Hayley's first appearance at Joe's Pub

POSTED: 12:26 a.m. June 28th, 2004

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Hayley Westenra
Hayley Westenra


Thursday, Jun 24, 2004 @ 7:30 PM

Tickets: $22

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A review of Hayley's Debut Concert at Joe's Pub, NY
24th June 2004.

I don't quite remember how I heard about Hayley's concert at Joe's Pub, but I do remember it was early on in the process. No sooner had I heard about it than I whipped out cell phone and credit card and reserved a ticket, there was no way I was missing this, even if the venue was slightly unusual for a concert of this nature. I would not be alone, it turned out, either, as several other folks from the Web revealed that they would be there: Steve MacDonald, or Stevo, the master writer with creative genius to spare, Alena, the kindly California girl who'd just gotten married, Gary Scovil, best friends with the masters of the Just Charlotte site, and Natasha and Crystal, the lovely singing sisters.

I thought about the event for weeks, and exchanged several e-mails with Keith, master of this site, asking if it would be possible to snag Hayley briefly afterward, not so much for me, but initially because I wanted her to sign a picture of her and my dear friend Holly Holyoake for Holly, and later because Natasha, one of the sweetest and most moral teens I have ever met, revealed she also wanted to meet Hayley. I was told to try to snag either Steve Abbott, Hayley's manager, or Gerald Westenra and take it from there. Now I had a mission. Even if I had been told to wait outside, I'd have fought tooth and nail to get Natasha and Crystal in.

The great day arrived, and after telling the boss I wouldn't be back to the office after my deposition that day and getting through it, I hit the road for the Holland Tunnel, hoping and praying the traffic would not get in the way. It was not too bad, and after some searching, I found Joe's Pub and parked in a nearby garage. Taking my bag, loaded to the gills with camera, all three of Hayley's CDs, a small present for Hayley, and several pictures of Holly and Hayley that I'd pulled off the internet, alas, not much larger than large wallet pictures, I marched somewhat nervously up the street to Joe's Pub where a few people were waiting. A pretty woman with blonde highlights in her auburn hair noted my patriotic tie, by which I knew this was Alena, with her newly minted husband Josh. After chatting a bit, we went in and grabbed our seats. The place is not that large, about fifteen paces square with two levels. The actual bar is on the upper level. Our seats were opposite this area, against the wall furthest in from the street. The place was dark, with lamps on the tables and a small stage in the southwest corner, lit by soft pink light, on which stood a piano and microphone stand.

For a time we chatted among ourselves and with surrounding folks and ordered our dinner from a typical Italian menu with prices maybe a little high, but nothing out of line for NYC. I had ravioli with pesto sauce. Halfway through, Steve MacDonald appeared and asked if I was who I am, remarking that he saw the patriotic tie and figured I was the only one who could carry it off. He seated himself behind me on some barstools, as he, alas, did not have a table reserved. Finishing my ravioli, I stood and walked about, introducing myself to Gary Scovil, who had seated himself by the stage with two compatriots. Returning to my seat, I was halfway through dessert (tartufo) when Alena told me "Natasha's here."

Crystal, Hayley & Natasha

There was no mistaking Natasha, small, but certainly adorable in her blue silk pants suit, with her parents and lovely sister Crystal. I decided to introduce myself, and did so, shaking her hand and telling her I was glad to meet her. Sitting down again, I was most surprised when she approached me and gave me the easily recognizable signed picture of Charlotte Church that she had won from the forums not a month ago. Asking her why she did this, she replied that "I

More photo's

know you never had anything signed by her." Stunned at this high level of generosity from someone I'd only spoken to on the internet, and not certain exactly what to say, I simply said thank you. With a gentle smile she moved on to Alena and their exchange of music, while I stowed the picture in my bag on the grounds that this was a Hayley night, not a Charlotte night

Rising up, I went to the cushioned area where the Poholkas had seated themselves, introduced myself to Natasha's parents and sister, and snapped a few more pictures. I then had a few more words with Gary Scovil and caught a brief glimpse of Gerald Westenra as he set up one of the cables. Remembering that I'd promised to at least try to get the Poholka sisters in to see Hayley, I asked Gary if he knew anything. He said that slipping backstage from where the restrooms were was easy from what he'd seen, but it was 2 minutes to show time. The place was full to the brim, though supposedly it held only 150, many of them folks from Universal, or so I had been told.

Sitting myself back down, I waited for the beginning of the performance. A moment later a blonde woman with a violin stepped out and began to play a brief prelude, accompanied by a male pianist. Alas, I did not catch either of their names, though Hayley did later say they were both New Zealanders. After that, Hayley stepped out confidently, her hair long and loose, wearing a pink strappy top, bell-bottom jeans, and flat black sandals. Without a word or any accompaniment, she sang the first notes of her signature song, "Pokarekare Ana." Though the instrumentalists slipped in on the second verse, tonight it was all about the voice, and what a wonderful ethereal voice it was. Hayley was certainly brave to step out with only piano and violin to sing these songs that were produced with much heavier accompaniments.

