When Vance Gilbert was coming of age as a child in the City of Brotherly Love during the 1960s, the singer/songwriter grew up around the Philadelphia sounds.
“I loved the acts (iconic producers) Gamble and Huff produced, like The O’Jays,” Gilbert said.
His family moved to the New Jersey suburbs when he was a teenager.
“That’s where I discovered The Beatles and The Average White Band and New Riders of the Purple Sage. My musical view got deeper,” he said.
Gilbert’s appetite for different types of music only increased, but he found his sonic niche as a folkie a generation ago.
“I like to play guitar and sing and I love words,” he said by phone from his suburban Boston home. “I got it all when it comes to my job.”
Perhaps the greatest gift the quirky Gilbert possesses as a songwriter is the ability to craft funny, thought-provoking songs.
“Old White Men,” “Waiting for Gilligan” and “Goodbye Pluto” are some of the amusing tunes he penned.
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“It’s nice to play a song you’ve written that makes people smile,” he said. “Fans really like ‘Waiting for Gilligan.’ I tell them that ‘Waiting for Gilligan’ is my peak of tongue-in-cheek. I haven’t played that one in a while — maybe I should bring it back.”
Tongue-in-cheek songwriting has gone the way of harmonizing and the Nehru jacket.
“It’s a shame that not many people write like that, but if you really want that style, there’s always me,” he said.
Gilbert, who loves recording and playing covers, isn’t just a retro songsmith. He’s an old-school entertainer who learned quite a bit while opening for the late comedy legend George Carlin.
“There was nobody like George Carlin,” Gilbert said. “He was incredibly witty, funny and insightful and he was great with an audience. I try to have as much fun with the crowd as I can. It’s not just about music when I take the stage. It’s about interacting. It can get to be a little out of control up there.”
It sounds like Gilbert’s forthcoming album might be a little out of control, as well. His next release, which is completely fan-funded, is an eclectic project with help from a number of friends. Pop sensation Mike Posner, folkie friend Chris Smither, the Sub Dudes’ Tommy Malone and Celtic harpist Aine Minogue are some of the guests on Gilbert’s 11th album, which is primarily composed of originals.
“The album started off as this intimate project, but it quickly turned into this madhouse,” Gilbert said. “But I mean that in a good way. It’s so cool when you have a bunch of really good friends who you admire, come in and give you hand.”
Expect Gilbert, who will release the as yet untitled album later in the year, to preview some of the new tracks when he performs Friday (3/15) at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids. But also count on some fan favorites and choice covers.
“It’ll be a mixed bag when I come in,” he said. “I’ll play some fun songs and I’ll just try to have a good time onstage and take people away from what’s going on out in the world today. There’s a lot of crazy stuff happening. If you can escape for a little while, then you had a great evening.”
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When Gilbert isn’t on the road, he’s teaching songwriting and performance to high school students in the Boston area.
“I think it’s great for kids to have instructors who are doing what they’re teaching,” he said. “It’s so nice when you see someone get what you’re talking about. It’s a challenge, teaching. You just can’t just go up there and be unprepared as a teacher. You have to be on top of things.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I help people learn about music and then I get to make and play music. You can’t beat it.”
WHAT: Vance Gilbert
WHERE: CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (3/15)
TICKETS: $17, CSPS Box Office, (319) 364-1580 or Legionarts.org/events/upcoming/vance-gilbert/
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Vancegilbert.com