Friday, June 12, 2009

Martin Rivas: For the Love of Music

Sitting in a quaint coffee shop in Greenwich Village, my ears were treated to the delightful new Martin Rivas track "Heckuva Day," a bright infusion of music bursting with sunshine, and a windows down, beach-bound sensation. The latest mastery off Rivas' not-yet-released album, "Sea of Clouds," gives listeners the ultimate taste of what happens when a soulful voice, genuine heart, ambitious mind, and natural talent spontaneously combust into a single person.

A native New Yorker, Martin Rivas comes from a diversely musical family; with a mother and grandfather who both sang, and cousins that range from classical composers to up-and-coming musicians. "There's always been instruments in our house, there's always been singing, and there's always been music," Martin divulges. At the age of 11, his uncle showed him a few chords on a guitar but the rest has been self-taught, mimicking favorite records by artists like The Police to learn style and composition. After playing gigs at CBGB's, The Bitter End, and Kenny's Castaways with his band "Serious Pilgrim" in the early nineties, the group parted ways and Martin took time off from the music business, only resuming recording, writing, and self-producing CDs "Bottleneck" and "Glorious" within the past eight years.

In 2005, Martin met drummer Craig Meyer, and the duo created a force called "Campfire" that has spread throughout the New York music scene. Playing approximately 1,000 shows over the past four years, "Campfire" began as a favor to the owner of the Red Lion. "Craig and I were playing with Jessie Gage, and sometimes on Sundays we would go to Washington Square Park and play under the arch, and then head to the Red Lion afterwards," Martin explains. One Sunday, the owner asked Martin and Craig to fill a three-hour time slot because someone had cancelled. The duo gladly accepted, entertaining the audience with a variety of rhythm and blues songs from the likes of Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding, amongst others, and received such a fabulous response it became a weekly gig.

"Campfire" grew to be a Friday and Sunday night staple at Red Lion, as well as part of Tuesday nights at Slane Public House and Wednesdays at Prohibition. The concept is simple: Martin and Craig play a variety of covers and original songs, mostly chosen by the audience. "It's all about what the folks want to hear," says Rivas. "They write their requests down and bring them up [to the stage]." The duo randomly pick and play what is written- no rehearsal, no warning-resulting in an entertaining show that gets the audience singing, dancing, clapping, and coming back for more.

Another example of brilliance that recently developed out of the Martin and Craig brain trust is "Backscratch Sessions," which debuted at the Red Lion in April. "Backscratch," an idea a year and half in the making, dances with the concept of artists getting together to play each other's songs: each playing an original, a cover, and a cover of a fellow artist (which is a surprise). "There are so many fabulously talented artists playing around here that we said let's make it happen now," Rivas enthusiastically proclaimed. With a line-up that included Dave Pittenger, Kailin Garrity, Rachel Platten, Dan Torres, Nick Howard, Robbie Gil, and Amy Regan, to name a few, the night was a huge success and is becoming a regular event. "I was pleasantly surprised because we left there feeling like family," Martin beamed, "it was such a great vibe."

Not only incredibly gifted in exploring other people's songs, Martin also writes beautiful and infectious music and lyrics of his own, as seen in 2005's "Pride of the Valley" and the brand new "Sea of Clouds," currently being mixed and mastered with Dave Pittenger. "Pride of the Valley" was a therapeutic process for Rivas, as many songs deal directly and indirectly with the loss of his stepbrother on 9/11, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower. Despite the song's upbeat demeanor, the lyrics for the crowd favorite "North," actually came from a dream that they found his stepbrother's body- visions of comfort, sorrow, and joy fill the listener and demonstrate Martin's unbelievable ability to bring a smile and foster hope through music.

A mainstay of the New York singer/songwriter community, Rivas has had the pleasure of watching this current scene evolve and transform over the past few years. With so many talented singer/songwriters and musicians to choose from Martin claims, "I can't imagine a greater concentration of talent at any time other than what's taking place right now in New York. It's a different industry now; every artist has immediate and instant global reach. And you can do with it whatever you want, the question is, it there someone out there to pick up on what you're doing."

"I'm floored everytime I come into the city to play," Rivas declares, observing the honest and heartfelt friendships between artists. "There are so many genuine people in this 'scene.' "

Now on a steady rotation of Campfire gigs and playing out original music at The Bitter End and Rockwood Music Hall, Martin Rivas is gearing up to release "Sea of Clouds," a record whose theme deals with messages of surviving and thriving in the face of turmoil. Working with several musicians and friends on the album inspired trust and provided comfort throughout the process. "I know that when its finished its something I'm going to be immensely proud of for the process for as much as it sounds," Rivas affirms.

A campfire is the perfect image for a Martin Rivas performance- it's warming, comfortable, social and endearing. New York is a vast city, difficult at times to make your way around, easy to get lost in... so if you haven't been to a Campfire, Backscratch, or Martin Rivas show, venture over one evening. I promise, you will feel like you just found home.

For more information on Martin and to listen to tracks, please visit or Martin Rivas and Craig Meyer play every Sunday and Friday at The Red Lion-, every Wednesday at Prohibition-, and every Tuesday at Slane Public House-

The next Backscratch Sessions will be held at The Red Lion on Monday, June 29 at 10:00pm, featuring: Live Society, Jill Stevenson, Greg Mayo, Rebecca Haviland, Martin Rivas, Casey Shea, Bess Rogers, and Brent Shuttleworth.

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