Anna Tivel and Jeffrey Martin

Last Saturday, Anna Tivel and Jeffrey Martin played a house concert at Billsville West, run by Brian and Jean. They bring in artists to play shows in their living room, and in return, they provide the artists with beds, bottomless peanut M&Ms, and all proceeds from ticket sales.

When Brian texted me asking if I’d be interested in taking photos at shows, I responded with the mashing of my keyboard and (what I thought was) a super chill, uncapitalized “yes please.” He wrote back, “You can’t do that in front of the musicians. You gotta be cool like Fonzie (Google it).”

This was Anna and Jeffrey’s second trip to Billsville West. At the time of their first show a year ago, I had just been hired for a temporary position as a middle-school math teacher. In my memory, that show marks the beginning of a formative and trying and rich chapter. I bought an album from each of them that night, and Anna and Jeffrey’s music ended up accompanying me to school and back nearly every day. Rather than transporting me to another world, the music wove itself into my own, mingling with the ups and downs of teaching.

Last week’s show brought back the feeling of driving to and from school, wishing no one had called me stupid that day or holding the spark of seeing a student make a new connection. Hearing their songs, again or for the first time, added another thread to the story of their music.

Anna played the first set. Her poetry revealed itself bit by bit. Listening to her songs many times is like visiting the same place at different times of day. At one point, her voice, usually flexible and agile like the songs she writes, strengthened and found a higher note, clear and unbending. Between numbers, she paused before speaking, inviting us to join her in the next moment.

After the first set, I found some friends by the fire outside, including Amelia, who drove into town with her boyfriend and their little dog, a crowd favorite. After the pup had been admired and cuddled by half the audience, we headed back inside to hear Jeffrey’s set.

Jeffrey’s feet tapped and turned as he played. He would raise one foot and rest it on the other, rolling it from the ankle. He lifted himself up on his toes and gently came back to the floor. His banter, like his songwriting, prompted us to see the wrinkles in both tragedy and joy.

They both have a way of capturing a moment, and they both push us to understand others’ experiences as if they were our own. I hope I played it cool like Fonzie, but I was savoring the night and the chance to capture some of it.

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Jeffrey asks who has a dog in their lap, and Amelia raises her hand.

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