The second the doors to the Troubadour opened, decades of rich musical history flowed from every inch of the walls. Signed guitars from legends like Elton John and The Eagles lined the eaves. Stepping inside felt like entering a museum outlining the most iconic moments in musical history since 1957, when Doug Weston founded the venue, .
Artists that have played at this club, according to Weston, are “sensitive artists who have something to say about our time.” Stephen Wrabel, known simply by his last name, and his partners Billy Raffoul and Joy Oladokun, not only met, but far exceeded, this description in their “Happy People Sing Sad Songs” tour.
Even before the first performer took the stage, the energy in the crowd was palpable. Small and filled with personal mementos from artists and audience alike, the venue provided an air of intimacy that would prevail throughout the show.
Joy Oladokun began the evening with personal stories, explaining the meaning behind each ballad she performed. The gap usually present between performer and fan was expertly bridged with a sense of equality and connection.
Billy Raffoul extended this intimacy, dressed in his trademark patched denim jacket reminiscent of Elton John’s early attire. Alongside Zac Barnett, member of the band American Authors, Raffoul sang with an expressivity absent in many more formal, choreographed shows. Raffoul’s ability to convey emotion onstage invited the audience into his artistic process and talent, a richly rewarding experience.
After a brief interlude, the speakers blaring Kesha suddenly silenced, and the lights dimmed to near blackness. An almost reverent hush fell over the crowd, anticipating Wrabel’s arrival. Cheers escaped as his shadow appeared on the wall, slowly descending the stairs.
Suddenly, lights of every imaginable hue flashed, and Wrabel, with his skilled band supporting him, jumped into “Too Close,” a song he wrote with Louis the Child. The energy in his performance and in the crowd was electric, threatening to burst open the Troubadour doors.
Throughout the show, Wrabel seamlessly shifted from upbeat, to melancholy, to hopeful tones, all while keeping the audience engaged and entertained. After the song “Flickers,” there was hardly a dry eye in the house, including his own. Wrabel’s passion about his music was apparent through every piano key played and note sung.
For me, the most impressive part of Wrabel’s performance was his interaction with the audience. His vulnerability and openness stunned all of us, particularly when he shared his “three life-defining moments.” Even those in the upstairs restaurant turned their heads to take in his captivating onstage presence. Throughout his session, Wrabel spoke with members of the audience and seemingly formed a personal bond with each one of us. Each person in the crowd seemed truly touched.
Even with over one hundred audience members, Wrabel, Billy, and Joy created an intimate, beautiful atmosphere for musical and human appreciation.