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  • Jonathan Widran


Five of Los Angeles’ most compelling singer/songwriters – some still up and coming, most well established veterans – gathered the evening of September 20 for an informal acoustic performance at Mr. Musichead, the ultra-hipster first-ever gallery in Los Angeles devoted exclusively to the art and images of music. Though Chris Pierce, Jesse Palter, Chelsea Williams, Sarah Rogo and MAWD held court individually in the intimate space for about 25 minutes each, all came on behalf of a great cause and organization.

RADD (Rockers Against Drunk Driving), dedicated to saving lives and reducing injuries through edutainment, launched in 1986 with support from mega-stars of music including Paul McCartney, Phil Collins and Trisha Yearwood. In the decades since, the organization has received support from celebs like Ryan Seacrest and artists such as Dave Matthews Band, Black Eyed Peas, Rod Stewart and Paul Stanley. These days, RADD has been partnering with emerging music talent in a peer to peer program designed to reduce DUI arrests and fatalities, by encouraging everyone to “plan ahead” with a designated driver, ride share, Uber, Lyft or taxi before heading out for the evening. RADD’s branding message is “have fun, plan ahead.”

Essentially, the two and a half hour show rolled like a wonderful Hotel Café shindig, offering us glimpses of these artists and their catalogs that clearly run deeper than 25 minutes would allow. Pierce, a passionate, searing soul singer who has always struck me as the second coming of Otis Redding, implied he had enough material to play at least an hour. Yet he was closing the long night, so had to stop just as he and his 1949 Gibson were getting started, after four powerful originals (including “We Can Always Come Back To This,” featured on the hit show “This is Us”) and a sparse, eloquent breeze through “Stand by Me.” Though less cozy, Mr. Musichead offered something unique that The Hotel Café doesn’t – large framed photos of Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan to watch approvingly over the proceedings.

Coming in, I was most excited to see Jesse Palter, whose upcoming debut on Artistry Music, The Paper Trail, reveals an artist of soul, vision and songwriting that is both joyfully infectious and heartrending. Working with electric guitarist Jon Sosin, Palter didn’t disappoint, mixing vocal purity with raw emotional power on a set of tunes from the EP. Highlights were the first single, the biting “Heavy Is The Crown” and “Sever The Ties,” which tapped into her jazzy sensibilities and included a fun, clap-along chorus.

And then there was MAWD, who has the face of an angel, the fashion sense of a cool modern bohemian and a husky, gritty voice that you could swear was Janis Joplin being channeled from beyond. Balancing her rambunctious vibe, which she also brought to a slow burn through “House of the Rising Sun,” she spoke and sang poignantly about a chronic illness.

Also on the slate were Chelsea Williams, who brought loads of charm of a set of passionate, lilting tunes that showcased her great relatability as a storyteller; and the fiery blues rocker Sarah Rogo, who brought so much soul, grit and edge to her set that you might think she had a full band behind her.

Photos by Earl Gibson

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