UNC Student Musician sighting: Montpellier, France
Sundays are not often a lively day of the week anywhere, let alone in France, where virtually everything is closed for a somewhat secular day of rest. But this past Sunday I was treated to a fantastic day of art and music and food here in Montpellier. Students in the UNC program here are living with host families, and it just so happens that the host mother of Sam Robertson is involved with the arts scene and organizes somewhat regularly events she dubs “Brunch des Artistes.”
These singular events bring all ages together in one room, surrounded by paintings, sculpture, video, music, dance, and most of all, an atmosphere of creativity and exchange. Sam let me know that he was going to be playing a few songs and so I, along with a group of UNC students, showed up to see what all the buzz was about. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire day, eating at a leisurely pace and speaking with a variety of artists, of varying levels of seriousness, who were all extremely interested in explaining their creative processes and inspirations. There was even a brilliant Macro photography exhibit from Sam’s host sister, which was a series of dew kissed flowers and aloes, taken just after storms. But the highlight was certainly Sam, who brought down the house in true Tar Heel rock star style.
Sam is a Junior at UNC who plays acoustic guitar and writes his own material. He had mentioned, very modestly, that he played and so I was keen to see what his sound was and whether music was more than a hobby for him, which I can safely say is quite an understatement. Sam breathes and drinks his music, losing himself completely in even the most impromptu of jam sessions and displaying an unnerving level of composure for someone who describes himself as a casual performer. His southern roots are clear in his songs, and his music is a smooth blend of equal parts rock, folk, country, and blues, but that is not to say that he has a narrow array of inspirations. Rather it is clear that beneath the more obvious influences of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, there are shades of the solitude of Nick Drake, of the fire of Johnny Cash, of the electric persona of Elvis Presley, and of the operatic power of Jeff Buckley. Its also clear that country legends like Willie Nelson are as much a part of his repertoire as soul giants like Otis Redding. Sam is one of those rare musicians with a distinctive playing style as well as a remarkable voice, both rough and deep, while maintaining their raw, unpolished quality. During his set I was deeply moved by one song in particular based upon a W.B. Yeats poem entitled Who goes with Fergus about a King who renounced his power for a life of art. The song was stunning in its beauty and highlighted the reverence that Sam obviously has for poetry and composition, a passion shared by one of his idols, Bob Dylan.
After playing three of his own songs, Sam teamed up with a French artist who had written a poem explaining the story behind his series of paintings on wood. The poet had only asked Sam earlier in the day if he would improvise something to play while he recited the poem, but it seemed from the way their words and chords meshed that it was a rehearsed piece. That’s just another facet of Sam’s love for his instrument and for artistic collaborations, he leaps at the opportunity to play and collaborate no matter what the situation may be. If you want reference points for his personal style I would point you towards one of his self-avowed favorites Ray LaMontagne, he can do a pretty mean cover of “Trouble” if you are lucky enough to hear it.
Sam is planning on writing and playing more than ever upon his return to the US, be on the lookout for him around campus and when the next Vinyl Showcase comes around. The French love him and you will to.