Interpreting the Grateful Dead
A unique mix of country-tinged original folk songs layered with masterful acoustic guitar looping.
-- The Eastside Providence Monthly, 9/22/15
A remarkable guitar player and looper. One instrument but all of a sudden it's like a string band. Benfield sang a sweet song , "If You've Lost Your Way" about growing up in rural New York state.
-- Jon Caroll, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/12/12
Thoughtfully taps into that still, emotionally exposed territory that Jerry Garcia often explored out of Drums/Space at Grateful Dead shows.
-- Dennis Cook, dirtyimpound.com, 2/6/2012
I first met Garrin Benfield in 2000, in NYC, at the GLAMA Awards, where he was nominated in the Out Recording category, for “What You’re Hiding,” from his debut CD “Living a Dream.” He and the Indigo Girls, Mary Gauthier and the Aluminum Group lost to Melissa Etheridge’s “Scarecrow.” To my regret, he was not a performer at the event, and I’ve spent the last 12 years gobbling up his five CD releases, but never having a chance to see him perform.
That changed last week when I drove (from Houston) to Austin for the day to go to the SXSW Bent Compass showcase. I was very pleased to finally be able to see Garrin do a live show, but I was NOWHERE prepared for my reaction. I was…okay, this is a trite expression…totally blown away by his performance. I mean, (I may gush a little) I have not been so impressed by a live performance in a long time. I knew that he was known for his intricate loop-driven guitar work, and I’ve seen a couple other artists dabble with this live. But Garrin has got to be the master. His singing and playing are mesmerizing. And, oh yeah, I got to hear him do my early favorite, “What You're Hiding.”
-- J.D. Doyle, Queer Music Heritage, April 2012
Garrin performed a mix of original compositions (Hungry Ghost, Walking Time Blues, Colors in You) and creatively arranged covers, including Gillian Welch’s Wichita, the Beatles’ I’m Only Sleeping, and Neil Young’s Cortez (reggae-style). The audience was on their feet clapping by the 2nd or 3rd song! They loved it when Garrin started looping all kinds of layers of music, and he made sure to explain it to those who were new to this technology. There was visible and audible appreciation during one of his last numbers, a musical jam that includes some chanting of John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance. He came back for an encore and did a gospel song for the holidays: Children Go Where I Send Thee. The audience gave him such an enthusiastic response, andone gentleman came up to Garrin after the show to say: “Thanks – I needed that!”
A few days after the show I ran into one of the counselors from the Father Alfred Center who thanked me/us again for bringing Garrin back, and noted how happy the residents were for the rest of the evening.
-- Bread and Roses Newsletter, 12/8/11.
"...residents of St. Anthony Foundation’s substance abuse treatment center, Fr. Alfred Center, enjoyed the amazing musical talent of up and coming singer/songwriter Garrin Benfield. This show was produced by local nonprofit Bread & Roses, an organization dedicated to uplifting the human spirit by providing free, live, quality entertainment for organizations like St. Anthony’s. Garrin fulfilled this mission to uplift spirits and more with an hour long set of original tunes and interpretations of familiar favorites. The evening ended with a rousing, standing ovation. All of us at St. Anthony’s appreciate how Garrin’s music opened our hearts and comforted our minds.
-- St. Anthony Foundation Newsletter, 6/2011
Hands down, one of the most baldly, immediately enjoyable sets at Tortugas IV. With TLG's Scott Rager laying down a clean, sharp drum line, Garrin Benfield ripping up lead guitar (including some mouth watering slide runs that compared favorably to Derek Trucks... really), and Brogan (ALO) out from behind the kit with an acoustic guitar, the whole combination just worked.
