Without any doubt, musician and singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz has made lemonade out of lemons during the year 2020. In a year where the COVID-19 pandemic reeked-havoc, music artists across America had to come up with new ways to make their music happen.
Obviously, Niemietz wasn’t the only person to have their world turn upside down, as all live concerts and performances ceased to occur. Despite the gloomy world outlook, Sara created new and different ways to bring music to her fans, with various online presentations.
So who is Sara Niemietz? Born in Chicago Illinois, Niemietz started her career as a child actress, performing in theatre productions, television shows, film roles and multiple musical performances. To read more about Sara’s many non-musical accomplishments, please go to her official website: https://www.saraniemietz.com/
Now as an adult, Sara has focused exclusively on being a musician, singing and writing music. During the past decade, Niemietz has collaborated with W.G. Snuffy Walden, who is a musician and a composer. Walden has accompanied Sara on various music projects. Some are cover versions of songs, while other tunes are original compositions.
The other big activity for Niemietz is being involved with Scott Bradlee’s, Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) group. PMJ is known for taking popular 21st century contemporary songs and rearranging those songs into a different musical style. Many of the PMJ songs are performed in 1920’s jazz or swing format.
For anyone interested in reading more about Sara’s musical accomplishments prior to 2020, I had the opportunity to write her musical story on DJ Dave’s Musical Musings during April 2019. You can view Sara Niemietz: Born For the Stage here: https://woodsonrva.com/2019/04/12/sara-niemietz-born-for-the-stage/
Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography
With this latest music blog message on Niemietz, I communicated with Sara multiple times via email about her musical activities over the past 9 months.
At the start of 2020, things looked promising for Niemietz. Plans to record a live album actually took place during February. Sara also had scheduled concert tours to take place in the spring and summer. However, Coronavirus changed all plans starting in mid-March.
As Scottish Poet Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” All live concerts, shows and performances came to a screeching halt.
I asked Sara about her quarantine and social/distancing engagements when lockdowns started happening in her home state of California. She outlined to me about the wide range of new ventures she participated in, which differed from normal musical activities prior to COVID-19 pandemic days.
Over the course of the next 9 months, Niemietz utilized many new functions to keep active with her music fans on social media. Sara coped and survived during the Coronavirus crisis by implementing fresh alternatives to live concerts:
- Live virtual mini concerts
Although Niemietz regularly performed mini concerts virtually prior to COVID-19, she ramped up the number of these online interactions on social media platforms. The vast majority of the mini concerts were in the comfort of her own home: With Sara playing a variety of instruments (guitar, bass, keyboard and kazoo).
- Sixty Second Sara videos
Early on during the Coronavirus outbreak, Niemietz created short videos that lasted around 60 seconds. Some of the videos Sara generated were original compositions while other performances utilized cover versions of popular existing songs.
With a computer, sound board, musical instruments and various other audio equipment, Niemietz “cloned” herself and created “Saraband.” The Saraband video for the Smokey Robinson cover song, “You’ve Really Got a Hold of Me” is absolutely brilliant.
- Weekly Wacky Wednesday
Like clockwork, every Wednesday afternoon during the COVID-19 pandemic, Niemietz holds a weekly virtual live stream on social media. With these Internet performances, Sara performs a wide variety of songs and she encourages major interaction with her fans during these weekly sessions.
- Saranade Podcast
At the beginning of November 2020, Niemietz produced her first podcast called Saranade. Her debut message featured the song, “Don’t Walk Me Home” which is the third song on Sara’s new, “twentytwenty” live album. I personally enjoyed listening to the first podcast: Niemietz did an excellent job imparting information and mixing in her music, for a pleasing balance of verbal communication and musical harmony.
Saranade Podcast audio link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1455049/6151573-episode-1-don-t-walk-me-home-the-411-on-twentytwenty
Another major project that Niemietz worked on during the summer months was putting together a new live album which came to be called “twentytwenty.” Sara, Snuffy Walden and a group of hand-picked musicians, performed two Santa Monica, California concerts in front of live audiences, during late February. The plan was to release a live album from these two shows, around the beginning of the summer.