She finished to loud applause, and thanked the audience, explaining that this was a song from her homeland about someone who had a loved one go off to sea and waited for that person's return. Her next song, said she, was built upon one of Vivaldi's melodies from Winter of "The Four Seasons." With that she gave us "River of Dreams." Finishing that, she moved then into one of her favorites, "Beat of Your Heart," which she stated was completely original, and so it was, written by her songwriter and friend George Martin, son of producer Giles Martin. I think we can safely say Hayley has made this song her own, and in this writer's opinion, though it is about a universal idea, love, it is hardly a throw-away.

Hayley, as always, listens intently

Stepping away from songs from "Pure," Hayley then started another of her favorites, "Mary, Did you Know?" Although she takes it somewhat faster than I am used to taking it, it was a lovely rendition, full of warmth and feeling. Coming to the end, she said she was sure we all knew the next song, and began the Schubert "Ave Maria," her voice spinning out over the accompaniment like warm silk thread, one verse alone, one verse with a violin obbligato. Afterward, she stepped off the stage, indicating she'd leave the stage to her two compatriots. Although both were very good players, I think we were all most interested in Hayley's return.

It was but two minutes, though, before the pianist struck up the accompaniment to "Who Painted the Moon Black?" and Hayley returned to the stage with loud applause. Although the accompaniment was less than what was used on the album, again, it did not matter, for tonight it was all about the voice. This song elicited the loudest applause of the evening, and I shouted "Brava! Brava!" at her. Genuinely surprised at this warm reception, Hayley said "Whoa, thanks!" and smiled broadly. Her next song was Sarah Class' Hayley original "Across the Universe of Time." Alas, she said the next song would be the last, and ended, as she had begun, in Maori, with the lovely and melodious lullaby "Hine e Hine." She drew great applause, and bowed. I tried to get a standing ovation going, but no such luck. This, of course, was not the end. She returned after she and her instrumentalists has left the stage, touched one note on the piano, and sang two verses of "Amazing Grace" a cappella, in her single bravest act of the evening. Again there was loud applause, and again I tried to get those around me to stand for her, but no such luck, for if anyone was deserving of a standing ovation it was Hayley.

Hayley meets her fans

I cast about myself for a moment, and caught Steve MacDonald talking to Gerald Westenra and telling him he must be the proudest dad around. When there was a break in the conversation, I rose up, business-like but pleasant, shook Gerald's hand, introduced myself, and told him I had two young friends (pointing to Natasha and Crystal) who really wanted to meet Hayley and had been told they could by Steve Abbott, her manager. He told me to go backstage and not to worry, he'd bring her out. Calling "Natasha and Crystal, with me!" I jumped up and almost ran for backstage, quickly paying the check and a hefty tip on the way there. Alena tagged along, asking if she could come with us, which I of course said yes to.

We needn't have worried about accessibility, there was a veritable FLOOD of people that nobody was interfering with in any way headed backstage into a two-story tall room of white stucco with one grey door leading further back and a black iron stairwell leading up opposite that door. The group crowded near the door like bobbysoxers waiting for Elvis, I'm ashamed to say. I did my best to make certain my friends were towards the front of this throng, and shouted a few words about keeping back, letting Hayley breathe, and not crushing her.

Hayley, always happy to pose with her fans...

Hayley entered a few minutes later through the door, dressed just as she had been on stage, accompanied by a small entourage, although Steve Abbott, her manager, did not appear to be among them, in fact a woman who looked something like an older version of Alena seemed to be the one calling the shots, I can only guess she was someone from Universal. Gerald Westenra stood off to the side, and largely did not get involved in what followed. From three sides Hayley was pressed for autographs and pictures. Though I was pretty close to the front of things, I was determined to act in a civilized manner, especially with children present. Alas, Steve MacDonald had almost nothing to sign save his ticket, and Hayley and her entourage had no CDs with them. He asked me for something to sign, which I quickly obliged with a page out of the pocket notebook I am never without during the working week. She did sign for him, though I am not sure I saw her do it.

