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Ron Pope and the Nighthawks at Irving Plaza

by Steven Pisano

  20160109-DSC_5870(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Ron Pope and the Nighthawks played Irving Plaza last weekend, performing music off of their brand new self-titled album. Hailing from Georgia and now based in New York, Pope is embarking on a new phase in his career. Primarily known as a solo musician, Pope recorded his new record with a band and is bringing them with him on a 30-plus-city tour of Europe and U.S.

While his earlier music was a bit poppy (several of Pope's tracks were used on TV's So You Think You Can Dance), he has since grown his hair longer, and his new music is more Americana with country edges, which gets back to his roots in the South. And it fits him well.

At Irving Plaza, he started off singing old favorites for his fans, who had sold out the club, encouraging the audience to sing along with him. Then, he mixed in the new material as if he wasn't sure they would take to this new direction. But soon, they were bopping their heads on the uptempo numbers, and hugging each other during the ballads.

20160109-DSC_5779Pope’s strongest asset is his songwriting skill. He knows how to build songs that have a shape to them and don't just meander all over the place like the songs of some performers who are principally musicians, but who don't really seem to understand the basics of songcraft. Pope is part of a new breed of musicians who craft their own careers through social media and digital music services. In a 2014 Billboard article he wrote, Pope outlined part of the way that digital platforms like Spotify or YouTube are helping musicians like himself forge legitimate careers in music even when they don’t have a major label contract. 

The Irving Plaza crowd felt as if he had invited 1,000 of his closest friends down to his basement. Indeed, Pope's sister was in the balcony, and he said he would be missing her wedding because he’d be in Europe, so he had the house turn on all the lights and asked the crowd to wish his sister “Congratulations!” on her upcoming wedding. It was kind of corny, but 100 percent genuine.

(More photos can be found here.)