-- Dennis Cook, Jambase.com review of Las Tortugas Music Festival 11/1/09
Benfield plays a smattering of folk, soul, jazz, and blues, among other styles. He’s not your average singer-songwriter, or your average solo act for that matter. Listen to a live video of him — without watching it — and you won’t believe that what you hear is not a whole band. The reason you would think you hear a full band? Because Garrin sets up a loop station during his shows which he lays multiple tracks down on and then plays over. That allows him to improvise with, well, himself! Not only does he lay down multiple guitar tracks, but he also achieves percussive effects by recording loops of himself tapping the guitar. The loop station expands the traditional definition of a “solo” show and adds unique variety to the concert. He doesn’t use it for every song however, and although I think what Garrin does with the loop is incredible, some of my favorite songs on Saturday were actually played without it. They were stripped down, just bare guitar and vocals, and the most poignant. It’s good to have a mix of songs though, and Garrin played a healthy blend: sunny tunes, dark ones, energizing songs, lullabies… During his set on Saturday he also played a beautiful cover of Gillian Welch’s “Annabelle.” It’s a haunting song and Garrin’s voice was well suited for it. During the slower songs such as that one his voice had a clarity and strength, the gorgeous tones of it really shining through and piercing my heart. Near the end of the night Garrin gave a performance full of intensity involving the loop, waves of multi-layered music emanating from the stage, before closing the show with a sweet and tender song he had just written that morning. Garrin’s entire set had perfect balance, and the last song was the perfect choice to cap off a great evening.
-- Life's A Soundtrack (Review of Towne Crier 10/10/09)
I had never seen Garrin Benfield before Sunday, but am now a devoted fan. I really like the fluency of his playing; he is an undeniably captivating musician. If I had to pick a category to describe Garrin’s music, it would be more folk rock than traditional blues, but you can definitely tell that he’s influenced by the latter. His voice has a sweet tone to it, yet is as complex as his show was… He had a loop station set up onstage, which he would lay multiple tracks down on. He would then play improvisations along to those, creating the sound of an entire band while performing solo. At one point, Garrin asked, “How is everybody? Am I assaulting you? Dinner music!” at which point someone in the audience yelled out, “It’s past dinner! We’re drinking!”, drawing chuckles from everyone else. But if Garrin considers that assault, then let the felonies against him ensue! (Well, not literally…) Toward the end of the evening, Garrin was joined onstage by both his sister Claudia, who was in the audience, as well as David. For his very last song, Garrin played by himself (with the use of multiple loops). When he ended his set, he walked off stage while the tracks were still going, before walking back up a few moments later to slowly fade them into silence.
-- Life is A Soundtrack (Review of Towne Crier 4/26/09)
The Future is Now: Hailed as "the future of San Francisco folk" by his hometown music scribes, Bay Area singer-songwriter Garrin Benfield has a good deal of hype to live up to. But with his effortlessly smooth vocal delivery, a keen ear for melody and arrangement, and a poet's knack for gripping emotional lyricism, it seems he's suited to the task. Find out this week as Benfield scores a Vermont hat trick with performances at Montpelier's Langdon Street Cafe on Thursday, Burlington's Radio Bean on Friday, and Richmond's On The Rise Bakery on Saturday.
-- Seven Days 5/6/2009
I missed out on being a Dead head, but something of that vibe courses through the Garrin crowd, which always draws an eclectic mix of people, straight, queer, you-name-it. Those who've followed this column a while may think I give a little too muchÊink to the young troubadour, who by now is acclaimed nationally for his guitar prowess and songwriting/singing mastery. But it's the guitar prowess that once again inspires me to write of his latest gig, last Thursday night at Cafe Du Nord. At the front of the stage, I was able to witness Garrin's finger work on the guitar up close, and as a serious fan of guitar playing over many years, I'm not exaggerating when I say Garrin far outstrips any other guitarist I've encountered when it comes to dazzling showmanship and fierce musicianship. He's gone far, far beyond being your standard singer/songwriter. He's no longer just a folk singer, or folk rocker, or country/bluegrass artists. He's an all-out rock and roll artist of the highest caliber."
