For the plaintive-voiced singer-songwriter and pianist Vienna Teng, the journey from computer science classes to The Late Show with David Letterman was relatively painless. While still a student at Stanford, the disarmingly relaxed San Francisco native received constant encouragement from friends and acquaintances to get her songs out there. The inevitable combination of day job capped by evening coffeehouse and open-mic gigs led to her posting MP3s of her original songs on different Web sites and inviting people to review the music. After receiving a host of positive reviews, Teng put out a self-produced CD and set up her Web site, ViennaTeng.com. With her CDs selling briskly at sold-out shows, word eventually reached the offices of Seattle's Virt Records, who immediately offered to rerelease the album and promote it. In January 2003, two months after Teng's first of two CDs hit the shelves, an appearance on NPR's Weekend Edition produced a call from the Letterman show. Accompanied by Paul Shaffer and the band, Teng parlayed what she describes as "all kinds of mayhem and bright lights" into a series of tours that included opening for Joan Baez and Richie Havens earlier this year.
When asked to describe her music, Teng responds: "The best term I've come up with so far is 'chamberful music.' I grew up playing classical music, and I sometimes play with classical string players, so it sounds vaguely like classical chamber music. But the music I write feels more like contemporary folk and pop music. Take the chamber sound and add folk-pop lyrics, and that's what you get."
While she has spent most of the year touring with a cellist and violinist, Teng's skills at solo improvisation will regale listeners at tonight's (Wednesday) 8 p.m. show at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage, 1111 Addison Street ($17.50-$18.50 in advance; 510-548-1761 or TheFreight.org). With just a piano between her and the audience, Teng plans to invite people to request songs from her albums or ask her to cover something. "Whatever they want me to do," she says. "To a certain extent, this is how all my shows work. I know what I'll start with and what I'll end with, but during the show I often ask people what they'd like to hear. It's kind of a family gathering when I do shows; I like to keep them as informal as possible."-- Jason Victor Serinus
Make 2004 go away
There are gales of merriment in store for you at Johnny Steele's Hilarity Hoedown and Jocularity Jamboree, Friday night (9:30) at Julia Morgan Center for the Arts (2640 College Ave., Berkeley, JuliaMorgan.com). Observational stand-up comedian Steele headlines the show, with topical funnyman Geoff Bolt, Andrew Ault and his "Other People's Vacations" slide show, and the Bakersfield-to-Barstow honky-tonk music of Red Meat. $28 adults, $22 students and seniors. Info: 510-845-8542. -- Kelly Vance
I Remember Dada
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when artists wore large conical paper hats and crowed nonsense syllables from cafe tabletops; when James Joyce and Tristan "Personal Boomboom" Tzara bumped into Vladimir Lenin and shared a laugh; when Dada was in bloom. It's the Shotgun Players' New Year's Eve Dada Party. Just throw on some iconoclastic clothes, put $35 in your pocket, and head off to the 8 p.m. show of Shotgun's Travesties at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley (1901 Ashby Ave.). The party, featuring a Dada Poetry Slam, Dada music, and Dada champagne (?), begins after the final curtain. Reservations: ShotgunPlayers.org -- Kelly Vance
12 Hours in Sing Sing
For twelve hours this Thursday, the Singing for Life open house brings its brand of circlesinging spiritualism to the First Congregational Church, 2501 Harrison St. (at 27th Street). First begun at SF's Grace Cathedral in 2002 and transplanted to the East Bay last year, the concept involves layered, improvised choir singing led by such professionals as Voicestra alumni David Worm and Joey Blake. It goes on and on, with new volunteer singers arriving as tired ones drop out, from noon to midnight. Donation: $10. -- Kelly Vance
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