nedwek and actress-writer-producer Liz Samuel co-host the Montclair Story Salon once every other month. On this night, guests, surrounded by cans of pastel paint and welcomed by a table of chocolate candies and cookies, listened to Phillips share her latest songs, including “Heartache” and “I’m Not Ready to Fall Apart,” that will be released on an album due out this summer.
Phillips’ heartache is palpable, but her voice is resolute. Having experienced the loss of friends and family members over the past few years, she knows about the pain of love. She explained that her upcoming album will focus on themes of healing and the journey of having children of her own and finding her place within her biological and adopted families.
Thompson, who helped invent the genre of British folk-rock in the ’60s as a member of Fairport Convention, has been one of the world’s most widely celebrated singer-songwriter-guitarists and a prolific recording artist in partnership with his former spouse, Linda Thompson, and as a solo artist.
He is also producing Phillips’ new album. In a prior interview, he said “I like to be the conduit of music, but don’t want to draw attention in other ways.” Sitting in a corner of a Montclair store, enhancing his partner’s powerful lyrics, he achieved this goal. His accompanying guitar playing was gorgeous, caressing Phillips’ voice with a moody stillness.
In addition to recording her new album, Phillips is also writing songs for a one-woman show that will focus on the lifelong impact of being an adoptee, and issues of addiction and recovery.
Thompson is also working on his own electric and acoustic albums. Later this year, he will release “Beeswing,” a memoir of his life and career from 1967 to 1975. With anecdotes about Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, accompanied by his analysis of the social and political forces surrounding the music scene of that era, it should be interesting.
The Valentine’s Day-themed evening raised money for Sister to Sister of Montclair, a nonprofit mentoring organization for students in grades 8-12. According to Samuel, it drew the salon’s biggest audience to date.
“I want to grow, but I don’t want to leave this beautiful space,” said Samuel. “Montclair Story Salon was created to bring storytellers together in a whimsical, inspirational space while raising awareness and fundraising for important causes. We aim to have writers, singers, improvisers, poets, storytellers and comedians perform in an intimate setting to inspire a community. Art can heal!
“April 2 will be our fourth salon. We always have a theme and we are always looking for local performers to join us. Our first theme was ‘Moms Got Talent’ and we shared parenting stories and songs. Then we had a bewitched Halloween-themed salon, a sparkly holiday salon and then this past one, a love-themed salon for Valentine’s Day.”
Local events showcasing extraordinary talent, as was on display at Verdigreen, should be celebrated and nurtured. In a time of declining intimate venues and political strife, Montclair Story Salon brought community together to reaffirm laughter and expression.
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