Folksters close out the year at the Green Bean

by Amy Kingsley

By the second time Sam Frazier takes to the stage at the Green Bean ‘– a patch of cleared tile ‘– the whirring sounds of the cappuccino maker have given way to the dull clink of bottles.

He pauses to take note of one audience member engaged in a charming form of heckling.

‘“Sometimes the smallest critics are the cruelest,’” Frazier said.

Then 13-month-old Regina grabs another of the shrink wrapped CDs bearing Frazier’s visage and dashes it to the ground, smiling with both her gummy mouth and shoe-leather peepers. Criticism noted, Frazier starts softly strumming the opening chords of a real heartbreaker.

Frazier speaks softly the few times he converses with the crowd, and his speaking voice betrays the vestiges of bronchitis. But his everyman’s singing voice confidently carries the tales of lost love and regret.

In a sense, it is a perfect way to spend the eve of New Year’s Eve. While tomorrow will be spent looking forward, tonight is the time to purge all of last year’s demons, the loneliness, sadness and mistakes that never quite fade from the foreground. Frazier’s songs do that honestly and unpretentiously.

Beyond the display windows, Elm Street is still decorated for the holidays. Bows, lights and holly glitter as couples stroll down the sidewalk, pausing occasionally to peer into the window.

It’s a slow night in Greensboro’s entertainment district. While most people take it easy in anticipation of tomorrow’s parties, the Green Bean is steadily filling up.

Tonight Frazier is playing with a Bostonian down for the weekend, Teresa Storch. Because the singer/songwriters are unencumbered by bands, they divide the night into two sets each: Sam, Teresa, Sam and Teresa.

The narrow coffee shop fills up admirably, but most folks there are clearly not out this night to see Frazier. A number of Greensboro’s locals of the Sapphic persuasion have trekked over to Elm Street to see Storch. The conversations from the back of the music crowd peter out when Storch percussively yanks the strings on her guitar.

Unlike Frazier, she lets the crowd in on her songs, teasing them with lines like: ‘“You’ll have to forgive me for this one. It was written after a long night of drinking with someone I had a crush on.’”

Her songs fit snugly into that musical compartment formalized by the likes of Alanis Morissette and Ani DiFranco. She’s pleasing both the Righteous Babe Records crowd and the families out for a little folk music. One middle-aged fan standing against the exposed brick wall plays a little half-hearted air guitar, strumming his right hand furiously against his thigh.

Unlike Frazier, Storch sings a lot about love of the unrequited or temporary variety. Her songs are a touch lighter than Frazier’s, characterized musically by intricate plucking and breathy voice. She’s clearly comfortable on stage, shimmying her brown clothed figure and tapping her feet.

‘“You know I have an engineering degree,’” Storch says. ‘“Thank God for the dotcom bubble. I lost my job in 2001 and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m just so happy I found this lifestyle.’”

Close to the end of her set, she invites the crowd to sing along. A handful of people follow along quietly until barista Kemp Stroble drops an armful of metal dishes, which clatter over the voices in his own accidental rendition.

The crowd that loaded in during the first two sets leaves just as quickly as the clock counts down the last half hour before 11 p.m. closing. One Storch fan offers a half-hearted plea for Storch to keep playing, but it’s clear the out-of-towner doesn’t want to wear out her welcome.

She closes with a Marvin Gaye cover, ‘“I Heard it Through the Grapevine.’” This one has got the crowd singing a little bit as they gather their coats and drop dishes into bus tubs.

Frazier also ended his second set with something a little soul, the Jackson Five’s ‘“ABC.’” Maybe it’s the elementary nature of the song, or perhaps something else in the humble set of moving tunes, but the little critic in the front row has changed her mind. Regina is holding up her daddy’s cell phone. She’s recording the song.

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