-- Bay Area Reporter, March 2006. (Review of 3/2/06, Cafe DuNord)
I was surprised to see an opener before Rickie Lee Jones came on. San Francisco singer-songwriter Garrin Benfield hadn't been announced in the pre-show publicity, but there he was, and he was far from a disappointment (though some folks around me were complaining a bit about the unexpected opening act).
An Ashton Kutcher look-alike, Benfield possessed musical skills and a soulfulness well beyond his years. His voice was strong, lovely, creative and flexible. His guitar playing, especially when he wasn't singing and was free to really focus on the instrument, was fabulous.
Benfield, who has toured for four years with Boz Scaggs, had a zillion chops but never overplayed. He was just complicated enough for whatever musical message he tried to get across. He started with an Elliott Smith tune, then went off into his own originals, often using a sampler to live-record infectious layers of loops with which he accompanied himself.
His singing on "Unbound" was particularly beautiful, and I loved his "white-boy funk" (including a little bad-ass funky slide guitar) on a later song into which he cleverly wove the repeated lyrics "All we are saying is, 'Give peace a chance.'" Benfield is worth a show of his own and a mention of such length in a Rickie Lee Jones review.
-- Chico News and Review, 01/27 (Review of 01/22/05, Paradise Performing Arts Center, Chico, CA)
Garrin Benfield is a road warrior who has performed with Boz Scaggs, The Mother Hips and Buckwheat Zydeco. His material, described as "freestyle acoustic rock," is earthy, etheral and innovative. Sounding like Jeff Buckley meets Steven Stills meets neil Young, Benfield also channels the Beatles with a "Norwegian Wood" vibe that shimmers through most of his songs. Mellow yet intense, the music has a psychedelic quality that is compelling and exciting in an unpredictable way. Acoustic, maybe, but Benfield's approach to songwriting is much more than one expects from an acoustic artist.
Primarily a guitarist who also happens to be a singer, Benfield utilizes a duplicator that repeats his riffs so that he can build arrangements live. Borrowing somewhat from Joseph Arthur's technique, Benfield loops strands of music together and manages to get a band-like sound to create sound-scape excursions that are truly mind blowing. Benfield's playing is phenomenal and his voice is that of a wounded angel, seeping with emotion that projects the pain, alienation, anguish and hope of his songs.
A warm, confident performer, Garrin Benfield related well with his audience, who shouted encouragement between tunes. Though he has a quiet demeanor and, for the most part allowed his music to do the talking, Benfield exposed enough of himself to matter. Indeed, this was obviously an artist with something to say and the talent to make it count.
Seasoned and relaxed, Benfield comes across like a real pro. His music is what's really special about him. This is a player who is not only inventive, he's inspiring. A musician's musician, Benfield is a must-see act for anyone who mistakenly thinks solo artists are limited. Benfield will blow that preconception right out of your mind."
-- Music Connection, 01/05 (Review of 11/19/04, Genghis Cohen, LA, CA)
For people looking for music that breaks the boundaries of the typical jam and comes out the other side with wit, intelligence, and structure, one ray of light is Garrin Benfield.
Benfield has managed to sneak past the guys at the door and drop renegade songs onto the unsuspecting masses in the best way possible. Honest in his songwriting and generous in his performances, Benfield is climbing his way up the ladder of respect in the Bay area with his latest release, Where Joy Kills Sorrow.
Pulling in an early crowd of eager fans, Garrin and crew had The Independent in the palm of their hand with a full set of material off of the new album and older songs from their catalog. Proving to be a steadfast singer/songwriter, Garrin took the audience on a ride through cleverly written anecdotes of everyday life, sealed and delivered by a tightly wound band that plays so comfortably together one can't help but grin and shuffle Tearing into his acoustic like it had all the distortion in the world, Benfield crafted hook after hook, finding eloquent compliment with the keys all night. In a nice departure from some of the jam bands that have been sprouting up, Benfield has mastered the art of knowing when to not give too much. Each member practiced the "less is more" style, falling back at times to a hyped-up folk with slight blues impulse.