Just a couple of weeks after recording the February concerts, COVID-19 pandemic raged in America. Once again, Niemietz had to switch gears with music endeavors and postpone the release date of her new “twentytwenty” album until October.
Before I give my overview of the new “twentytwenty” album, I want to share some of my email conversations that I had with Niemietz and her responses to my questions on how she dealt with the Coronavirus shutdown as a musician.
DJ Dave: Please share anything related about the two concerts during late February that resulted in the “twentytwenty” album?
Sara: It was a supreme joy to play with my friends, knowing this night would be captured forever! With that in mind, one could think the pressure would be high, but there was such a lovely, relaxed atmosphere in the room. The audience were close friends and select fans, so we could feel the love from the stage!
DJ Dave: Can you tell me about the process of taking the live concert tapes and making them into the final product of a new album?
Sara: It certainly helped keep us occupied during COVID lockdown! There was a lot of excel sheet making and note taking on my end, as Snuffy and I listened to the shows and decided which takes from which nights we’d use. It was like living the show all over again! Many times, in fact. A first for me, we could not all be in the room during the mixing process. Snuffy, George Landress (our mixing engineer for a decade), and I passed many files back and forth. Plenty of FaceTimes later, we got it all finished!
DJ Dave: Do you have any comments about the recording of individual songs on the “twentytwenty” album?
Sara: Our goal on this album was to capture a moment in time. Snuffy and I have been playing shows together for a decade and we wanted to capture the magic of a live show – really document this moment – and share it with listeners. I love studio recording and that environment is my second home, but there is something about playing live that is very hard to capture unless you’re there… in the room… with people… on a stage!
DJ Dave: Describe being an independent musician/singer/songwriter without a major record label contract?
Sara: Yes indeed! I am in it for the long haul. Nothing against all of the different paths musicians take to get their songs out there, but the indie path has been good to me. Miraculously, the album landed on the Top 100 Albums list on Billboard, which is very rare for an indie. It is really thanks to those that listen. I know everyone says “I have the best fans… yada yada…” but seriously – these friends of mine are the best and I am so grateful for their support. I feel weird saying “fans” because I just feel like we are all a bunch of wacky music lovers hanging out together.
Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz. Photo by Jeff Xander Photography
The day before “twentytwenty” was released on October 16, Sara and her musical partner Snuffy Walden, held a live stream virtual concert to promote her new album. Joining Niemietz and Walden at this show were Jonathan Richards, Martin Diller, Andrew Kesler, Alex Nester, Mollie Weaver, Mihi Nihil, MWO and Kiya Schafer.
Most of the band members who played with Sara and Snuffy during the October 15th album premier concert, were also part of the two February shows, which culminated in Sara’s newest LP, “twentytwenty.” The album was recorded live at Apogee Studio, Santa Monica, California, and all songs were produced by Niemietz and Walden.
From the “twentytwenty” liner notes, here are the artists and musicians who performed on the live compilation album:
- Guitar – W.G. Snuffy Walden
- Guitar – Sara Niemietz
- Piano – Andrew Kesler
- Drums – Martin Diller
- Bass – Jonathan Richards
- Vocals- Sara Niemietz
- Background Vocals – Alex Nester
- Background Vocals – Mollie Weaver
There are 17 songs on the “twentytwenty” album. Five of the selections are cover versions, while the other twelve songs on the live set are originals. Niemietz is credited with writing or co-writing all 12 of the original songs: Sara also shares co-writing credits with Snuffy Walden, along with a handful of other musical artists, on the outstanding compositions.
Here is the song order listing for the “twentytwenty” live recording:
- I Smile
- Don’t Walk Me Home
- Made to Last
- Let Me Be
- The Nearness of You
- Go With the Flow
- All Your Love
- Feet Don’t Touch the Floor
- Calling You
- Hear Me Now
- Out of Order
- Waiting On the Day
- On Ten
- Stand By Me
Instrumentally, Sara and her band play a wide variety musical genres on the “twentytwenty.” The musicians flow seamlessly combining pop, rock, jazz, blues, folk and country throughout the course of any given song.
