Ascendant songsmith Ben Fisher is normally alone on stage, belting out his modern folk songs accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. During his headlining set at the Conor Byrne pub on the last Thursday night of September, though, he had some unusual company with him: a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Fisher made no mention of it. He barely drank from it. But it was kind of a big deal. Two days earlier, the University of Washington student celebrated his 21st birthday. His days of lurking in the shadows of Seattle’s music clubs are over.
“I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t need to keep my head low when I walk by the bar,” Fisher said before his set, his mop of blond hair obscured by a conspicuous Atlanta Braves baseball cap.
For two years, the busker made a modest dent in the psyche of the Seattle music scene with blustery performances at a few clubs catering to the 21-plus crowd. But in adherence with Washington State law, he wasn’t allowed to hang around the venue. Rather, he waited outside for his set to begin, only to be forced back into the rain immediately after.
At the Conor Byrne, the 21-year-old Fisher and a handful of fresh-faced friends took in the whole show, watching as Maldives frontman and booze hall veteran Jason Dodson filled the room with a whiskey sound.
After that set, Fisher took a moment to chat about the intersection of drinking and singing. He claimed to remember the first time he heard alcohol mentioned in a song, from the Beatles’ “Her Majesty”: “I wanna tell her that I love her a lot, but I gotta get a bellyful of wine.” He talked about Bruce Springsteen’s uncanny ability to make drinking warm beer in the middle of a New Jersey rainstorm sound like the most refined joy on Earth. And he talked about Townes Van Zandt, the late, great singer who drank himself to death when Fisher was five years old.
“I think alcohol gets romanticized,” he said. “It seems like there are a whole lot more alcoholic musicians than there are alcoholic brain surgeons. I don’t know exactly why that is. It just seems like it comes with the territory. It’s the nature of the beast.”
Later, when Fischer sang his charming ode to young love, “Cast Your Line,” the complexion of the song had changed. No longer did it sound like a simple song, expertly crafted by a young prodigy. It sounded like a song about a simple kid, expertly crafted by an able musician.
Funny what a beer can do.