The best kept secret in pop music

A couple weeks ago I wrote on this site about discovering a fresh new singer/songwriter by the name of Toby Lightman. All of this came after a call to our newsroom, combined with a press package and CDs, offering news that Lightman would be playing Carthage College ...

Tonight, was that performance.

In a stellar one hour and 15-minute acoustic set, Lightman showed the small crowd of 50 or so why she just might be the best kept secret in pop music. With the kind of guitar strumming you'd expect from Sheryl Crow, Jewel or Melissa Etheridge, and a set of chops that rivals Joss Stone or Alicia Keys, Lightman's performance was every bit as passionate and soulful as her debut album -- and more.

A free concert for all who attended, it could be better classified as a steal. For those who didn't make it, it was a major missed opportunity.

Lightman took the stage with her percussionist, Coach (he sat on some kind of box -- I've forgotten what they called it -- and beat its sides like a bongo) and played every track from her debut album, 'Little Things.' Although a little shy and seemingly overwhelmed at first, Lightman soon warmed up to the crowd, glowing, giggling and conversing with us in between songs.

It also became obvious she loves what she's doing. Exuberating a contagious energy, Lightman also seems refreshingly humble. A New Jersey native and graduate of UW-Wisconsin (woo hoo!) the 26-year-old only began playing guitar her freshman year of college, in between studying radio and television.

Hearing and seeing Lightman play her minor radio hit 'Devils and Angels' rocked, literally. And the new material Lightman 'tested' on the audience was a wonderful teaser for all the possibilities her next and in-progress album holds. But to put a spin or comment on every song just wouldn't do this night justice.

Perhaps the part of the performance that epitomized Lightman's personality and talents came when she told the crowd she had a couple songs left to play and a girl in the crowd yelled out for her to play 'Everyday.' Lightman answered sweetly, 'I was going to play it, but I can play it now if you'd like.' She proceeded to retune her guitar and told the crowd a story behind 'Everyday' -- that on the day she wrote the song she was in an odd mood and decided to completely retune her guitar in some funky way. So when she performs the song, which she loves, it takes her longer than she'd like to retune her guitar. Then, as if to question why she made the song so complicated, Lightman muttered just loud enough for the crowd to hear, 'I'm an idiot.' ... when the laughing had subsided and all was silent again, Lightman went on to play the beautiful ballad that is 'Everyday,' singing the chorus: 'But I'll see better when the smoke clears/when the smoke clears inside my head/and I can listen when the screaming doesn't repeat everything I've said/All that remains is me and who I am at the end of the day/And this happend everyday ..."

When the concert ended, the lights came up and the crowd swelled around Lightman. I got her to sign my CD and Kates and I began our walk to the car ...

Kates couldn't have said it better: She's not going to be playing small shows like that much longer.

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