Nestled in the cozy confines of The Barns at Wolf Trap on Thursday, singer-songwriter Ari Hest could have had the 150-plus concert crowd in the palm of his hand all night. Perhaps just elated to escape the aftershocks of Washington's mid-week snowstorm, the especially cheery audience looked as if they would eagerly form a Kumbaya circle if he asked.
Instead of capitalizing on the crowd energy, Hest – who has gained a following over the last decade with his acoustic guitar and powerful baritone – spent the majority of the show playing slow, sleepy songs, and some unknown tunes from his upcoming album.
Hest, 31, possesses a rich, smoky voice that makes it impossible to truly lose an audience. But as the minutes wore on, and Hest switched between guitar and keyboard, the songs all started to run together. He explained several tunes were inspired by dreams or early-morning wake up calls – and sure enough, the evening took on a hazy, dream-like quality.
The singer seemed especially proud of songs from his "52" project, a unique adventure in which he spent the year 2008 writing one new song a week. Hest banked on the fact that the majority of people who trekked out to the venue were familiar with his story.
"I could see why you'd be frustrated not knowing what I'm talking about," he admitted halfway through the show, after bringing it several times up without much of an explanation.
Accompanied by a drummer and guitar player on stage, Hest did attempt to engage the crowd at moments. Most memorably, he brought up an audience member to duet on "Cranberry Lake," which led to a sweet moment as he whispered lines to the visibly nervous woman. Hest said he tried the same stunt at a New York show, but the only person who volunteered was his mother.
Hest also requested everyone sing along on his song "Trouble," about a good guy gone bad. And for those who knew Hest had ditched his major record label several years ago to self-release albums, the lyrics were especially intriguing: "I've been working for the man/Growing restless since the job began/Getting sick of his demands/And tired of trying to give a damn."
And Hest knew his audience – besides proclaiming the Wolf Trap his "favorite place," it took him only 45 minutes to entertain the Washington-area crowd with a political song about the current state of healthcare.