Photo by Fred Knittel
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005, probably around 8 PM – it’s a time dogeared in my memory. I cannot believe that it has been nearly a decade since I heard Denison Witmer for the first time. When I lived in New Jersey, I spent a lot of time at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, mostly seeing really bad mall punk-rock bands and inhaling too much second-hand cigarette smoke. I had a few very impressionable music discovery years there. That early summer evening in 2005, on the shore just off the boardwalk, remains one of the most formative experiences of that time period. Denison Witmer, from the Philadelphia area, opened the night. He was pre-selling copies of his forthcoming album Are You A Dreamer? which I promptly purchased (and listened to over and over in my dinged-up black Chevy Cavalier). Leaning against the on-stage monitor, I was amazed at how mesmerizing the simplicity of Witmer’s playing and singing could be. Lightly touched with reverb, the gentle songs kept flowing and drawing me in. I remember actually going slack-jawed when he hit certain chords – these angelic, dreamy, lighter than air bundle of notes. I left the concert changed (after staying for Rainer Maria).
Since that concert, Denison Witmer has continued to release engaging and wonderfully intricate albums – 2008′s Carry The Weight, 2012′s The Ones Who Wait, and his most recent, last year’s eponymous release. Each album is intimate, as Witmer invites you into a sacred and safe space. They radiate with a certain afterglow, vibrantly colored light that hits the evening sky as the sun sets. That’s what the albums sound like. You can’t just listen to one song, you are compelled to sit back, take a load off, and slide straight through these albums – the mark of a true professional, a most gifted songwriter.
Denison Witmer, joined by Ross Bellenoit, one of our favorite local guitarists, visited us in the studio late on evening in October of last year. We kept tracking songs, putting past woes and present worries to the side for the moment, and enjoying each other’s company, as the duo played the night out.