As I have listened repeatedly to the new live album, I have been impressed with the quality of musicianship with the band. The live performances of existing songs from Sara’s musical catalog, brings new energy and freshness to many of the beloved tunes that Niemietz has recorded from past studio albums.
Of course, the main attraction of ‘twentytwenty” is the voice of Sara Niemietz. Adjectives like exceptional, spectacular, incredible and impressive all come to my mind when I try to convey Sara’s accomplished vocal range. Niemietz expresses vocal excellence throughout her new live album set.
While there are many marvelous songs on Sara’s new album, I will be highlighting just a few of the sensational tunes with my review. I would encourage you to purchase a copy of “twentytwenty” so that you can discover and enjoy the full range of songs that Niemietz released last month.
Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography
When I survey the setlist of Sara’s new album, I am struck by a possibly unintentional foreshadowing of dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. The first two songs that Niemietz and her band played in late February, just a few weeks before COVID-19 consumed America, were “Smile” and “I Smile.”
- Smile: Written by Charlie Chaplin, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons (1936/1954)
“Smile, though your heart is aching, Smile, even though it’s breaking,
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow, Smile and maybe tomorrow,
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”
- I Smile: Written by Kirk Franklin, James Harris, Terry Lewis and Frederick Tackett (2011)
“Today’s a new day, but there is no sunshine, Nothing but clouds, and it’s dark in my heart,
And it feels like a cold night, Today’s a new day, where are my blue skies
Where is the love and the joy that you promised me, Tell me it’s alright,
I almost gave up, but a power that I can’t explain, Fell from heaven like a shower
I smile, even though I hurt see I smile, I know God is working so I smile, Even though I’ve been here for a while, I smile, smile.”
There is an overriding theme with the above two songs and with many other tunes that Niemietz recorded for the new album: When times are bad and bleak, don’t give up. Smile. Things will get better. This affirming message from Sara is powerful and is encouraging for me as I navigate through these final troubled months of 2020.
Perhaps the most melodic song on the new live album is “Monroe.” This tender ballad features Sara on acoustic guitar and outstanding standup bass playing from Jonathan Richards. Niemietz provides superb emotional outpouring with her heavenly vocals on this wonderful tune. This selection is my current favorite on “twentytwenty.”
- Made To Last
Snuffy Walden is an excellent guitarist and his guitar presentation on “Made to Last” is absolutely transcendent. I appreciate Walden’s world-class guitar licks and the interplay of the other musicians with Sara’s stellar vocal range. The tune has an infectious rhythmic section and is a hot rocking, flame throwing masterpiece.
- On Ten
One of the encore songs for Sara during her February concerts is the lively, “On Ten.” Musically, the song is a crown jewel: A combination of rock, pop, jazz, blues and old school funk. The band is in hyper-drive as they lay down fast-paced, up tempo grooves on this unforgettable musical treat. Sara and the musicians are joyful performing this celebratory delight.
I highly recommend Sara’s live set compilation. For those who do not yet own a copy of the new album, here is the link to order this outstanding performance from Niemietz and her band. Available in different formats: Vinyl, DVD, CD and Digital Download: https://www.saraniemietz.com/music
With anyone who is new to Sara’s music, her “twentytwenty” album is an excellent introduction and overview of the music Niemietz has recorded over the past 10 years. No matter if you have been a fan for years or just learning about Sara’s music for the first time: The “twentytwenty” live set should be considered a priority, for adding to all personal music libraries.
Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography
The year of 2020 has been extremely hard, unpredictable and sometimes down right depressing for those around the world. This is especially true for music artists. With live concerts not being an option during COVID-19 pandemic, performers like Sara has turned negative situations into positive outcomes.
I imagine that Sara will be singing a cover of Wet Willie’s 1974 hit, “Keep on Smilin” into the year 2021.
“Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain
Rollin with the changes til the sun comes out again
Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain
Rollin with the changes, singin’ this refrain”
Turning lemons into lemonade is what Sara Niemietz has done throughout the year of 2020. I am confident that she will continue the same course of action until Coronavirus has subsided in our world. Keep on smiling, Sara! Rock on!
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