by Denin Koch
The sounds of shimmering guitar, cascading piano and harmonized vocals filled the HUB Multi-Purpose Room last Wednesday night as singer-songwriter Ben Rector delivered an intimate performance of his original music to an enthusiastic Whitworth audience.
The concert, sponsored by ASWU, was a detour for Rector, who is currently on a U.S. tour promoting his most recent album, “The Walking in Between.”
Rector, accompanied by the pianist/guitarist from his full band, treated his audience to a nine-song set spanning just over an hour.
The song listing had something for everyone, as the set ranged from the gritty blues of “Follow You” to the Sunday-morning charm of “I Like You” to the haunting loneliness of “Sailboat.”
Captivating his audience, Rector elicited laughter, clapping, cheers and introspective silence from the assembled students, fans and faculty.
Lasting impressions were left on the minds of those who attended, even those unfamiliar with the performer before the live event.
“I love the energy of this guy,” freshman Abe Khieran said after the concert. “He has a unique, unorthodox presence when he is playing. His style is inspirational.”
Performance and showmanship is nothing new for the veteran musician. Rector was born and raised in suburban Oklahoma. After obtaining a university degree, he immersed himself in his craft by moving to the musical metropolis of Nashville, Tennessee. His first album, “Songs That Duke Wrote,” was released in 2008. Since, Rector has released five more full-length studio albums, a live album and an EP of Huey Lewis and the News covers, titled “Newy Lewis and the Hues.”
Despite his seasoned career, the show was Rector’s first visit to Spokane. Fortunately, his maiden voyage to the city unfurled much more pleasantly than he had anticipated.
“Spokane is much more beautiful than I thought it would be,” Rector said after originally being skeptical about the merits of the cold, wintery region. For the singer, the Whitworth show was just one day removed from a stay in Malibu, California.
Pleased by the event’s attendance, Rector further revealed that before the show, he thought that “there were not gonna be enough people to line the front row.” By the time the show began, the MPR was filled, leaving standing room only.
ASWU Activities Coordinator Laurel Cornwell was thrilled by the event’s success.
“I heard about Ben Rector through a student request,” Cornwell said. “I added his name to a survey—containing about 20 artists—that went out to the students. They voted for which performer to bring to campus and Ben Rector won.”
Cornwell was further impressed by the students’ overwhelming enthusiasm for the concert.
“The turnout for this event was great. We had a line forming at the door of people waiting to get in by 7 p.m., an hour before Rector took the stage,” Cornwell said. “The crowd was really responsive, creating a great atmosphere.”
While Rector has achieved and thrived in such a public career, his true charm lies in the sense that his celebrity seems humble and reluctant.
In his song “Ordinary Love,” Rector sings that he “don’t wanna be no star,” and his autobiographical introduction of his website claims that he doesn’t understand “Crazy dance clubs, private jets, expensive alcohol and lots of money.” By portraying himself simply as a man who loves to play music, Rector fascinated and endeared himself to the crowd.
What truly set this performance apart was the remarkable personality and flair that Rector brought to the MPR stage.
On one of his tunes, Rector flawlessly improvised a rhyming verse of lyrics around the audience-suggested theme of “pirates,” much to the appreciation of the Whitworth crowd.
When challenged with a song request from the audience, Rector, while unable to fulfill the request, invited the audience member and his infant son onto the stage for a photo op.
Rector’s band-mate Cody Fry also channeled charisma and presence, stunning concert-goers with his improvised “mouth trumpet” solo that transcended mere vocal noises to create an exciting musical addition.
These whimsical yet well-executed “gems” gave Rector’s performance the extra edge to render it truly remarkable and memorable.
Ben Rector’s album “The Walking in Between” is available on iTunes and Spotify.