REVIEW: True Story enthralls with tales of love and loss

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(Left to right) Krystal Moore, Eric Valentine, Abigail Skykes, Chris Callor, Anderson Mitchell, Tehya Fencik and Stephanie L'Hereux share tales and music at True Story's performance at the Sapphire Room. - BEN SCHULTZ
  • Ben Schultz
  • (Left to right) Krystal Moore, Eric Valentine, Abigail Skykes, Chris Callor, Anderson Mitchell, Tehya Fencik and Stephanie L'Hereux share tales and music at True Story's performance at the Sapphire Room.

Halfway through True Story’s set at the Sapphire Room on Friday, Aug. 23, Anderson Mitchell played a couple of solo acoustic numbers while the group’s other members took a break. When he stopped to tune his guitar, he made a joke about having a problem with the G-string.
“I’ve been hanging out too long with my buddy Eric, haven’t I?” he said with a smile.

The crowd didn’t seem to think so. One hundred and thirty-five people laughed, cried and cheered as writers Eric Valentine and Krystal Moore read stories that were by turns humorous and heartbreaking. Near the end of the set, Valentine, Moore and their bandmates—guitarist/vocalist Mitchell, vocalists Tehya Fencik and Abigail Sykes, cellist Stephanie L’Hereux and percussionist Chris Callor—received a standing ovation.

This wasn’t the only standing ovation that this group had received from the Idaho Songwriters Association. The first came last November, when Mitchell, Valentine and Fencik played at a songwriters forum. That performance marked the debut of True Story, a unique project that combines Valentine and Moore’s nonfiction short stories with Mitchell’s songs.

This night’s show began with a set from Mt. Joy, a.k.a. Aaron Christensen. Near the start of his set, the young singer-songwriter asked the crowd to forgive him if he played any sour notes, explaining that he’d gotten into a car accident a couple of days prior. His simple finger-picking never faltered, however. Not only that, his breathy vocals, well-groomed folk tunes and clever, detailed lyrics would’ve sounded impressive coming from a musician twice his age.

True Story followed with a set that was split into two parts. The first featured lighter, funnier pieces such as Valentine’s “Choose Life,” a recounting of a date that he’d had with an amputee. The set’s second half featured more intense material, including Moore’s “Heartbreaker,” a reminiscence of a friend and ex-fiancé who killed himself after being wounded in Iraq.

Throughout, Valentine and Moore’s meditative, compassionate tales found sympathetic support in L’Hereux’s moaning cello, Callor’s gentle tabla and the haunting harmonies of Mitchell, Fencik and Sykes (ISA founder Steve Eaton also played harmonica on a few numbers). While the songs and the stories could have stood alone—Valentine said that he and Mitchell work on their material independently—they took on greater resonance when paired together.

While True Story’s pieces were uniformly excellent, the set’s clear highlight was “Beautiful.” Audience members sniffled and wiped tears from their eyes as Valentine told the story of his first wife’s illness and death.

“I’m crying because it’s beautiful,” Moore read at one point.

“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” Valentine responded. And it was.