I think I first discovered Kina Grannis about a year ago when I stumbled upon her cover of Regina Spektor’s “The Call.” While she posts a number of covers on her YouTube channel, often with a kind of quirky creativity or surprisingly beautiful acoustic arrangement, I like her original songs best. Her lyrics carry a sense of honesty that connects with the life experiences of her listeners, especially those who find themselves in or out of love. Recently she released a deluxe version of her album “Stairwells,” which includes 18 original songs and 3 covers on 2 discs. She also embarked on her “World in Front of Me” tour throughout North America, stopping at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live on April 16th.
I originally planned to attend the Philly concert by myself or with any friends who were interested in coming along. While my friends weren’t available to join me, my parents decided to come and bought tickets for the show. The morning of the show, I saw a post from Kina on Facebook and Twitter announcing she would be doing a pre-show appearance at FYE on South Broad Street in Philly. I took the train into the city, and my parents decided to drive down and meet me at the concert venue that evening. When I arrived (after a brief walk through the rain), “Stairwells” was being played throughout the store as a few Kina fans gathered near the small stage setup. Unfortunately, Kina was stuck in traffic (she was driving down from Boston, where she had a concert the night before) and would be unable to perform. Though she would be 30 minutes late, she would still do an autograph signing.
Anyone who has watched some of Kina’s videos would agree that she is possibly the most adorable human being on the planet. I mean, she rivals even the cutest kittens on YouTube. She is even more adorable in person, despite delayed travel and rain. When she entered the store, she greeted the fans with a shuffle and a wave before being taken to the back by store managers. What was once the stage area was now the signing table where those who purchased “Stairwells” at the store could get it autographed. Kina appeared to have some friends in line, whom she greeted with excited hugs and conversation about pictures on Facebook.
When everyone in line had met Kina, those who pre-ordered the album and didn’t purchase a copy at the store were allowed to meet and greet her, too. I was able to fulfill one of the wishes on my list: a picture with Kina Grannis, wearing matching side braids. After a quick hug, I spent the rest of my brief time with Kina thanking her for her participation in Project 4 Awesome, a day when the YouTube community promotes various charities. Kina chose to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, because her mother was diagnosed with polycythemia vera, a rare blood disorder, about 10 years ago. My mother was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008; on April 21, five days after Kina’s concert, she celebrates the 3-year anniversary of her remission. I tweeted my thanks to Kina after she posted her P4A video, but being able to thank her in person was something special. To look her in the eyes, which were welling up with tears, and tell her how much I appreciated it. To hear her say, “That makes me so happy” and “Congratulations” for my mom. After that, I could have missed the concert and still thought it was a great day. I stuck around with some of Kina’s street team while Kina waited for her car to come around the block. I was able to get a second picture with her (the first was a bit out of focus) and told her it was a “YouTube weekend” for me. “I was just with Wes, Ted, and Phil last night!” I said. “Oh, they’re such great guys.” Yes, indeed they are.
A subway ride and a longer-than-it-should-have-been, rain-soaked walk later, I had arrived at World Cafe Live. My parents were waiting downstairs by the entrance, and I went upstairs to get my ticket from will call and take a place in line to get into the room. I passed the street teamers I met at FYE, who were dry thanks to their car ride to the venue. Because my parents bought their tickets later than I did, we were seated at 3 separate tables. My mom was joined by a group of friends who happened to know the group of friends at my dad’s table. My mom was surprised by the number of Asians at the concert (including the girls at my parents’ tables), and my dad told me after the show, “I heard the one girl saying, ‘Everyone is going to think we’re at the concert with our dad!'” Of course, I was actually the one at the concert with my dad…
The show started off with Imaginary Friend, the opening act on Kina’s World in Front of Me Tour. He describes his style as “acoustic folk pop” while one fan calls it “ethereal and relaxing.” Most people at the venue were unfamiliar with the music of Imaginary Friend – not a band but one man, his voice, and his guitar. There was a smattering of applause and a single shout at the start of his performance, but with each song, the cheers grew louder until the entire audience had become fans at the end of his set. There was even a bit of disappointment when he announced he only had one song left. His style is the rainy day variety of relaxing, or the kind of music that plays in movies when the main character drives back to his rural hometown after a few years in the big city. He sang mostly original songs but included one “awww”-worthy acoustic cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” (I caught my dad singing along). It was his music that drew everyone in, but his charming personality won everyone over. He drew sighs and aww’s from the audience with just his song titles and produced laughter with a story about putting his songs on MySpace for the first time.
After a brief intermission, Kina took to the stage to perform songs from “Stairwells.” The adorable and charming personality we see online was only magnified as she performed live and interacted with her fans in the audience. One girl shouted, “Kina, why are you so cute?!” At the end of her main set, Kina even called audience members to form a harmony choir up front while she led the audience in singing “Message from Your Heart” – unplugged and away from the mic. Another benefit to seeing a live performance, in addition to hearing raw talent proven true, is getting to hear the back story and history of some of Kina’s original songs. Whether it’s the tale of her grandfather’s stolen Kamaka ukulele and the discovery of her new uke before “Back to Us” or hearing about the dream that inspired “Together” (on the deluxe version of her album), Kina shows she is not just a beautiful singer and musician but also a creative artist when it comes to songwriting. Like Imaginary Friend, she performed all original music with the exception of a couple surprising and crowd-rousing covers, including “Gangster’s Paradise” by request during her encore. At the risk of spoiling the surprise for anyone planning on attending the remaining dates on her tour, her jazzy and sweetly seductive cover of Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” put such a twist on the song that the lyrics did not seem “Martian in a red latex catsuit” ridiculous but made me wish Kina’s had been the original arrangement. Seeing Kina perform live was such a great experience that I look forward to the next opportunity to attend one of her concerts.
Kina & Project 4 Awesome:
Imaginary Friend Music:
Kina Grannis [Valentine – Original Song]: