I was having trouble sleeping one night, so I decided to put on my earphones and create a playlist. It’s been a while since I had a so-called ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’ playlist, filled with songs on the not-so-sunny side; songs that cuts you and makes you bleed a little, even if you are far from being on that side emotionally anymore.

Making that playlist made me realize I haven’t listened to Rachael Yamagata in a long while, around 12 or so years. I did a quick search on Apple Music and quickly added the ones that I really liked from Happenstance (Reason Why, Wore Me Down, Be Be Your Love) and found that there was an Acoustic Happenstance record in Apple’s catalog. So I listened to it, at almost 2 a.m. and I was floored. It had a raw (not in the sense of quality, but in the way the songs were reduced to core elements – voice and instrument) feel to it, in a very awesome way. The songs felt fresher out of the musician’s heart. Rachael’s voice felt a little more seasoned in the way she sang the songs, eliminating the vocal stylings that were popular when she burst into the scene, but added a new character and dimension to it – like someone returning to a familiar place, a little older, a little wiser, like some sort of retracing of steps. It was like finding a little bit of musical nostalgic trip in the dead of night, right beside my lightly snoring ladies.

That search result list lingered on my phone’s music for a while more as I checked out which songs she’s come out with since Happenstance, whether was there any growth or change to her sound or vibe and not surprisingly, she did come out with a few more records that pretty much told similar stories with much more oomph lyrically and musically, and coincidentally, something that probably did not hit me as much as Happenstance did as things quickly changed for me in life. As I listened, I realized her later material would have probably hit me much more harder than Happenstance did if the 2005-2007 me listened to them. So I kept adding.

For some reason, something in me decided to check if she was heading anywhere close to Oakland. By a stroke of luck, she was heading our way, a small, intimate venue in San Francisco. I decided to go alone, because it wasn’t like our little one can be left to other people at her current age (a clingy thirteen months), and the wife did not really listen to her material all that much.

So I went, and maybe a hundred or so people showed up. Mostly couples, some older, and a lot of Asians.

The show was opened by one of her band mates, Zach Djanikian. He was great, a voice that I would classify under country-pop, with excellent guitar work. His style of original songs remind me of Jack Johnson – laid back feel, but with a more storyteller appeal. I love that he ended his set with a finely done cover of Tom Petty’s “The Waiting”.

Then it was time – Rachael came on-stage and I found it amusing that she started off the show by asking “so who of y’all came here for the dark stuff?”. I almost instantly raised my hand. Later on, she’d ask the audience what material should she come up with for her next record, happy stuff or sad songs.

SAD STUFF, predominantly. (non-official count – I could have been biased)

What I love most about small venue shows is how you can subtly interact with the performer on-stage. She looks at you from the stage and gauging from your reaction at how she sings the words to the song, she seems to know if this song hits you as hard as she thinks it did her when she was writing it.

She did maybe 15 or so songs in all, around 4 from Happenstance, a couple from Elephants, quite a bit from Chesapeake (which she felt was wrongly panned) and a few more from the recent ones. They came back on-stage after wrapping up with “Let Me Be Your Girl” to close with a cover of “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac and “Reason Why” by herself from Happenstance.

After the show, she announced that she’ll hang out for a bit by the merchandise table and sign stuff. I immediately made a bee-line for the Acoustic Happenstance CD, and I was pleased that there were just roughly 20 or so who decided to stick around, and I was maybe 5th or 6th in line.

When my turn came, she told me “I know you!” – probably from that moment that we caught each other’s eyes during “Worn Me Down”. I told her that I purely lucked into knowing about that night’s show and was stoked to meet her after listening to her songs during those darker years, and hope that her other tour stops would go well, especially her upcoming Asia tour. She gave me a big hug and posed for a photo.

I went into a deep hangover over this night, because this was something I never thought was possible all those years back, when I was in drowning in debt, single and can’t really get anyone to like me as is where is – that I’m here in another part of the world, able to watch those who wrote music to get me through those times, raising a beautiful family, surviving in a relatively comfortable manner and to some extent, quite grown up far from the ‘loser’ I thought I was back then.

It was because of this night that I realized that if you really wanted to, you can turn your life around, and sometimes you have to do things that you’re not really comfortable with at first, before you find out that you were actually made to do these things.

And it all started when I decided to just “head out alone, and hope for the best”.


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