Carefully composed and full of intelligent lyrics that brought on all emotions at once, his songs had me very impressed. Garrin's melodies seemed to jump out time and time again, rousing up sounds that were akin to a mixture of George Harrison and a male version of Norah Jones. From a stellar performance at this summer's High Sierra to an absolute sparkling album release party, Garrin Benfield has got his eyes set on the next level, and the chops to get there. Benfield's new album Where Joy Kills Sorrow is one of the best sounding albums I've heard this year. His music is like that warm feeling at the end of a candle-lit dinner with someone special. It just flows perfectly."
-- Jambase.com, 10/04 (Review of 9/30/04, The Independent, SF, CA)
Now, I know not everyone is a huge Garrin Benfield fan the way I am Ñ but you would be if you'd heard him live last Thursday at The Independent (site of "The Box" of yore) where fans witnessed a breathtaking display of guitarmanship, far beyond anything I'd seen him do before. He was playing songs off his new album, Where Joy Kills Sorrow, but his live set was far more free-wheeling and exciting than his tightly controlled CD. The live show reached stratospherically, taking him into a whole new musical realm and proving his star power. Benfield's greatest strength is his ability to jam on his own compositions, playing the rock god with his guitar, and in that he was sensational."
-- Bay Area Reporter, 10/04 (Review of 9/30/04, The Indepepndent, SF, CA)
From the South...well, the south of California Ð San Francisco by way of New York, Garrin Benfield, nailed my boots to the Georgia red clay with a solo acoustic (sort of) set that caught me off guard and unprepared. Mostly performing his well written original songs, Garrin sang wonderfully, and played guitar hot enough to be a valued lead man in most bands! For his last number, I got a bit worried. I'm not a fan of samplers, looping electronics and such. Garrin used his Boss RC-20 Loop Station (sampler/looper), programming the 4 or 5 loops LIVE (!) and ended up sounding like a complete live band with percussion, bass, lead, etc., all from just sampling sounds from his acoustic guitar...did I mention he did all this LIVE? Ð in a jaw-dropping performance of a finale."
-- Gritz Magazine, 12/04 (Review of 9/04, Blue Ridge Harvest Fest, GA)
Garrin Benfield, a talented singer/songwriter from San Francisco, proved he possesses not only a powerful voice and quick hand on the guitar, but some savvy marketing skills as well. His Americana Stage set was excellent; a blend of moody, understated folk rock and tender ballads that rolled through shifting musical landscapes like a tight-winding byway. During a far ranging, reggae-tinged version of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," someone from his crew handed out red egg-shaped noisemakers (plastic rattles with "Garrin Benfield Band" printed on them) to everyone in the crowd. Benfield finished up the song, and before his next number, got everyone shaking along to the beat. The result was a barrage of crispy percussion coming from the crowd, the perfect backbeat to the band's vibrant playing."
-- Jambase.com, 7/04 (Review of 7/3/04, High Sierra Music Fest, Quincy, CA)
Garrin Benfield did a concert at Skipper's in Tampa, FL, performing to happy, enthusiastic audience members. I knew that Garrin would be an OK artist as I'd listened to a CD & had read his credentials and heard a couple of his fans rave about him. But I really didn't know just how "OK" he'd be. Not only was he "OK", He was terrific! In a league w/a Kraig Kenning or a Sam Pacetti. Wonderful vocals & guitar wizardry, nice originals & a good variety of covers (from Gospel to Stephen Foster to Beatles to Grateful Dead & I think even a bit of Bill Monroe)...Top that w/a sweet personality and a child-like awe at being at Skipper's ...It was truly a wonderful evening...The type of evening that continues to make it well worth whatever work I have to do in arranging this stuff."
-- Gloria Halloway, Concert Promoter, Tampa, Florida
Garrin Benfield began the night of music playing to an already packed house. He played an amazing set. Stripping down to an acoustic guitar and with just a bass player in tow, he set the perfect tone for the evening playing songs from his latest release, Nowhere is Brighter."
