Standing for Great Entertainment in Oxford

Sara Groves and Ashley Cleveland take the Stage in North Oakland County

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The Stand is an outstanding entertainment venue in northern Oakland County (Oxford) which identifies itself as “Your 100% Non-Profit Single Source for Great Concerts and Comedy.” In the coming months, the scheduled concerts and events are first rate, including Stand Up Comic Jeff Allen January 21st, 2011, and singing group Addison Road on March 25, 2011. Just announced for May 20th and 21st, guitar player extraordinaire Doyle Dykes, along with Grammy nominee Phil Keaggy… both on stage together!

On the evening of Sept 29th, I settled in in anticipation of hearing a favorite performer of mine in recent years, Sara Groves. Actually, my daughter had gifted me with a CD a few years ago (Conversations) by this talented singer/songwriter, and I had been touched by Groves’ authentic faith and emotion expressed in her songs.

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But, before Sara Groves’ performance, we were to enjoy the opening act, Ashley Cleveland. A four-time Grammy Nominee, (and 3 time Winner) Cleveland has been around performing for several years, but somehow I wasn’t familiar with her. What I’ve missed!. Ashley and her husband of 19 years, Kenny Greenberg, took the stage and proceeded to thrill the audience with original songs, as well as blues, rock and traditional gospel, delivered with her raspy, Bonnie Raitt like voice and her driving, rhythm guitar complemented by soaring lead guitar riffs by Greenberg. Her tender side was revealed as she spoke of her upbringing, and exposure to deep-south Gospel music, shared with her by her “substitute mothers”, African American women who took care of her as a child, when her mother was at work. They wanted her to know “real music”! She then performed some of these “roots” songs from her latest project, God Don’t Never Change (nominated for a 2010 Grammy Award in the Best Traditional Gospel Album category). She finished up to a standing ovation from the large and appreciative audience.

Then Sara Groves took the stage, joined by her husband/manager/musician Troy Groves as percussionist, a backup singer, Melody Olson, a Cellist, and a String Bass player. Sara accompanied herself on a grand piano, opening with the title song from my own first Sara Groves’ Album, “Conversations.”

Sara sang her songs in her pure and soothing voice, songs conveying honestly-shared deeply personal experiences, struggles, emotions, and great faith, as well as humor, and the audience was carried along in the flow. Harmonies, arrangement and instrumentation all made for a rich listening experience. To the background of certain songs, such as “Setting Up the Pins”, videos on the two big screens gave an inside and humorous look of the Groves family, Sara, Troy, and their three children, making their way through their daily chores. Great fun!

Sara Groves spoke of recent inspirations for her songs, her trip to Rwanda, for one, and then she sang “In the Girl There’s a Room” from her Tell Me What You Know CD, about a brave young woman rescued from modern-day slavery.  Her marriage, visiting her childhood home, and Hurricane Katrina were the sources of other songs she shared this evening. An unexpected bonus came when at one point, Sara traded places with her talented back-up singer, Melody Olson, and Sara sang back-up for a couple of this talented young woman’s original songs.

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Ashley Cleveland and Kenny Greenberg returned and joined Sara and gang for one last song, sending the audience out with a full heart, encouraged faith, and maybe even few insights about life  – Theresa Dalton

Photos by Don Mancier

The Stand Website

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