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Benjamin Wagner

Benjamin Wagner

No matter what is "in" at a given moment -- hair-metal, boy bands, dance music, whatever -- there will always be scattered men writing songs on guitars, pianos, or computers. They'll be writing songs that mean something to them -- regardless of what "demographic" it will appeal to -- and without a doubt, these songs will connect with an audience. It may just be to the couple of hundred people who show up to their gigs at local clubs.That's where Benjamin is now. And you have the chance to be one of those people who sees him now, before he jumps from playing for a few hundred to playing for a few thousand (or more).Apart from the obvious benefit of being able to say "I saw him back when a) he played small joints b) he still had a day job c) he wasn't yet a beloved icon to the singer-songwriter community ... d) he still..." well, you get the picture, there's some other good reasons to catch him at his next gig at a venue near you. That is, if you're a fan of music and of the English language ... our man Ben knows how to use each, and how to combine them to moving effect.And that's the reason to check out one of Ben's shows today, at a hip watering hole, or a few years, or months, down the road at a larger venue. Because, simply put, he writes great songs, and in performance -- whether Ben is playing with a stripped down rock ensemble, a full-on backing band, accompanied by a cellist or just with his own acoustic guitar -- the songs take on another dimension.Call out for "California," "Hollywood Arms," "Dear Elizabeth" or "Summer's Gone" ... or for his covers of songs by the Pixies or Matthew Sweet. Or John Denver. It's worth mentioning that he does these songs without a drop of irony. He doesn't care who wrote the songs, or who popularized them (or how annoying said artists were at the time of their respective ubiquity). It speaks volumes that he chooses covers based on what the songs say to him, not on what his choice of covers say to critics and audiences about his "hip-factor" (or lack thereof).It shows a real commitment to songs, and a seeming blind spot to today's music industry. That's the kind of artist that music needs today, and that passion for the music is worth paying for, be it in a theater or in your favorite bar.* * *Wagner's been performing New York City for nearly ten years and has released five LPs and numerous EPs. WFUV DJ Vin Scelsa called his Crash Site "Extraordinary." On the strength of his limited edition Legend of the Evening Star EP, a compilation of unreleased demos and rarities, R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe dubbed him a "future superstar." "My father worked for the government, so we moved a lot," Wagner says. Born in Iowa City, Iowa, Wagner lived in Washington D.C., Indianapolis, and Chicago, before his tenth birthday. After his parents divorce, Wagner, his brother and mother moved to Philadelphia. Growing up in the 80s, he vividly recalls getting his first transistor radio and listening, transfixed, to top forty radio stations in Chicago and Philly, loving everything from Hall and Oates to Phil Collins. But like James Joyce's Stephen Daedalus, Wagner finally had his defining, life-changing musical epiphany."My big brother brought R.E.M.'s Reckoning home from college which immediately woke me up and snapped me out of my Phil Collins stupor," Wagner laughs. "Hearing 'So. Central Rain' for the first time changed everything. I wanted to write songs that made people like I felt that day."

 

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