The trio at the billiards table stopped playing and stared at the stage. People at the Growler’s Pub bar looked up from the rims of glass beer mugs. Lesa Silvermore swayed onstage, strumming and singing her cover of Vance Joy’s “Riptide.”
“Lady, running down to the riptide/Taken away to the dark side/I wanna be your left-hand man.”
One of the distracted billiards players pulled out his phone and started recording. He had set his cue down so he could use two hands to capture the sound.
“I love you when you’re singing that song and/I got a lump in my throat cause/You’re gonna sing the words wrong.”
All three players had put their billiard cues away by this point. The bar didn’t need the smacking of phenolic resin balls drowning out the harmony. Tuesday nights are open mic night at Growler’s, and Silvermore, who runs the open mic herself, always gives the bar a treat by starting the night with a few songs.
Silvermore, 25, is a local musician fresh off finishing her first album, Doppelgänger. The album is available on Bandcamp for now, but she plans to have it on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play within a couple of weeks. The album has 10 songs, all of which can be purchased for $10 on Bandcamp. What genre can you expect? Silvermore struggles to answer that question.
“I don’t like being fit into one genre,” Silvermore says. “I like being all over the spectrum, probably because I grew up listening to so many different types of music.”
Silvermore loves Led Zeppelin and the Eagles, but she also embraces the folk sound of her acoustic guitar. Another of her favorite genres, punk, makes her musical influences even more eclectic.
“I play acoustic guitar, but I don’t play it like an acoustic person,” Silvermore says. “I go hard on it. I break strings, and I break picks. I’ve made my fingers bleed.”
The complexity of her sound is evident on singles like “Run Away with Me,” where the melodic folk singing is joined by aggressive guitar solos and an upbeat tempo. “L.H.A.G.N” features an electric guitar playing along with the vocals of Silvermore and backup singer Josh Scheible. These sounds didn’t come together overnight. Doppelgänger took about two years for Silvermore to make.
“Obviously I wasn’t planning on my album to take two years,” Silvermore says. “Life happens.” After six months of rehearsing, her previous bass player got pregnant three weeks before they were supposed to hit the studio. Her previous drummer was in too many different bands already, so she had to find someone who could be around more. Silvermore and her band finally got three days in the recording studio, but the process still wasn’t over.
“I had a particular sound that I was going for,” Silvermore says. “My producer would send me one track back a month, and I would listen to it on every speaker you could imagine. Car, friend’s speakers, my house speakers. Every speaker you could picture. That way I know the tone would sound good.”
Silvermore released two EPs in the past, but Doppelgänger is her first full studio album. She toured last summer to promote and sell merchandise. The money she made on merchandise and a Kickstarter campaign paid for the production of physical Doppelgänger albums for any fans who prefer hardcopy. She paid for the studio time and the sound mastering with her own money saved from past gigs.
Silvermore works at Florida Studio Theatre and studies film at State College of Florida. Working, submitting a film for her school’s film festival and mastering Doppelgänger eats a lot of time, but the local musician still runs her open mic night at Growler's. Silvermore started playing the open mic before she was 21, but a new law prohibiting underage people from even entering bars threatened her attendance. Growler’s liked her so much, however, that the management hired her as a barback to keep her around. She eventually took over the open mic and still bartends as a guest celebrity occasionally.
Swing by Growler’s on a Tuesday night and you can see Silvermore’s passion first-hand. The stage is about 10 feet by 10 feet, and flashing colored lights decorate the area. On the same Tuesday night she captivated the Growler’s crowd, Silvermore set up the microphones and made the sign-up list.
She sets everything up for the open mic except the speakers, which belong to Growler’s. Silvermore used to bring her own speakers but stopped because she was nervous about them getting destroyed. “It’s bad enough I let people play my guitar,” she says. She found time to chat with other performers, including a man with a guitar and a German shepherd/hound/lab mix named Ginger. At the start of her set, Silvermore told everyone to tip the bartender, Daniel.
Silvermore does indeed let other performers borrow her Martin guitar. Why? “Because I’m stupid,” she says with a laugh. “I haven’t had anything really terrible.” There was, however, an incident with a girl who needed a few drinks to ease the stage fright. The girl wailed on the guitar, breaking two strings and a bridge. The bar got silent and all eyes turned to Silvermore. Only she can do this to her own guitar. Without yelling, she firmly asked the girl to get off the stage.
That’s the only horror story Silvermore has experienced, so she keeps letting people strum away on her Martin. She feels that giving people her main guitar (and making a point to tell them it’s her main guitar) provides a sense of responsibility to take the event somewhat seriously.
June 14 marks the start of Silvermore’s next tour. She'll be performing with fellow Sarasota resident and singer-songwriter Sam Robertson. The tour goes up and down the East Coast, hitting cities like Atlanta, Nashville and New York. The last date is July 15 in Jacksonville. Learning to perform as a solo singer-songwriter, where people can easily tune you out at a bar, has sharpened Silvermore’s stage presence.
“When I was up there on stage [solo], I was kind of like a big ball of energy because I knew that if I was crazy on stage, people would look,” Silvermore says. “I don’t go into the mindset of, ‘Oh, I’m this folk singer-songwriter and no one is going to want to pay attention to me at a bar.’”
Until the tour begins, Silvermore will continue running her open mic. If Tuesday night at Growler’s is any indication, she can indeed hold a crowd’s attention as a solo folk singer-songwriter. And she didn’t even have to go too crazy. She just sang and played. And helped others.
After her short performance, Silvermore set up an extra microphone for a duo called S+S, which consisted of one woman playing a banjo and another a ukulele. The extra microphone caught Silvermore telling the duo how excited she was to hear them play. The duo sounded much different from Silvermore, but they still played beautifully. At one point, the woman on the ukulele switched to a sort of sand shaker percussion instrument.
“He loves her like a mother/Or a piece of furniture.” Many in the crowd had returned to their beers or their conversations since Silvermore stepped away.
“Wooooo!" Silvermore yelled at the end of their set. She hustled up to the stage. “You guys were so good,” she said while helping set up the man performing next. She handed him her guitar and stepped away, ready to enjoy the music.