I opened my bag while Hayley was busy with other folks and quickly arranged the inserts so she could sign the front of each. My turn came more quickly than I thought it would. I swiftly identified myself and presented all three CDs as well as my pen. Alas, it was only good for two signatures, for whatever reason. Unflappable, Hayley called for a Sharpie (a thick black felt-tip pen), which some other fan was only too eager to provide. All three CDs were quickly signed, as I put the question to Hayley if she were asked to sing for one of the Narnia movies they are starting to shoot in New Zealand now whether she'd do it. Her answer was a very genuinely enthusiastic "Oh, yes." As she signed the last I asked her to quickly look to her left, and Steve was kind enough to snap a pic of both of us. I also asked her if she remembered Claire Halligan, the sweet, gentle Irish soprano who she had tried to call when she last visited the Emerald Isle, and she said how sorry she was that they had not connected. Still pressing, I said that I was also friends with Holly Holyoake, the lovely Welsh soprano she had met and posed with at St. David's Hall, and would she sign these pictures of her and Holly, one for Holly and one that Holly could also sign for Keith, who runs websites for both? Hayley graciously assented to that as well, saying how wonderful Holly was and how much she enjoyed meeting her.

Stuffing all of these items back in my bag, I thanked Hayley profusely and said I thought she should get something also,

...then signs yet more autographs!

and gave her the present I mentioned before, a brooch-pin of Pennsylvania apple wood carved in the shape of a songbird, quickly flipping open the box (so she could see it was nothing dangerous) and explaining what it was. Hayley's face lit up in surprise, as I guess she was not expecting gifts, and she thanked me. Caught up in the moment, I bent forward and kissed her on the cheek, and she reciprocated with a kiss of her own and a happy smile. I was already warm from all these people being in the room, but I was twice as warm and weak at the knees after that. I could not believe I had been permitted to get that close to her and to kiss her as well.

Natasha and Crystal were next, seeking their own signatures. I made a point of saying that they also sang, hoping it could get some dialogue going between them. Natasha gave Hayley a gift-wrapped copy of the sisters' CD, with a few shy words. I called for them to pose quickly with one sister on each side of Hayley, and captured that on film. Then we stepped back to allow other folks to have their turn. I snapped a few more pictures with Natasha and Crystal, and then mounted the stairs to get a few more pictures of the proceedings. Hayley was gracious and friendly to all who approached her, signing all that was proffered and dispensing many friendly words and many more kisses to her admirers. I have never before seen so much love in one place, unless it is in Heaven. While up there, I gave the copy of "My Gift to You" I had had signed to Natasha, as I knew she wanted a copy, and thinking it was a fair exchange for the picture she gave me.

Natasha gets an autograph from her favourite singer!

Finally the crowd began to thin out. I came down from the stairs, since Hayley was still there, and asked her if she would do one more favor: of and when she ever got back to Ireland, would she please get in touch with Claire Halligan, for Claire was most sad that the first attempt to connect had not worked out. She said she would do so, whenever that might be, and that I should say hi for her in the meantime. She also asked what Claire was doing now, and I told her all about Claire's modelling and qualifying to teach flute and other achievements. Hayley was impressed, and I think this exchange was the most important of the evening, showing Hayley to be genuinely interested in other people and caring for them. I also spoke a little bit with Gerald Westenra, telling him that I intended to ship these pictures on to Keith at HWI and how great his daughter was. I quipped that I knew he was a jeweller, and this was his greatest gem of all, save only the two others home in NZ. He laughed a little, I suppose he has heard that joke before.

At that point I took my leave of the Poholkas, gently hugging both Natasha and Crystal and promising we'd stay in touch. I then walked out to the front, where Steve MacDonald was still chatting with Alena and Josh. For a while we talked about this and that, but I did not realize that this door I'd left through was the only way out of the place. Lo and behold, Hayley and her entourage came out the door, and surprisingly, she permitted yet another approach. She signed Alena's copy of a classical music magazine with her on the cover, and chatted with us about how great New York was and how she'd be taping some talk shows before leaving. I remarked that it was probably good that she could still stroll in relative anonymity here, and that I'd heard she was recognized in London even when jogging. She confirmed this, saying she and her mom had been out jogging in Kensington Gardens and everywhere people were recognizing her and waving to her, calling "hi." I also commented that her outfit must be a fave, since it was similar to the ones she'd worn on two TV appearances. She said that it was actually brand new; it had to be since on her last trip she'd lost a suitcase that had almost all her clothes in it. I jokingly remarked "Another suitcase in another hall?" since that was the title of one of the first songs she recorded, though it hasn't reached the US yet. She gave me a look, and then giggled as I apologized for the obvious joke.

After a few more exchanges, one of her group said sorry, but she had to steal her from us, as a taxicab pulled up. We

And finally Steve manages to pose with Hayley... Nice one Steve!

didn't mind, we knew she had to go, and we all waved goodbye as she got in the cab and departed to wherever she was staying. As we looked to our watches and realized 9 was approaching, we all decided we'd better get going ourselves. After farewells, I picked up my car and headed back across the river and home, my mind still turning over and over with all the wonderful people I'd met and the wonderful artist who had given us all so much happiness that evening. I hope she continues to bring that happiness to many others.

Review by Steven Olivo


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