Singing the praises of Ida's historic church concert in Tampa

The band hadn't played Tampa in 13 years, and returned with a memorable show.

click to enlarge IN SHOCK: Ulrey is still verklempt from hosting the Ida gig. - NICOLE KIBERT
IN SHOCK: Ulrey is still verklempt from hosting the Ida gig.

Once in a great while a concert transcends the same ol’-same ol’ to become a uniquely intimate and unforgettable experience; a memory that can rightfully take its place in our dreamy parade of flashbacks — next to other milestones like weddings, first sex and graduations. [Text by Julie, photos by Nicole.]

Ida’s New Granada show at the Watermark Church on Sun., Feb. 17, became that kind of life-defining night for fans of the New York-based band — along with some newcomers.

If you’ve heard Ida, you know that their folk-tinged atmospheric style lends perfectly to the acoustically pristine and peaceful ambiance of a church (and I’ve learned that bands recording and performing in churches is much more common up north. Heck, even Rush headlined in a House of God).

The Watermark Church, a contemporary nondenominational Christian church on Central Avenue, between Hannah and Sligh avenues in Tampa, became a perfect refuge from Sunday's bitter cold, offering a fellowship that indie music fans don’t get to experience often — a truly intimate music show minus obtrusive bouncers, loud drunks, clinking bottles and the chatter of be-there-to-be-seen hipster chicks.

Here’s some background on how the show came to be: The group’s husband-wife principals Dan Littleton and the honey-voiced Elizabeth “Liz” Mitchell have been on tour, promoting Mitchell’s Grammy-nominated side project, You Are My Flower — formed in 2002, following the '01 birth of their daughter, Storey. Storey performs with her parents now and was at the Tampa show.

New Granada Presents’ Keith and Susie Ulrey have been in correspondence with the band over the past 13 years — since their last Tampa show. Back when they played together in the Tampa band Pohgoh, Keith and then Susie Richardson had met Littleton and Mitchell at the last Alternafest at the Cuban Club in 1996. The show featured Ida and Beekeeper — fronted by now-Ida member Karla Schickele. The Ulreys and Ida couples have since been on friendly terms.

A side story could be told here about Susie’s challenges with MS and how her steadfast love of Ida and performing her own gorgeously melodic pop has helped her persevere since her diagnosis. No doubt Susie’s spirit has earned respect from her friends in Ida as she has with fans of her current band, Rec Center.

The Ulreys managed to keep in touch despite life's travails and the band's long absence. Susie interviewed the band in Reax after Ida's Lovers Prayers release in 2008. Last spring, You Are My Flower planned a tour to end in Florida with a brief family vacation. The Ulreys were hoping to host Ida but the timing of it didn’t pan out for a visit to our neck of the state.

The idea didn’t perish, though. Littleton and Mitchell figured out a schedule a little more than a month ago that would work in a Tampa Bay visit after ending a stint in Jacksonville. Keith seized the opportunity to plan a small, intimate in-store or house show, but he had less than a month’s notice to make it happen.

Keith’s friend Tommy “Preson” Phillips, a local musician and pastor of Watermark Church, was amenable to renting out the church space and the show was booked with a ticket charge of $15 at the door, $16 in stores and $18.50 online from daddy kool; 62 total were in attendance.

When Keith introduced Ida, he was choked up. Between his personal love of the band, their quick diligence in making the Tampa show happen and Ida being “not in Susie’s Top 5 but Top 1,” he showed a tender side we don’t see from the promoter whose motto is “disgruntled but loving the Tampa music scene.”

He also mentioned the You Are My Flower show performed earlier at 2 p.m., which had a conga line threading through the church. (Was sorry to have missed that!)

Ida started their set at the Seminole Heights Church with a Richard and Linda Thompson cover, “For Shame of Doing Wrong.” Around three songs in, Littleton greeted the crowd and apologized if the acoustic trio — he, Mitchell and violinist Jean Cook — were a little “lugubrious” in their playing, citing a pre-meal feast at the “Taco Truck” with the Ulreys.

“Taco Bus!” Ulrey shouted from his seat. Ulrey later shared that the bill went over a $100 bucks, a big splurge, as most know, at the cheap Mexican spot. “They tried just about everything on the menu,” Ulrey said.

The performance was a combination of pitch-perfect musicianship and casual easygoingness, sprinkled with self-deprecating and humorous banter throughout. Chris Preston's dreamy poster projected on the back wall as Littleton and Mitchell’s gave the audience belt-out quality vocals that demand to be heard live. Their married-couple jabs were endearing, too. At one point, Littleton called out for requests, but Mitchell rolled her eyes and sighed ruefully, reminding him that they had to stick to the set list because of missing band members needed for certain tunes and their trio format.

That said, an absence of instrumentation was not felt during the performance. Stirringly sparse to harmoniously uplifting, Cook’s eloquent violin nicely complemented Mitchell’s analog keyboard and harmonium-like instrument, called a Shruti Box. Littleton rocked a baby grand piano; both he and Mitchell played acoustic guitars; Mitchell played some maracas and tambourine, and the audience was enlisted to clap the backbeat to “Don’t Wreck It.” Littleton called it “We Are the Champions”-Lite and proffered the tune for arena sporting events. Daughter Storey sang backup vocals for a rousing rendition of the Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan tune “Walls of Time.” I almost requested their cover of “Walk Away, Renee” by Left Banke, but I chickened out.

Littleton gave a shout-out to late Band man Levon Helm and played a tune they recorded in his living room. The Woodstock neighbor was a close friend to the couple before his death, and they said they couldn’t play the Grammys tribute because it was all a bit too recent for them.

Other highlights included some older favorites like “Tellings” and an exquisite cover of “By The Time It Gets Dark” by Sandy Denny — recently recorded by Yo La Tengo. Liz had the brilliant idea of bookending the show with another inspired Thompson cover, “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight.”

“A very special part of the evening for us was when Dan stepped behind the piano and dedicated the Sandy Denny song to me and Susie as a 13-year-old belated wedding present,” said Keith Ulrey. It choked me up a little too.

Ida Set List 2.17.13, Tampa

01. For Shame Of Doing Wrong- Richard Thompson
02. Willow Tree
03. See The Stars
04. All The Saints
05. Shrug
06. The Killers, 1964
07. Shotgun
08. Walls Of Time- Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan
09. Late Blues
10. By The Time It Gets Dark- Sandy Denny
11. First Light
12. Tellings
13. Backburner
14. Downtown
15. The Morning
16. Maybelle
17. Don't Wreck It

17. 95 North
18. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight - Richard Thompson

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