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Music Tracks Showcases Master Guitarist and Songwriter Peter Calo

June 22 show at the Depot Theatre brings Calo to Garrison for the fourth time

By: Alison Rooney

Peter Calo by the river

Peter Calo has been a musician for so long that he’s played every position on the stage, from sideman to star attraction — something he’ll be at his Music Tracks concert at the Depot Theatre June 22. He’s negotiated the complexities of each of these very specific roles, something Carly Simon, someone Calo was long the musical director for, has referred to: “Apparently Peter has a unique ability to mix in the background and then step forward to take the spotlight seamlessly.”

A constantly working producer, guitarist and performer, Calo mixes touring with a variety of artists in multiple genres with production work at his studio in Croton, and, less frequently (this is his fourth show over the years at The Depot) performing his own songs.

He calibrates his backup according to the needs of whom he is accompanying, stating how “delicate it is to be supportive and sensitive to what it is that they are communicating, be it music or feelings. I find it fascinating when someone, for example, asks me, ‘Can you give me a little more blue?’ I love being able to figure out what he or she means.”

This carries over to his producing, as well. “I always say, ‘Tell me what you feel. Even people just beginning, recording their first CD — with patience they’re giving you a real insight. It’s so easy to be intimidated, but you can dig and find it out; it all comes down to what would make you feel comfortable with your music.”

A sample list of those he has performed and/or recorded with forms an eclectic grouping: Queen Latifah, Willie Nelson, Hall and Oates, Linda Eder, Phil Ramone, Jimmy Webb, Kris Kristofferson, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Shaiman, Julie Taymor, Crash Test Dummies, Joel Grey and The Platters.

Figuring out the front-and-center role takes finessing as well. Calo explained: “You need to develop a personality onstage which expresses your personality within. How will you segue? What jokes will you tell? Is it boring when you talk about your song? But, I enjoy it.” That he’s been successful in figuring it out is evidenced by a quote from Time Out London: “Calo’s songwriting, guitar playing and vocal skills provide the backbone and are the catalyst for the band. … Calo is one of the most engaging performers in the biz.”

Calo described his music as “in the singer-songwriter mode, song-based but with a little bit of jamming. Since I’m known as a guitarist, I’ll pick up the electric. The music tends to be original, and sometimes it’s Latin or bluesy or even funk; there’s usually some fancy fingerpicking in that vein as well.”

As for the subjects of his lyrics, he said, “I find myself writing about situations.” Calo prefers to write upbeat songs, “not negative or plaintive” ones. At the Depot he’ll be performing old songs and current material, as well as brand new songs never played for an audience. The new songs come from his upcoming CD release, and the very newest, if he finishes in time, is about the surprising subject of an elephant, inspired by his youngest daughter’s love for the animals.

When making a living as a musician, Calo wears a lot of hats. In addition to touring, Calo does tracking for people at his home studio in Croton and other music-related work. He described a recent day’s mix as “writing cues for a TV thing; doing a car dealership jingle; working with someone who is coming over to record.” He’s also performing more and more “house concerts,” which are becoming a popular request.

“This family in Cortlandt Manor opened up their home; they have a space where you can fit 40 people. It starts as a gathering, a party, potluck. You do the first set; during the break you mix with people and you come back for a second. People really listen, and it’s a nice mix of people who follow you and people who come to see all their parties.” Calo, whose playing expands beyond this region, is excited about the relocation of the Towne Crier to Beacon and the re-opening of the Paramount Hudson Valley (formerly the Paramount Center for the Arts).

Born in Alberta, Canada, and a longtime resident of first Boston and then New York, Calo has released five CDs: Cape Ann, Wired to the Moon, Cowboy Song, Here Comes the Sun and Peaceful Easy Feeling: a Tribute to the Eagles. He has also composed music for over 10 children’s DVDs for SpokenArts. He was featured on Carly Simon’s Concert at Grand Central Station and Linda Eder’s Christmas Concert, both shown on PBS and Lifetime.

Calo wrote music for the film The Conscientious Objector and has played on the films The Lorax, Across the Universe and Hairspray. He was recently guitarist for Showtime’s The Big C. Calo’s jingles include one for Entenmanns, which the company hopes inspires you to pick up a box of cake.

Happy to be returning to the Depot Theatre, which he describes as having “a great, funky feel to it,” Calo will be sharing the stage with Steve Chizmadia, whom he calls a “wonderful singer-songwriter” and whose latest CD he just produced.

“We’ll be doing the show together. Steve will open, and myself, Chris Marshak on drums and Pete Donovan on bass will be his back-up band. Then we’ll reverse, with the same players.” He has performed this type of shared concert around the country. Calo feels it’s both economical and collegial: “You can split it by sets or rotate by song. Either way, it’s a great way to present a concert,” he said.

The performance begins at 8 p.m. and admission is $15. Tickets can be purchased through brownpapertickets.com or by phoning the Depot at 845-424-3900.

Peter Calo - Official Website
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