Review: Discrete Packets of Song

Hosted by 18th & Union, Seattle folk singer, Aaron J. Shay, invites audience members to join him for a night of music and stories, but what the audience leaves with is much more powerful.

On first glance, the production’s set looks a bit bland – a music stand with a piece of cardboard saying “This is the set list,” a chair, a ukulele and a banjo. However, it’s not until Shay steps out that you realize there’s no need for a fancy set or props. Shay’s stage presence is more than enough.

Shay immediately sets the tone for the evening by making audience members sing along to his song with energetic wahoo’s. He then proceeds to tell the audience that the outside world has rules and by having us sing along he’s redefining what’s acceptable in the space we’re in. It’s an interesting concept and one that the audience is quick to grasp by the following song where everyone is snapping along to Shay’s singing and snazzy dance moves.

As the creator and performer of the show, it’s clear that Shay is extremely passionate about his work and that’s something that comes through as the show progresses. While this may seem like just another concert, what sets it apart is Shay’s interactions with the audience. Nothing ever feels scripted and he reacts directly to audience members’ comments. It feels like you’re having an actual conversation with Shay because you are. And that’s rare to find in shows.

One of the best moments in the show comes before he sings “Traveling Song” and he shares a moment with his sister who’s in the audience. The raw moments of laughter between the two of them brings a level of authenticity not only to the show, but to Shay as a person. Musicians often take on a different persona when they go on stage, but Shay manages to remain himself throughout his whole show.

Storytelling is the main theme of the show and if there’s something Shay can do extremely well besides singing, it’s telling an engaging story. Each of his songs has a story and as a consumer of music, it adds an extra level of understanding just by being able to know the circumstances in which a song came about. It’s a unique experience that we generally aren’t always exposed to. However, Shay also stresses the notion that he’s more than open to people finding new meanings in his songs.

As a show comes to an end, Shay makes a point of going up to everyone in the audience and thanking them for attending. In a world where many musicians have become too egotistical, here we have a performer who is truly grateful for the audiences’ support. And that’s a story worth telling.

Discrete Packs of Song, a 18th & Union production, created and performed by Aaron J. Shay. At 18th & Union in Seattle through Feb. 23. For tickets visit 18th & Union.

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