January 13, 2010 | 9:00am
The Show: Thanks to some seriously flawed Google Map directions and my newbie status here in Southern California I got horribly lost and didn't arrive at the District until right before Billy Kernkamp performed around 9:30 p.m. The District, like so any other malls in Orange County, which still appears in many parts like just one giant mall/strip-mall to me, couldn't possibly offer the intimate setting best suited for delicate, strummed sounds and diary entry lyrics. But its courtyard-under-the-stars setting provided better acoustic than I expected and the sober (no booze vendors just Red Bull handouts), polite audience of 150 or so huddled around the stage, which stood under an escalator leading up to Strike, an upscale bowling alley, appeared engaged pretty much throughout. A screen behind and above the performers displayed trippy visuals and the OC Music Awards logo--making for a charming albeit totally antiseptic listening space.
Stacy Clark turned in a strong set goosed by her endearing personality. She's a most capable singer/songwriter who won the audience over with introspective lyrics and an easygoing self-confidence marked by infectious charm. Wether cajoling the crowd to clap along or move in closer because her band doesn't "bite or spit," people responded. When not strumming a guitar Clark casually gripped the mic with two hands like a singer who belongs on stage--and deserves to be heard. A keyboardist, guitarist, drummer and multi-instrumentalist who went form guitar to sax to ukulele fleshed out Clark's confessional tales delivered in cheery earnest.
Two acoustic guitarists, a drummer and keyboardist backed Kernkamp, who also accompanied himself on guitar. The melodies were more heartland than beach-y, revealing a hearty folkiness that proved catchy without coming across as cloying. The churchy keys brought an element of soul to the arrangements, matched by Kernkamp's rich, sonorous vocals. The mustachioed front man can sing. His voice is capable of breezy, organic pop and some irony-free crooning, although he only hinted at the latter. Sure, some lyrics skewed greeting card--"I need you now more than I used to"-- but the right set of pipes can sell eating the moon with a spoon in June. And KernKamp's got 'em.
The Crowd: Just slightly older than what you find when forced to enter a a mall after school hours or over the weekend.
Overheard: "Where's the bathroom?"
Click for past 2010 OC Music Awards blog posts.