A lively Cellar crowd laughs as Wade Downey explains his opening song was written for his two-year-old son, Finn, and the eventual break-ups he'll go through later in life.
Downey, 37, had the crowd laughing from the beginning of his performance at the Cellar last Thursday, opening with a solo acoustic set, followed by accompaniment from talented musicians such as computer science professor Barry Lawson on Mandolin, senior Nathan Riehl on bass guitar and VCU physical therapist Adam Powell on drums.
Playing college gigs is nothing new for Downey, with the show being his first in seven years since playing with his band in graduate school.
The nearly two-hour set was seamless, showing no signs of a seven-year hiatus, with new material and an energetic, yet intimate Cellar atmosphere. Passion for music and performance shone throughout the concert from Downey and his band mates, who played a set including original songs written by Downey, and covers exemplifying the group's eclectic musical appreciation.
"I can play a role and be myself at the same time," Downey said. "I'm usually reserved about personal things, but onstage I feel like a different person, like I can say whatever I want. The song lyrics flick by so fast that people don't have time to think about what I've just said, so it's like I'm getting away with bearing my soul and not having to suffer any consequences."
The concert was set up by Sarah Rhoads, who saw both his comical and musical sides as a student in his class. Rhoads, a senior biochemistry major, said she remembered Downey's puppet shows demonstrating bonds between chemical compounds and serenading summer research groups with original songs such as "Green Panty Woman" -- also the final song of his Cellar set.
"I don't know a single person who took one of his classes that didn't think he was hysterical," Rhoads said. "He's definitely one of the funniest professors around."
Cover songs highlighted Downey's love for comedy and music including "Dear Prudence" by the Beatles, "Lola" by the Kinks, The Big Bang Theory theme song, "Casey Jones" by the Grateful Dead, "Dancing Queen" by ABBA, "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" by Paul Simon and Rhoads' personal favorite, a Muppets song sung by Downey in the voice of Kermit the Frog.
Downey praised his band members for being prepared with only a few weeks notice, as an early date was chosen for the show because Downey's wife, Eileen, is expecting to give birth to their second child in around a month -- something he said he would not want to miss because of a performance.
Downey said he would like to be part of a group with a piano for future performances, also finding someone to carry the piano he cheekily adds.
The love of performing surely means that Downey and his musical compatriots will entertain future audiences just as they've already done. "The single best thing is seeing a smile on the face of someone in the audience," Downey said.
"Whether it's because we're playing a song that person likes or because it's funny to see a professor make a fool of himself, I don't really care."
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