-- Bourgeois Magazine, 1/03 (Review of 1/4/03, Bottom of the Hill, SF, CA)
Watching artists develop is one of the rewards of this job, but it requires a special commitment to certain artists, making every effort to see them at work on a regular basis. I've managed to do this consistently with only a handful of individuals, most notably singer/songwriter Garrin Benfield, who continues to hone his talents with exciting results, as demonstrated at Kimo's, the happening live music dive on Polk St. When he took the stage at close to midnight, Benfield was on fire, singing with greater control and reach than ever, and playing guitar as though he were Jerry Garcia, providing extended riffs to his best known songs. At ease and clearly well rehearsed from months of touring, Benfield delighted home-town fans."
-- Bay Area Reporter, 1/03 (Review of 1/15/03, Kimos, SF, CA)
... a set of great songs performed by a tight band and a performer who could well be headlining the venue in the not too distant future
-- Cosmik Debris, 7/00 (Review of 7/29/00, Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, Seattle, WA)
It was wonderful being in the audience watching Garrin. He ruled the stage, rocked the house with his soulful guitar and sultry voice, oozing charisma. Flashbulbs pulsed from the audience. He has so much talent, and his career seems to really be taking off. Check out his music!
-- Love's Supreme Desire, 2/00 (Review of Slim's, 1/27/00, SF,CA)
...Garrin Benfield is an accomplished musician. This was his third time on the Viva Variety stage, and it is always a treat. His words are haunting, as are the chords he strums on his acoustic guitar....
-- SF Bay Times, 2/01 (Review of 1/23/00, Theatre Rhino, SF, CA)
At the Green party benefit at CellSpace, singer Garrin Benfield played two kick-ass sets to jolly Green cheers. Benfield is da bomb."
-- Bay Area Reporter, 8/01 (Review of 8/02/01, CellSpace, SF,CA)
Headlining the Mt. Tabor Theatre, Garrin Benfield had me completely mesmerized with his guitar playing. One song in particular sticks in my mind: "What You're Hiding", a song about Matthew Shepherd. This song has a very deep emotional impact on Garrin, and he chose to perform it at both shows I saw. Garrin dedicated "What You're Hiding" to Matthew. It's very easy to get emotionally wrapped up in this song. Other songs that Garrin sang included "Crazy Love", and "What to Listen For", and a great bluegrass sounding song called "I Let You Go". In the song, "Leg", Garrin sings "...I'll try not to try" and while performing this song at Mt. Tabor, Garrin stopped several times to let us know he was feeling conflicted about this song. This gave us, as an audience, a glimpse into the type of relationship this song is about, and I think many of us can relate to such emotional ups and downs in our own lives. Garrin sings about real things ... real people and real emotions.
-- In Music We Trust, 9/01 (Review of 9/09/01, Mount Tabor Theatre, Portland, OR)
... on Sunday I got bowled over at the Bitter End. If you haven't seen or heard Garrin Benfield... Well, you simply must! It will be worth the trip to San Francisco. (And while you are there, be sure to see all our SF members.) Anyway, Garrin Benfield... Sooooo expressive -- lyrically and vocally. Such a commanding presence on stage. A wealth of music coming from his guitar as if there were more than one person playing. He was so... Wow. Here's what happened... The waitress started to lift a tray of beers at the bar. Garrin began his GLAMA nominated song, "What You're Hiding", and she turned her head to the stage, put the tray down and just listened. The folks waiting for the beers never noticed the delay. They had been busy listening, too. The hour set flew by and I wanted more; so, I went home and played his CD right away.
-- Ed Mannix, 11/01 (Review of 10/21/01, Bitter End, NYC)
Garrin wowed the crowd once again with three new and beautiful songs of love, joy, and emotional honesty.
-- Frontiers, 6/00 (Review of 6/5/00, Theatre Rhino, SF, CA).