A Man, a Guitar and a Beard: Iron & Wine Takes on Nights on the Heights

Out strolled a man dressed in a gray suit, guitar in hand.  His long, brown beard was imposing, even mysterious. We clapped as he reached the mic. “Thank you… Wow, you guys are so well behaved,” the man said to the Robsham audience with an impish smile.

Little did we know we would learn a great deal about this seemingly shadowy figure.

The audience got the chance to hang out with Sam Beam, the mastermind behind the indie-folk band Iron & Wine. We talked, we laughed, we sang and we got to know a true musician.

Beam let us run the show. In asking what we wanted to hear, he gave way to an overwhelming uproar of song requests. “Man, you guys got a lot of ideas. You must be in college or something,” he laughed.

The set started with “Boy with the Coin” and his whispery, soothing sound filled the sold out Robsham theater.

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He let us in on a secret: he spends more time writing than practicing. He was a little rusty on some of his older songs, but he admitted that they’re not that hard to learn. After someone told him he learned how to play one of his songs, he said, “You figured out there’s only three cords eh?” with a bemused smile. “I sound like a jerk but I am a jerk.”

We got an intimate glimpse at the inner workings of a musician. Self-deprecation and modesty drove the night. But those of us there knew we were in the presence of greatness.

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Beam is a simple kind of guy. “Some people do all that jazz but a lot of people don’t,” he said. Yet his music is hauntingly beautiful. His voice soared against his acoustic guitar melodies.

He played “Waves of Galveston,” a yet to be recorded track, despite the caws of the audience. “Gotta give you some of what you want and some of what you need,” he justified.

He took the show to an intimate level. He would start and stop songs, give a back story, then pick right back up. After the beginning phrase in “Grace for Saints & Ramblers,” he stopped to explain to us college students: “I’ve gotten a lot of flack for my grammar in this tune… there’s such thing as poetic license,” and went along with the song, changing some “you and I”s to “you and me”s with a chuckle. He was upfront with us, and in no way hid behind his beard. It felt as if we were privy to something special—the makings of music and the mind of an artist.

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A father to five daughters, he gave us some wisdom.  “Let me tell you something about the other side of college: go to school as long as you can. Enjoy it while you can.”

Beam closed the night with a mostly A capella “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” one of his most famous songs. He left us with his voice, a smile and the idea that growing a beard for ten years might make you just as cool as him.

You pulled out a good one, Night on the Heights. You pulled out a good one.

Photos courtesy of Katie Levingston/Gavel Media.

School, major and year: A&S, English major and French minor, 2015
Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland
Favorite Beyonce lyric: "A diva is a female version of a hustla"

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